A third co-defendant pleaded guilty Monday in the July 2012 shooting death of Joplin resident Jacob Wages.
Elijah N. Taylor, 18, of Tulsa, Okla., pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary in a plea deal with the Jasper County prosecutorâ€™s office that would cap the prison time he might receive at no more than 15 years.
Wages, 23, was fatally shot inside his home the night of July 6, 2012, in what police believe was an attempt to rob him of Ecstasy pills and cash. Five young suspects were charged with the crime.
Taylor is one of two co-defendants who were 16 at the time but were certified to stand trial as adults. Circuit Judge David Dally ordered a sentencing-assessment report after Taylorâ€™s plea on Monday and set a sentencing hearing for April 7.
Marcus Stephens, then 16 (now 18) and from Tulsa, and Cody E. Stephens, 22, of Parsons, Kan., received essentially the same plea deals as Taylor, and were sentenced to concurrent terms of 15 years for second-degree murder and five years for burglary. Taylorâ€™s brother, Johnathan â€śJ.T.â€ť Taylor, 20, has not taken a plea deal and remains charged with second-degree murder and burglary.
Daniel D. Hartman, of Tulsa, the presumed shooter in the case, was found guilty of second-degree murder, armed criminal action and burglary in a trial two weeks ago and will be sentenced March 31. He was 17 at the time of the murder and is now 18.
Prosecutor Norman Rouse told jurors at Hartmanâ€™s trial that police never found any evidence that Wages was a drug dealer or actually possessed any stash of Ecstasy pills and drug money. Rouse said that for all investigators know, Wages died â€śfor nothing,â€ť the victim of â€śa mistaken perceptionâ€ť on the part of the co-defendants.
Testifying as a witness for the prosecution at Hartmanâ€™s trial, Elijah Taylor told how he came to Joplin with Marcus Stephens and Hartman to visit his brother.
He testified that Hartman and Johnathan Taylor were doing â€śmollies,â€ť a form of Ecstasy, and that everyone was smoking marijuana at Johnathan Taylorâ€™s apartment the night of the murder. The younger Taylor fell asleep, but several of the others woke him up and took him with them to the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, where they met a local source who claimed to know where they could get more â€śmollies.â€ť
The source informed them that Wages had a pound of the pills and $5,000 in cash, and they talked about ripping him off, according to Elijah Taylorâ€™s testimony.
He said the source took them to Wagesâ€™ home at 1912 S. Pearl Ave. in the middle of the night and knocked on the front door, but no one answered. The others talked about kicking in a back door, but no one was willing to do it, and they returned to the older Taylorâ€™s apartment to get Cody Stephens to do it, the younger Taylor told the court.
When they returned, the purported source of the information about the drugs and money was no longer with them, according to Elijah Taylor. The source was never charged in the case. Contrary to the testimonies of Cody Stephens and Marcus Stephens, Elijah Taylor claimed that his brother also was not with them when they returned a second time, kicked in the back door and entered the victimâ€™s home.
He told the court that they entered Wagesâ€™ bedroom, woke him up and told him they were there to take his drugs and money. He said Wages got out of bed and stretched, and Hartman shot him. He told the court that he did not know Hartman had a gun with him when they entered the house.
Elijah Taylor testified that after the shooting, Hartman bragged that Wages was not the first person he had shot and that he did not regret shooting him.
â€śHe said it didnâ€™t matter to him,â€ť Taylor testified. â€śIt was just another body.â€ť
The younger Taylor testified that most of them had failed to notice Wagesâ€™ girlfriend, who remained asleep in the bed throughout the burglary and shooting. He said that when they later discussed the oversight, Hartman commented that he would have killed her as well had he known she was there.
Elijah Taylor took the witness stand a second time in the penalty phase of Hartmanâ€™s trial to tell the jury about previous crimes in Tulsa allegedly involving Hartman. A past â€śaffiliateâ€ť of the same Crips gang to which Hartman belongs, he said the defendant had confided to him involvement in a number of shootings, including one for which he had been charged with murder. The charge was dropped when a co-defendant refused to testify against him.
Hartmanâ€™s attorney asked Taylor why he never took such information to police if Hartman had confessed such crimes to him.
â€śItâ€™s easy for you to say,â€ť Taylor responded. â€śBut I know him. Heâ€™d kill me.â€ť