JOPLIN, Mo. —
A second defendant has accepted a plea offer in the Jacob Wages murder case, agreeing to testify against the suspected shooter, Daniel Hartman, in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Cody E. Stephens, 22, pleaded guilty Friday in Jasper County Circuit Court to second-degree murder and first-degree burglary in the Joplin slaying of the 23-year-old Wages.
His change of pleas comes in response to an offer from the Jasper County prosecutor to limit the sentences that he would receive to 15 years for the murder and five years for the burglary, and with the terms to run concurrently.
The plea deal requires that Stephens testify against co-defendant Daniel Hartman, 18, the presumed triggerman in the case. Hartman currently is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 27 on charges of first-degree murder and first-degree burglary.
Circuit Judge David Mouton delayed formal acceptance or rejection of the plea bargain and ordered a sentencing-assessment report on Stephens. The judge also set his sentencing hearing for March 7, but that could change since the plea agreement calls for Stephens not to be sentenced until after Hartman has been tried.
If Stephens fails to testify against Hartman in a manner consistent with an earlier statement that he provided to police, the state’s recommendations to the court would change to life in prison for the murder and 15 years for the burglary, according to the plea offer.
Another co-defendant, Marcus D. Stephens, 17, accepted the same plea bargain on Nov. 18 and has a sentencing hearing set for Feb. 3.
Five young suspects are charged in the case. Joplin police say they went to Wages’ home at 1912 S. Pearl Ave. in the middle of the night on July 6, 2012, looking to steal a stash of “mollies,” or Ecstasy pills. Co-defendant Elijah Taylor, 18, testified at Hartman’s preliminary hearing in November of last year that they hoped to rob Wages of a pound of Ecstasy pills and about $5,000 cash.
Taylor told the court at that time that Cody Stephens kicked a door to Wages’ home open and they entered “looking for a black box.” He said Wages arose from his bed as they broke in and had a gun in his hand when Hartman shot and killed him.
Taylor did not put his brother, co-defendant Johnathan “J.T.” Taylor, 20, at the scene but instead implicated a sixth young man as having remained in their vehicle outside the home. Investigators believe that Johnathan Taylor was involved, and that the other young man named by his brother was not present, and he has not been charged.
Johnathan Taylor, like Elijah Taylor, Cody Stephens and Marcus Stephens, was charged with second-degree murder under the state’s felony murder rule. Hartman is the lone defendant charged with first-degree murder.
Johnathan Taylor was free on bond until recently when he first got in trouble for an alleged attempt to pass some counterfeit bills at a Joplin restaurant and scuffling with police, and then as a suspect in an armed holdup of a liquor store.
Court records indicate that Elijah Taylor, who was reported to be in custody in Oklahoma on Nov. 18, apparently is no longer locked up. The Jasper County prosecutor’s office filed a motion Nov. 27 seeking to have his bond revoked and a new warrant issued for his arrest.
While murder suspects Johnathan Taylor and Elijah Taylor are brothers, co-defendants Cody Stephens and Marcus Stephens are not related.