By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Testifying on Wednesday that Daniel Hartman shot and killed Jacob Wages in a home-invasion robbery, co-defendant Elijah Taylor implicated two uncharged acquaintances with involvement in the crime but did not implicate his brother, who stands charged as an accomplice.
Wages, 23, was slain in the early morning hours of July 6 inside his home at 1912 S. Pearl Ave. in what Joplin police say was an attempt to rob him of drugs and money.
Four suspects are in custody in the case, including Hartman, 17, a reputed gang member from Tulsa, Okla., and Taylor, who was 16 at the time but is now 17 and was certified in August in Jasper County Juvenile Court to stand trial as an adult.
The prosecutor’s office used Taylor’s testimony at a preliminary hearing in Jasper County Circuit Court to get Hartman, the suspected shooter, bound over for trial on charges of first-degree murder, armed criminal action and burglary. The state’s witness, who denied being offered any incentives in exchange for his testimony, subsequently waived his own preliminary hearing on charges of second-degree murder and burglary.
His brother, Johnathan J. Taylor, 19, of Joplin, and Cody E. Stephens, 20, of Parsons, Kan., also are charged with second-degree murder and burglary in the case. A fifth suspect, a juvenile from Tulsa, remains at large.
Elijah Taylor testified that he went to Wages’ home in the company of Hartman, Stephens, the juvenile who remains a fugitive and another man who stayed in their car that they parked at a church across the street. He did not say that his brother was with them.
He told the court that they had heard from another acquaintance that Wages was in possession of a pound of Mollies, slang for Ecstasy pills, and $5,000 in cash, and that they could find them in a black box near the front door of the residence.
“Cody kicked in the door, and we went in looking for a black box,” he said.
He said Wages was lying on a bed in his bedroom when the four intruders came through the door.
“Jacob woke up and he got shot,” Taylor said.
“Who shot him?” Assistant Prosecutor Theresa Kenney asked.
“Daniel,” he said.
Defense attorney William Fleischaker asked what happened when they broke in. Taylor said Wages got up from the bed and appeared to stretch just before he was shot.
“He just stretched and got killed,” he said.
Taylor said Wages had a gun in his hands, but Hartman shot him with a handgun that Hartman pulled from his waistband, and Wages fell to the floor. He denied knowing before the break-in that Hartman was in possession of a gun. He said when Hartman shot Wages, they all fled the house.
Police have said that a lockbox and an assault rifle were taken in the robbery. But Taylor denied seeing any black box or having any knowledge of the missing assault rifle. He said he never saw an assault rifle in their car as they fled.
According to his testimony, he had never been to Wages’ home previously. He said Stephens and the acquaintance who tipped them to the presence of a black box knew Wages. He said the acquaintance told them that he had been there that night, and knocked on the door and no one answered.
Fleischaker asked Taylor if they had reached an agreement with the acquaintance in advance to cut him in on whatever loot they managed to get, and he said they had agreed to give him a split.
Neither the acquaintance who Taylor said tipped them to the drugs and money nor the acquaintance who he said accompanied them in the car has been charged in the case. Kenney said after the hearing that the prosecutor’s office will be looking into the matter further in light of that testimony.
Fleischaker asked Taylor repeatedly if he had been promised anything by the prosecutor’s office. He denied having been offered any deals but acknowledged having been advised that he might be asked about the matter.
“They just said I should tell the truth,” he said.
UNDER CROSS-EXAMINATION Wednesday, state’s witness Elijah Taylor denied initially having told police that he knew nothing about anyone having been shot during a home-invasion robbery July 6 in Joplin.