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December 21, 2012

Gentz pleads guilty to second-degree murder in death of Jane Bashara

Deal calls for him to testify truthfully in court if called up, raising speculation about possible new charges against Robert Bashara

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

Former Grosse Pointe Park handyman Joseph Gentz — who admitted in January to police that he was responsible for the murder of Park mother and marketing executive Jane Bashara — has agreed to a plea deal that could lead to murder charges against Jane Bashara’s husband, Robert.

During a special pretrial hearing Dec. 21 in front of 3rd Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans, Gentz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Jan. 24 homicide, which allegedly took place inside the Bashara family garage. Jane Bashara’s body was found the next day inside her SUV, which was abandoned in an alley on the east side of Detroit.

Gentz told authorities that he killed Jane Bashara at the behest of her husband, who Gentz said offered him a couple thousand dollars and an older Cadillac in exchange for the crime. Gentz also said Robert Bashara threatened him. Robert Bashara has denied any involvement in his wife’s murder, but is currently in state prison for having pleaded guilty to solicitation of murder for attempting to hire someone to kill Gentz in jail, a crime for which he was sentenced to six to 20 years. Bashara had not been charged, at press time, in connection with his wife’s murder, but police labeled him a “person of interest” early in their investigation.

“The people have reached an agreement and are ready to proceed,” said Lisa Lindsey, one of the attorneys with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, when asked by Evans about the deal.

Explaining the charge Gentz was facing and the legal rights he was giving up, Evans said Gentz could be sentenced for up to life in prison for second-degree murder, but she assured him that wasn’t the maximum sentence he’d actually be facing. She also told him that he would have to follow the agreement for special consideration, as well, which called on Gentz to give the same answers to the same questions if he was asked those questions again.

Indicating that he understood his rights, Gentz responded, “Yes, ma’am” to Evans throughout the proceedings. After having been the target of a murder plot, Gentz admitted to the judge that he remained a little bit scared.

After swearing in court to tell the truth, Gentz made a brief statement admitting his role in Jane Bashara’s murder.

“Bob Bashara offered me money to kill his wife,” he said. “He threatened me if I did not kill her. I killed Jane Bashara because Bob Bashara promised me money and threatened to kill me. This happened in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, (on) Jan. 24, 2012.”

Gentz added that a statement he gave under oath Dec. 20 “was true,” and Lindsey concurred, telling the court, “The factual basis is supported by the statement he made under oath yesterday.”

Gentz had been facing first-degree murder charges and conspiracy to commit murder. His attorney, Susan Reed, said the conspiracy charge has been dropped. A second person was never charged as Gentz’s co-conspirator.

Talking to reporters after court, Reed said she felt this deal was in the “best interest” of her client.

“We worked very hard to get to (this point),” she said.

The deal validates what Gentz has been saying since he first walked into the Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Department just days after the murder.

“He’s been telling the truth all along, and unfortunately when he first went in … no one believed him,” Reed said.

Blame lies squarely with Robert Bashara, said Reed, who feels her client was victimized by him. She said Bashara knew Gentz, with his low IQ, could be easily influenced.

“I think that’s why (Gentz) was picked (by Bashara), because he could be manipulated and taken advantage of,” Reed said.

She said Gentz regrets his role in the murder, and “he thinks he has to pay for what he did, and everyone has to pay for what they did” in the case.

“He has expressed remorse because of the situation he was placed in by Bob Bashara,” Reed said. “He regrets and is sorry for (his actions).”

The widespread speculation among those close to the case is that charges against Robert Bashara are imminent, but when asked, Reed said, “That’s up to the prosecutors.”

A statement issued by a spokesperson for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said that the Jane Bashara case “remains under investigation (and) no other charges are expected at this time.”

However, it’s telling that as part of his plea deal, Gentz has agreed to “testify truthfully in any (legal) proceedings.”

And Reed said her client’s plea agreement “does (seem)” to open the doors to future charges against Bashara.

Reed said Gentz’s agreement “is not part of the public record,” and she couldn’t comment as to whether her client might be testifying against Bashara in the future. The deal he struck calls for him to testify again in court if called upon, she said.

Reed said this is the strangest case she’s ever worked on.

“It has everything in it,” she said. “I’ve been doing this 30 years and I’ve never seen a case like this.”

At press time, Gentz was slated to learn his sentence Jan. 29 in 3rd Circuit Court in front of Evans. A time had not yet been set.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.