With jury seated, opening statements get underway in trial of Jacksonville man accused of impregnating, killing niece

After days of jury selection, the trial of a Jacksonville man accused of raping, impregnating and killing his niece will get underway Thursday in Duval County with opening statements.

Johnathan Quiles was indicted for the first-degree murder of his niece, 16-year-old Iyana Sawyer, and her unborn baby, believed to be his child, in addition to having sex with a minor because Sawyer was only a teenager at the time.

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Sawyer’s uncle, who denies killing her, could face the death penalty if he’s convicted of her murder. A new 2023 ruling now allows a death sentence with only an 8 to 4 vote by the jury instead of the 12 to 0 previously needed.

It has been almost five years since Sawyer (pictured below) disappeared. On Dec. 19, 2018, Sawyer was seen on surveillance video at Terry Parker High School. She was never seen again, and no trace of her has been found.

Court records reveal Sawyer was on her way to Quiles’ job at a salvage yard the day she vanished.

Police believe Sawyer, who was five months pregnant at the time, was shot and killed, then placed into a dumpster and taken to the Otis Road Landfill. Investigators looked through more than 5,000 tons of trash but never found her remains.

Prosecutors believe there’s enough evidence to convict Quiles of murdering and raping Sawyer, even though her body has not been found.

Now that the 16 jurors have been chosen, prosecutors Daniel Skinner and Cameron French will have to prove that Quiles is guilty through witness testimony and evidence, and the legal team of Bob Davis and Christine Rochelle are tasked with defending Quiles.

According to the witness list, over 60 people could be called to testify in the case before Judge Anthony Salem. Some people on the witness list include Quiles’ brother, to whom he supposedly admitted the crime, a jail snitch and more.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

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