JOPLIN, Mo. —
Joplin police now believe there was a single burglary with five suspects present in the home of Jacob Wages when he was shot and killed in the early morning hours of July 6.
The Jasper County prosecutor’s office consequently has filed murder charges against two men who have been in custody since Sunday on burglary charges.
The complaints against Johnathan J. Taylor, 19, of Joplin, and Cody E. Stephens, 20, of Parsons, Kan., were amended to include charges of second-degree murder as well as first-degree burglary. Taylor and Stephens were arraigned Thursday in Jasper County Circuit Court, and entered innocent pleas to both charges.
Police initially believed Taylor and Stephens illegally entered the home of Wages, 23, at 1912 S. Pearl Ave. after he had been killed during a prior burglary involving three other suspects. Prosecutor Dean Dankelson said investigators’ theory of the crime changed with discovery of additional evidence.
It is now believed that all five suspects were in the house at the same time, with the intent to steal, when Wages was killed, bringing the felony murder rule into play, the prosecutor said.
“I think there’s evidence that supports that,” Dankelson said.
He declined to discuss that or any other evidence, including the contents of a lockbox that Taylor and Stephens allegedly stole from the home.
The prosecutor’s office previously charged 17-year-old Daniel D. Hartman, of Tulsa, Okla., with first-degree murder. A probable-cause affidavit filed Monday alleged that Hartman shot and killed Wages when Wages confronted Hartman and two unnamed juvenile suspects inside the home. The three suspects then stole an assault rifle and left, according to the same affidavit.
One of the juveniles, a 16-year-old male, was arrested Tuesday in Tulsa on suspicion of murder. Hartman and the other juvenile remain at large.
Jasper County juvenile authorities will decide if certification of the two youngest suspects as adults will be sought in juvenile court.
“I’ve had no conversations with the juvenile office about it,” Dankelson said. “That is entirely their discretion whether to seek it.”
Probable-cause affidavits refer to two legal occupants of the home at the time of the murder. Police have declined to identify the second occupant or comment on what that person might have witnessed.
With the upgrade in charges against Johnathan Taylor and Cody Stephens, Associate Circuit Judge Richard Copeland raised each defendant’s bond amounts Thursday to $100,000 surety and $25,000 cash.