Handyman reaffirms testimony that Bashara ordered wife’s murder

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 26, 2016

 Former handyman Joe Gentz — accompanied by his attorney, John Holler — appears in 3rd Circuit Court April 21 as he prepares to address an affidavit filed in his name earlier this year. In the affidavit, Gentz claims that he alone killed Grosse Pointe Park marketing executive Jane Bashara. On the stand, Gentz said the affidavit’s contents are false, and he reaffirmed Bob Bashara’s role in the murder.

Former handyman Joe Gentz — accompanied by his attorney, John Holler — appears in 3rd Circuit Court April 21 as he prepares to address an affidavit filed in his name earlier this year. In the affidavit, Gentz claims that he alone killed Grosse Pointe Park marketing executive Jane Bashara. On the stand, Gentz said the affidavit’s contents are false, and he reaffirmed Bob Bashara’s role in the murder.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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DETROIT — If Robert “Bob” Bashara, 58, thought testimony from his former handyman, Joseph “Joe” Gentz, 52, would secure him a new trial for the murder of his wife, Jane Bashara, he was in for quite a shock.

Although Gentz had signed an affidavit filed with the court earlier this year in which he claimed to have committed the murder on his own while Bob Bashara wasn’t present at the Bashara family home in Grosse Pointe Park, when Gentz took the stand in 3rd Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans’ courtroom April 21, he trashed the affidavit as “garbage.”

“This is a lie,” Gentz said emphatically while reading the affidavit aloud in court. “This whole thing is a lie.”

According to the affidavit, Gentz allegedly broke into Bob Bashara’s home on Jan. 24, 2012, in search of valuables, and when he encountered Jane Bashara, he got angry and killed her. But on the stand, Gentz adamantly denied breaking into the home or even being angry with Bob Bashara over Bashara’s supposed failure to pay him for some odd jobs.

Gentz, who experts have testified before has a low IQ, was clearly not the author of the affidavit, as he struggled to pronounce many of the words in the document while reading it aloud for the court. Carlo Vartinelli, a fellow inmate, is said to have penned the document for him, but Gentz now says that although he signed it, the affidavit is riddled with inaccuracies.

“I didn’t ask Carlo (to write the affidavit),” Gentz said on the stand. “He came to me (about it). He was bugging me. … He kept on asking me certain questions and I said, ‘OK, fine.’”

Gentz said he gave Vartinelli his pre-sentence report after Vartinelli allegedly asked for it a number of times.

“I don’t know what he was getting out of it,” Gentz said of Vartinelli’s decision to write up the affidavit.

Vartinelli, 57, who is serving a life sentence for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, was a fellow inmate with Gentz at the Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, where Gentz was formerly incarcerated; Gentz has since been moved to the Bellamy Correctional Facility in Ionia.

Gentz’s testimony April 21 was in line with what he told police in January 2012 after he admitted to his role in the murder. In court, he said he arrived at the Bashara home at 6 p.m. to assist Bob Bashara with removing items from the garage to put in storage elsewhere. Gentz said Bob Bashara let him into the house through the side door. Bob and Jane Bashara were arguing in the kitchen before they all headed into the garage.

“I went over there to move boxes,” Gentz said. “Next thing you know, (Bob Bashara) pulled a gun on me and said, ‘Do it now.’”

He said Bashara told him, “‘Shut her up,’” as he ordered the handyman to kill Jane Bashara.

Gentz said Bob Bashara promised to give him a ring, $8,000 and an older-model Cadillac in exchange for the murder, but on the day Gentz strangled and beat Jane Bashara to death, he said he did so not for the payment but because his boss was threatening to kill him. 

Gentz said a gun-wielding Bob Bashara was standing between Gentz and the only door out of the garage, because the garage door itself was down at that time.

“He was standing behind (Jane Bashara’s) vehicle,” Gentz said. “I couldn’t go anywhere.”

After the murder, he said Bob Bashara walked over to his wife’s body.

“He walked over to her and said, ‘I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean it,’” Gentz recalled.

Gentz said he and Bob Bashara loaded Jane Bashara’s body into the back of her Mercedes SUV, and Bob Bashara went into the house to get his wife’s purse, whose contents Gentz said Bashara scattered “all over the place” inside the vehicle. 

“Then he threatened me,” Gentz said of Bashara. “He said, ‘If you ever say anything (about the murder), you’ll be killed.’”

Gentz said Bashara warned him that he’d be followed. “And I was,” he said.

Immediately following the murder, Gentz drove Jane Bashara’s vehicle with her body inside to a neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, where he abandoned it; he was familiar with the area because his late stepmother, Lettie Gentz, had lived there. He said Bob Bashara, meanwhile, left the house separately.

Gentz risked having first-degree murder and other charges reinstated against him — which would have come with a life sentence without the possibility of parole — had he affirmed the contents of the affidavit and said he alone committed the murder. 

Evans repeatedly warned Gentz of the consequences that could come if he took the stand, even taking a break in court proceedings so that his brother, Kevin Gentz, could speak with him before Gentz decided to testify or not.

“Whatever decision you make, you’ve got to live with,” Evans told him.

In 2012, Gentz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder — for which he received a sentence of 17-28 years — and agreed to testify against Bashara. However, when Bashara — a former Grosse Pointe Park businessman — went on trial for his wife’s murder in 2014, Gentz refused to testify, claiming that prosecutors had promised to reduce his sentence to only five years behind bars if he took the stand. 

Prosecutors and even Gentz’s former defense attorney have all said that a five-year-sentence deal was never on the table, and there are no documents to support Gentz’s claim.

In response to a question from Ronald Ambrose, the attorney representing Bob Bashara as Bashara tries to get a new trial, Gentz said he signed the affidavit because he was “mad” about prosecutors’ alleged failure to reduce his sentence. He said they promised him he’d be safe in prison, but since he was locked up in 2012, he’s been assaulted four times, gotten his hand broken and been threatened by fellow inmates, who have even left items under his mattress.

For giving investigators information about Bob Bashara’s role in the murder, “I’ve been called a rat (in prison),” Gentz said. “What do they do with rats in prison? They kill you.”

Bob Bashara tried to have Gentz killed in prison, for which he pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit murder in 2012. Bashara received a sentence of six to 20 years in prison for that offense.

John Holler, Gentz’s attorney, said his client has questioned whether he will survive the remainder of his sentence.

“Inmates who have given information that helped convict others are on the lowest (rung) of the totem pole,” Holler said outside the courtroom. “Joe is honestly concerned about his safety. He was promised safety (in prison). It was a lie.”

Gentz is expected to continue with his testimony when the hearing resumes at 9:30 a.m. May 10. Evans told the attorneys she wants to see the hearing concluded soon.

“I’ve given this hearing excessive latitude,” she said. “It’s time for this court to make a decision. … I’m not going to let this testimony go forward really for more than a day.”

Holler said he is thankful for Evans’ deliberateness. 

“Judge Evans is a very careful jurist,” he said. “She proceeds with an abundance of caution. Everyone should appreciate that.”

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