The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

January 29, 2014

Co-defendants testify in Joplin murder trial

Two co-defendants in the Jacob Wages murder case testified for the prosecution Wednesday at the trial of Daniel Hartman, providing markedly differing accounts of the crime.

Cody Stephens and Elijah Taylor both put Hartman, 18, at the scene of the fatal shooting and in possession of a handgun.

Taylor, 18, testified that Hartman “just came off the hip with a gun and shot” Wages as the 23-year-old victim arose out of bed to confront the intruders in the middle of the night on July 6, 2012, in his home at 1912 S. Pearl Ave. Taylor said Hartman showed no regret when he and his accomplices discussed what had happened after the shooting.

“He said it don’t matter to him,” Taylor told the court. “It was just another body.”

He said Hartman told the others that the shooting “was not his first rodeo.” When they discussed the presence of Wages’ girlfriend, who is said to have remained asleep in the bed throughout the home-invasion shooting, Hartman acknowledged that she had escaped his attention, according to Taylor.

“He said if he knew, he would have killed her,” Taylor testified.

But Stephens, 22, told the court that Hartman was not the only intruder in possession of a gun that night. He testified that the defendant was carrying a .22-caliber pistol and Taylor was carrying a 9 mm Luger, an assertion that Taylor denied on the witness stand.

Stephens testified that he thought both Hartman and Taylor fired their weapons when Wages got out of bed and started toward Hartman. Stephens told the court that he heard four or five shots, which would seem to conflict with a police detective’s testimony Tuesday that one bullet was found in a wall of Wages’ bedroom, a second in a crawl space below the floor and a third in the victim’s body.

Hartman, a reputed gang member from Tulsa, Okla., is being tried on counts of first-degree murder, burglary and armed criminal action. He came to Joplin in the company of Taylor and Marcus Stephens on July 4, 2012, to spend a couple of days with Taylor’s brother, Johnathan “J.T.” Taylor, 20, a fifth co-defendant in the case, who at the time lived at the Ambassador Apartments at Fifth Street and Moffet Avenue.

Cody Stephens, whose family lives in Parsons, Kan., went to school in Joplin with Johnathan Taylor and considers him one of his best friends. He testified that he came to Joplin on July 5, 2012, to see a couple of other friends but ran into Johnathan Taylor and was at his apartment that night when a plan to rob Wages of drugs and money was hatched.

Johnathan Taylor, Hartman and Marcus Stephens were high on “mollies,” a form of Ecstasy, Cody Stephens said. He said he had never met Hartman or Marcus Stephens previously. Those who were high began coming down, and “when you come down off this drug, you want more,” Stephens told the court.

“You need money,” he explained. “If you don’t got no money, the next option is to rob somebody.”

He said Johnathan Taylor called a local resident looking for “an inside man” who could help them get more mollies by robbing Wages. According to Elijah Taylor’s testimony, the plan was developed further during a meeting with the local man, who is not charged in the case, in the parking lot of a restaurant on South Main Street. By both co-defendants’ accounts, Cody Stephens remained at Johnathan Taylor’s apartment when the others first went to Wages’ home in the company of the uncharged man.

The man not charged had told them that Wages had a pound of mollies and $5,000 in cash that he kept in a black lockbox, the co-defendants said. The man thought Wages would be there with just his girlfriend, but he had an assault rifle and knew “karate or boxing or something,” Elijah Taylor told the court.

The local man knocked on the door and no one answered, the younger Taylor said. He said he went around to the back with Hartman and Marcus Stephens, and they thought about kicking in the back door but decided against it, and returned to Johnathan Taylor’s apartment instead to get Cody Stephens to kick in the door.

The accounts of the two co-defendants differed on the matter of who then returned to Wages’ home on a second trip.

Cody Stephens testified that he, Hartman, both Taylors, Marcus Stephens, the local man and another uncharged witness went there in two vehicles, and that all of them except the two uncharged men broke into the house. He told the court that Hartman kicked in the back door.

But Elijah Taylor denied that his brother was with them. He said Johnathan Taylor remained at his apartment.

“I don’t know,” he said on cross-examination by defense attorney William Fleischaker. “I guess my brother didn’t want to go because he knew (Wages).”

Both men testified that everyone fled the house when the shots were fired. Marcus Stephens had picked up the victim’s assault rifle when they entered his bedroom, and he took it with him as they fled, both co-defendants said.

Cody Stephens told the court that he was forced to go with the others by Hartman, who threatened him and his family if he did not. He testified that they came back to get him because Hartman was concerned that he might “rat” on them if he wasn’t involved.

Cody Stephens testified that Hartman later ordered him and the Taylor brothers to return to Wages’ home a third time because he was upset that they had left without getting the drugs or money. He said they went back and found the lockbox on the floor next to a couch. But when they opened it, “there was nothing in there but a scale and some roach (burnt marijuana cigarette remains),” he said.

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