MILWAUKEE — Two of four people charged in connection with the death of a missing man who was beaten and left to die in the Milwaukee River are set for sentencing after plea deals were reached.
Shawn Leitner, 19, was in court Wednesday, March 27, where he pleaded guilty to one count of second degree reckless homicide, as party to a crime. He’ll be sentenced on May 2.
Emma Brud, 19, in December pleaded no contest to one count of harboring/aiding a felon — falsify info., as party to a crime. She will be sentenced on April 23.
Brandan Guyton-Denn faces one count of first degree reckless homicide, as party to a crime. He has a jury trial scheduled to begin on April 15.
Jaleel Schultz faces one count of first degree reckless homicide, as party to a crime. Online court records showed an arrest warrant was issued for him in September 2018.
They were charged in connection with in the death of Jovanny Puga, 18, a Green Bay man who went missing in February 2017. Prosecutors said he was beaten to death and thrown into the Milwaukee River in Lincoln Park.
“(A witness) saw Guyton-Denn kicking Puga in the head. He saw Leitner and Schultz on either side of Puga’s body, kicking him in the sides,” said Bryan Bichler, Glendale Police Department detective.
According to a criminal complaint, investigators learned the Green Bay man, who Glendale police identified for FOX6 as Jovanny Puga, spoke with his mother on the phone on Feb. 24, 2017, and that was the last time he was heard from. There was no social media presence after Feb. 25 — and a check revealed he had not been detained by any law enforcement agency, nor had his Social Security number been used in connection with employment, Additionally, a check with the Milwaukee County medical examiner revealed no unidentified bodies brought in. A check with hospitals in Milwaukee County revealed no one matching his description.
In March 2017, investigators learned of reports that the man had been beaten to death and thrown into a river.
Three of the suspects in this case, Guyton-Denn, Leitner and Schultz, were arrested on March 24, 2017 — when West Bend police stopped a vehicle that had been reported stolen out of De Pere by Brud’s mother. Law enforcement officials recovered cellphones from all three men arrested. The phones were searched, and the complaint says Guyton-Denn’s phone revealed searches Feb. 26, 2017 for “Milwaukee,” “Milwaukee deaths last night” and “Milwaukee deaths in the river.” Additionally, a photo of Puga was found on that phone — copied from the Green Bay Police Department’s social media page, posted to ask for the public’s help locating him. A search of Leitner’s phone showed “Milwaukee News” was searched on Feb. 27, 2017 and a picture of a cellphone posted to a marketplace website for buying and selling used phones — matching the description of Puga’s phone, which was never recovered. A search of Schultz’s phone on Feb. 26, 2017 revealed searches for “Man found dead in Milwaukee,” “Manslaughter in Milwaukee, WI,” Milwaukee crime news,” and the next day, searches for “Milwaukee dead body found 2017,” “Lincoln Park Milwaukee satellite view” — along with similar searches in March.
Brud was identified as a person of interest in May 2017 — after investigators learned she may have been with Puga on Feb. 25, and her name and contact information was found during the search of the phones after the three arrests in March.
The complaint says Brud told investigators she and Guyton-Denn were dating, and he “wanted revenge” on Puga over an incident where Puga beat up a 15-year-old friend of Guyton-Denn. He told Brud he and his friends were going to “do the same thing” to Puga. He told Brud to bring Puga to Milwaukee, which she did. The complaint says Brud, Puga and another person came to Milwaukee from Green Bay — with Brud indicating she “was aware that Guyton-Denn was going to get back at” Puga on this night. She drove to the house where Guyton-Denn and Leitner were staying, and Schultz was there. Guyton-Denn, Leitner and Schultz then left in Brud’s car with Puga and the other person. Brud said she “gave the keys to Guyton-Denn and knew the group was going to beat up” Puga. The group returned a few hours later — without Puga — and they began talking about “the beating they gave” Puga. It was said Guyton-Denn injured his ankle while “stomping on Puga’s face.” It was said that they beat Puga near a river, forced him to undress and told him “his options were to swim to a river, or return to shore and continue being beaten.” It was said the three suspects were “laughing” and “mimicking” how Puga had “pleaded for his life” and told his attackers that he “felt like he was dying.” They got away with Puga’s necklace, backpack, phone and clothes. Brud was instructed to take the clothes to Green Bay and burn them.
A neighbor indicated he bought Puga’s necklace for $10, and noticed the clasp was broken “as if it had been ripped from the boy’s neck, forcibly.” He said Guyton-Denn told him “he was upset with a boy who had snitched on him,” and heard the three suspects discussing “beating this boy and leaving him in a river, and he was not able to get out.”
The other person who was with the three suspects and Puga after they left the Milwaukee house for Lincoln Park told investigators they drove to the park, where Schultz began beating the victim — with the others joining in. They continued beating him at the river’s edge, and essentially forced this other person “to sit and watch.” After the beating, he said Guyton-Denn said “this is what happens when you talk (expletive) about people who are really about that life,” indicating he had planned the beating for two to three weeks. He said the group then went back to the house in Milwaukee and the suspects “celebrated and bragged about killing” Puga, and divided his property.
Guyton-Denn told investigators Schultz was upset with Puga “for some disrespectful comments he had made.” He said Schultz began beating the victim at Lincoln Park and forced him to undress. He said Schultz and the other person who said he was forced to “sit and watch” tossed Puga into the river — forcing him to stay there. He said the group then walked away — returning the next day “to see if there was any crime scene set up.”
The complaint says Leitner admitted he wanted to beat up Puga, who was “brought to Milwaukee as part of a revenge plot because the victim had disrespected him.” He said Schultz started the beating, and he admitted to hitting Puga in the face. He said Schultz threw Puga into the river. He said he “had no doubt that the beating had killed” Puga.
The complaint notes Puga’s body has not been found.