Gentz says he won't testify in Bashara trial
Detroit — The man who confessed to strangling Jane Bashara in her Grosse Pointe Park garage insisted Friday he will not take the witness stand against his former boss.
The decision by Joseph Gentz not to testify could result in him spending the rest of his life in jail.
Gentz is serving a 17- to 28-year prison sentence after pleading guilty last year to second-degree murder. The developmentally disabled handyman said he killed the marketing executive at the behest of Robert Bashara, who had hired Gentz to do odd jobs at some of his rental properties.
Bashara is charged with first-degree murder. Opening statements in his trial are scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Both Gentz and Bashara were in court Friday, though not at the same time. First, Gentz's attorney, John Holler, said his client will not testify unless his sentence is reduced to five years or less.
"He's adamant that he was promised that once he testified in this case ... that prosecutors would motion this court to a reduction in sentence to no more than five years," Holler said.
But Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey said Gentz was getting bad information from "jailhouse lawyers."
Wayne Circuit Judge Vonda Evans warned Gentz that, if he refuses to testify, prosecutors could rescind the plea deal and reinstate the original charge against him — first-degree murder.
"I would not take any advice from anyone that's locked up themselves how to get out," Evans told Gentz. "You do understand, if the people decide they want to withdraw this plea because you have not fulfilled your obligation, they can proceed with first-degree murder?"
Gentz answered, "Yes, ma'am, I do."
The hulking former handyman was then led out of the courtroom, and, minutes later, his former boss, Bashara entered for a hearing to determine how to proceed in the case without Gentz taking the stand.
Bashara's attorney, Lillian Diallo, told members of the jury last week that Gentz would be testifying. Evans warned that since Gentz decided not to take the stand, neither Diallo or co-counsel Michael McCarthy are allowed to reference Gentz being a witness in the case.
Lindsey argued that the defense also is not allowed to enter into evidence Gentz's statement to police that he killed Jane Bashara. McCarthy said because Gentz refused to testify, he's to be considered unavailable, which allows them to bring up his confession, but the judge said the defense must first file an emergency motion for her to make a legal ruling declaring Gentz unavailable.
To allow for the emergency motion, Evans pushed opening statements back two hours to 11 a.m. Tuesday.
A former church usher and president of the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club, Bashara pleaded guilty in 2012 of solicitation of murder. He admitted he tried to hire a furniture store owner to kill Gentz in jail, and was sentenced to six to 20 years in prison.
Gentz has twice tried to withdraw his guilty plea. Both attempts were denied by Evans.
During a Sept. 28 hearing, Gentz's attorney, John Holler, gave several reasons his client should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea, including the claim that Gentz couldn't read — but Lindsey said Gentz was able to send out "hundreds and hundreds" of text messages, including texts to dating websites, according to a transcript of the hearing released by court officials Friday.
"Mr. Gentz was a member of numerous dating sites where he would text women, (and) women would text what they would like to do to him, and he would text back," Lindsey said.
It was also revealed during the hearing that Gentz was not immediately provided an attorney when he asked for one while police interrogated him on Feb. 1, 2012, about a week after Jane Bashara's murder. But Evans said Gentz's guilty plea made that irrelevant.
"Although the court is concerned about the fact that there was even testimony here that the police did not follow the law in scrupulously honoring his right to have a lawyer present when he requested one, the court does believe that the guilty plea, in fact, waives the issue," Evans said.
The judge added: "The court is satisfied that this court went over the Miranda rights specifically asking him ... when he plead guilty whether or not he understood those rights and whether or not there were oral representations made by his counsel."
Also Friday, court officials released the questionnaire that was given last week to the 150 members of the jury pool in Bashara's murder case. Evans said she didn't want to release copies of the form while potential jurors were still filling them out.
Most of the 24 questions centered around the publicity surrounding the case, and whether jury candidates would be able to render fair verdicts after having heard details in the media.
One question: "Do you think that most people have a breaking point ... where they could be provoked into violent behavior?"
Other questions included: "Have you known anyone who was unfaithful to their spouse?"; "Some people have a very strong reaction to people who are not faithful to their spouses; how do you feel?"; and "Would a criminal defendant's participation in an open marriage or alternative sexual lifestyle affect your ability to determine the facts of the case brought against him in an impartial manner?"
Prosecutors say Bashara had his wife killed so he could pursue the bondage/discipline/sadomasochism lifestyle with his mistress, Rachel Gillett, and other women he wanted to join them in a polygamous relationship.