The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

August 30, 2012

Teen certified as adult in Joplin slaying case

JOPLIN, Mo. — A Jasper County judge decided Thursday that Elijah Taylor should stand trial as an adult in connection with the home-invasion burglary and slaying of Jacob Wages.

Taylor turned 17 on Aug. 17 but was 16 years old in the early morning hours of July 6, when authorities say he and four others entered Wages’ home at 1912 S. Pearl Ave. in Joplin looking to steal drugs and money. Wages, 23, was shot and killed in the course of the burglary.

At a certification hearing Thursday in Jasper County Juvenile Court, attorneys argued whether the teen, who has split time living with family members in Joplin and Tulsa, Okla., should stand trial as an adult or continue to be adjudicated as a juvenile.

Belinda Elliston, attorney for the Jasper County Juvenile Office, called witnesses to show that Taylor has been in trouble with the law off and on for about four years. During that time, he has “exhausted” the range of services offered by the juvenile office and the Division of Youth Services without modifying his behavior, she said.

In fact, a pattern of “assaultive-type” and “aggressive” behavior on his part has escalated, and he has been running with known gang members who have exposed him to ever-increasing risks to the point where the juvenile court now finds him, she said.

“We have an individual who died as a result of actions Eli was involved in here,” Elliston said.

The teen’s attorney, Stuart Huffman, argued that there was “still an appropriate remedy within the juvenile system” for Taylor.

Huffman said his client is not accused of killing Wages or of having any intention to kill the victim. He said the allegation is that he participated in a burglary. He argued that before the crime in question, the teen’s offenses have all been of a misdemeanor nature.

In the end, Circuit Judge David Mouton followed the recommendation of the juvenile office and dismissed petitions seeking to adjudicate the youth in juvenile court on charges of second-degree murder, armed criminal action and burglary.

“Unfortunately, this case involves much more than just hanging around with the wrong people,” Mouton said.

The judge’s decision is expected to lead to the filing of charges and prosecution of the teen in the adult division of the court.

Daniel D. Hartman, 17, a reputed member of a gang in Tulsa, is suspected of being the triggerman in the case. Hartman already is charged in adult court with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and burglary because he was 17 at the time of the crime.

Two other adult defendants, Cody E. Stephens, 20, of Parsons, Kan., and Johnathan J. Taylor, 19, of Joplin, are charged with second-degree murder and burglary.

Another juvenile from Tulsa remains at large. His name came out in court on Thursday, but he has yet to be certified to stand trial as an adult. Police have said that the other juvenile, like Hartman, is a reputed Crips gang member.

Joplin police Detective William Davis testified at the hearing that Wages was shot once in the chest with a .22-caliber round. The shooting took place in a bedroom of his home. Two other rounds were found in a wall and the floor of the house.

Davis said police believe the plan of the five suspects was to rob Wages of “Mollies,” slang for Ecstasy pills, and cash. The home was ransacked by the intruders, who police have said stole a lockbox and an assault rifle.

Huffman asked Davis if there was any evidence that his client knew that anyone was going to be shot, or even that anyone had a gun, when the suspects entered the home.

“I don’t believe guns were discussed prior to the robbery,” the detective said.

There is reason to believe that the younger Taylor was in the living room and witnessed the shooting, Davis said. He also saw Wages fall to the floor, the detective said.

Andrew Doennig, a deputy juvenile officer, testified that Elijah Taylor first came to the attention of the juvenile office in 2008 regarding an alleged disturbance of the peace, and that he was referred again in 2009 for assault and trespassing offenses.

Doennig told the court that the teen was enrolled in the Tulsa public school system this past year, but his mother indicated he was not attending regularly. Doennig said there is reason to believe that Taylor has become increasingly involved with known gang members, to the point that he has entered the database of the Tulsa Police Department’s gang unit.

Stuart Macios, a service coordinator for the Division of Youth Services, testified that the youth was sent to several residential homes and treatment centers between March 2010 and July 2011. He was living with family members in Joplin in May of last year when their home was destroyed by the tornado. The state division allowed him at that time to stay with a grandmother in Texas until he was released from state supervision two months later.

Custody limits

ELIJAH TAYLOR, 17, is too old to qualify for the dual-jurisdiction program in Missouri under which Joplin youth Thomas White was prosecuted in the 2006 Memorial Middle School gun case. If the court did not certify Taylor as an adult, the Division of Youth Services would not have been able to maintain custody of him past his 18th birthday on Aug. 17, 2013.

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