Handyman in Bashara case changes story about killing associate’s wife
The handyman who admitted killing Jane Bashara at the behest of her husband now claims he committed the crime on his own, adding another twist to a bizarre murder case that featured several bombshells and made national headlines.
According to a motion filed in Wayne Circuit Court, Joseph Gentz claims Robert Bashara had nothing to do with his wife’s Jan. 24, 2012, killing. Gentz said he panicked when Jane Bashara encountered him in her garage as he was looking for items to steal and he strangled her.
The handyman also asserts he said he was involved in the killing only after Grosse Pointe Park police coerced a confession from him because they said they were out to get Bob Bashara.
Bashara was convicted last year of orchestrating his wife’s death and is seeking a new trial.
News of the affidavit upset Jane Bashara’s mother, Lorraine Engelbrect.
“What’s going on here? I’m afraid he’s going to get a new trial,” she said. “This is unbelievable. I don’t know if we’ll have to live with this forever. It’s been four years, and Jane’s picture is all over the TV again.”
Jane Bashara’s great-aunt Barbara Naeyaert said Gentz’s new story matches that told by Bashara.
“He’s just telling the same story Bob did: That he went over to the house because he was mad,” Naeyaert said. “I don’t believe it.”
Bashara’s appellate lawyer, Ronald Ambrose, said in the affidavit filed Jan. 13, a copy of which was obtained by WDIV (Channel 4), that Carlo Vartinelli, an attorney for Gentz’s cellmate in the Macomb Correctional Facility, contacted Ambrose in December about Gentz changing his story.
“Mr. Vartinelli showed appellate counsel an affidavit of Joseph Gentz, which exculpates defendant of any wrongdoing in the murder of Jane Bashara,” Ambrose wrote in the 12-page motion.
Vartinelli gave Ambrose a copy of Gentz’s affidavit, signed Dec. 2, in which Gentz said he lied to police about killing Jane Bashara. The affidavit was attached to Ambrose’s motion.
Gentz said in the document he was mad at Bashara because the businessman hadn’t paid him for odd jobs he’d done at Bashara’s rental properties. So, Gentz said, he broke into Bashara’s garage to take something of equal value to the work he’d done.
“Mrs. Jane Bashara walked into the garage and asked me what I was doing in her home,” the affidavit said. “I panicked, walked toward her and put my hands around her neck and she began struggling with me.
“I held her with one hand, picked up an object and hit her on the head. She lost consciousness. I (thought) she was faking so I placed both my hands around her neck and squeezed her neck until she no longer moved.
“My testimonial statements against Mr. (Robert) Bashara was the product of coercion and subordination of perjury,” Gentz wrote.
According to testimony during Bashara’s trial, the Grosse Pointe Park businessman asked several people if they knew anyone who would hurt someone for money.
Bashara admitted he tried to hire a furniture store owner to kill Gentz while the handyman was in jail. The store owner, Steve Tibaudo, told authorities about the overture and they outfitted him with a wire that recorded Bashara discussing the hit.
Bashara pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder and was sentenced to up to 20 years.
Gentz, who has been described as developmentally disabled, entered into a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for testifying at Bashara’s trial.
Gentz told police he strangled the woman while her husband watched. He later claimed Bashara forced him to commit the killing.
However, Gentz said in his affidavit he wasn’t being truthful in his statements to police.
“Chief David Hiller and Sergeant Reducio (sic) drilled me for three days coaching me about what I should testify against Mr. Bashara, and at one point I asked them why when in fact I, and I alone did it.
“Chief Hiller stated: ‘We’re going to help you and you will get a lesser sentence if you help us get Robert Bashara,’ ” according to the affidavit.
In his affidavit, Gentz claims he asked the sergeant why they wanted to arrest Bashara. “He stated: ‘We’ve been after that (expletive) for some time. You don’t need to know more beyond that.”
The prosecutor’s office did not comment on Gentz’s claim. “We will be back in court on the Bashara case on Feb. 11 and will address any issues in the case on the record in court at that time,” said spokeswoman Maria Miller.
Hiller could not be reached for comment late Wednesday for comment. Ambrose did not return a phone call. .
On the eve of Bashara’s highly publicized trial, Gentz changed his mind about testifying and prosecutors said at the time his decision might jeopardize his plea deal.
Despite Gentz’s refusal to testify, a jury convicted Bashara last year of first-degree murder after an often raucous trial that lasted two months and featured 74 witnesses and 460 exhibits.
Prosecutors said Bashara wanted his wife dead so he could immerse himself in a bondage, discipline and sadomasochistic lifestyle with his longtime mistress, Rachel Gillett.
Bashara appealed his sentence, claiming he wasn’t given a fair trial because prosecutors sullied his name and didn’t highlight his charitable work as president of the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club.
The hearing for a new trial has lasted eight days, drawn out over several months. Bashara was scheduled to take the witness stand Dec. 12 for his fifth day of testimony, but the hearing was postponed until Feb. 11.
“This was supposed to be over next month, and it’s starting all over again,” Engelbrect said.
“I’m very upset. These two (Bashara and Gentz) are murderers and liars. I’m so upset, after four years of agony, I don’t know what to do right now.”