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Junkyard, landfill managers testify in Jacksonville death penalty trial

Prosecutors say Johnathan Quiles murdered his pregnant niece at the Jacksonville junkyard where he worked, then got rid of her body at a landfill.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Prosecutors set the scene for jurors Monday, depicting the place where they say a Jacksonville man murdered his niece and disposed of her body. It's the third day of testimony in the death penalty trial of Johnathan Quiles.

Iyana Sawyer, 16, disappeared in December of 2018. A 16-day search of a Duval County landfill was fruitless in finding her body, but her uncle, Quiles, faces death. He's charged with her murder after prosecutors say he got her pregnant. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Prosecutors say Quiles murdered Sawyer at his job, a junkyard on Jacksonville's north side, then got rid of her body at a landfill for construction and demolition debris on the Westside. Testimony from the general managers of each of those places was heard Monday.

Prosecutors say they found items missing from Sawyer's room at Otis Road Landfill, which is described by its general manager as "massive." The general manager, Edward Schmalfeld, testified in December 2018 that there were up to 200 trucks coming into the site per day with construction and demolition debris.

The amount of debris investigators searched through to try to find evidence was 5500 tons, Schmalfeld testified. They never found Sawyer's body.

"It's very, very difficult to find anything once it hits the ground at the landfill, especially three or four weeks out," said Schmalfeld.

The general manager from Quiles's job at the junkyard Ace Pick A Part testified Quiles was one of about 16 employees who worked outside. The general manager said the large commercial dumpster on the junkyard's property was emptied either the same day or the next day after someone noticed it was full and made a call to the company that empties it. Prosecutors believe this is how Sawyer's body was taken to the landfill.

The first testimony of the day came from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement senior crime labs analyst of the firearms section, Laura Draga. She told the jury she tested the gun prosecutors say was used to murder Sawyer. Draga testified the gun worked properly and was "unusually oily." She said oil is used to preserve firearms.

The jury is expected to hear audio from a wire used in the investigation. The defense argues the transcript is inaccurate and the judge wants to sort this out before court ends Monday.

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