LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former Las Vegas firefighter and U.S. Military Academy graduate was found guilty Thursday of hiring a homeless ex-convict to hide in an apartment and kill his estranged wife with a claw hammer nearly three years ago.
George Miguel Tiaffay had no visible reaction as the verdict was read in Clark County District Court. His sister, Bernadette Holmes, sobbed quietly and dabbed her face with a tissue.
The 43-year-old former high school valedictorian and 10-year firefighter was found guilty of seven murder, conspiracy, burglary and robbery charges with weapon enhancements in the slaying of Shauna Tiaffay.
The 46-year-old mother of an 8-year-old daughter was attacked and killed as she returned home about 3:30 a.m. Sept. 29, 2012, from a night shift as a cocktail server at the Palms Casino Hotel.
The victim's sister, Paula Stokes-Richards of Brentwood, Tennessee, hugged a close friend, Laurie Ralphs of Las Vegas, as the verdict was read.
"Shauna was brutally murdered," Stokes-Richards told reporters later. "So many people loved Shauna. We're just happy and satisfied the jury saw the truth."
District Attorney Steve Wolfson said outside court: "Justice was served. Today, a murderer was convicted of first degree murder."
Another Tiaffay sister, Maria McGrew, heard that comment in the hallway and said, "Not everyone thinks justice was served."
Judge Eric Johnson said the jury will convene Friday to consider a sentence. The seven men and five women will decide whether Tiaffay will ever have a chance at parole. The death penalty is not under consideration. The minimum he could receive at sentencing is 21 years.
George Tiaffay had a solid alibi. He was at work when the murder occurred. He had their daughter with him when he went to Shauna Tiaffay's apartment later that morning and discovered her bloody body.
The homeless man, Noel Scott Stevens, 40, admitted hiding in the apartment and hitting Shauna Tiaffay with the head of the hammer even after the wooden handle broke.
"Who told you to kill Shauna?" prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo asked during Stevens' testimony last week.
"George did," Stevens responded.
Stevens told the jury that George Tiaffay promised him $5,000, bought the murder weapon and other supplies, and plotted several methods before the deed was finally done.
A medical examiner testified that she found at least 17 hammer blows to Shauna Tiaffay's fractured skull, and broken fingers and bones in her hand showing that she tried to fend off the attack.
Stevens pleaded guilty in January 2013 to murder, conspiracy, burglary and robbery charges, and faces at least 21 years in state prison when he's sentenced in coming weeks. He told the jury he expects to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Defense attorney Robert Langford suggested Stevens' testimony against the man who befriended him and sometimes hired him for odd jobs was tainted by the plea deal. Langford cast the four-time convicted felon as mentally unstable and his testimony as not credible.
George Tiaffay didn't testify. But jurors heard his voice in an hour-long statement to police, recorded days before he was arrested.
He later crashed his Ford F-250 pickup into concrete retaining wall at more than 80 mph. DiGiacomo suggested the crash was an attempt by Tiaffay to kill himself and avoid prosecution. He was injured, but he recovered to stand trial.
Police detectives testified that they found that Tiaffay telephoned Stevens 87 times in the month before the slaying — almost as many times as he called the wife who'd told him their relationship was over.
The jury was told that Tiaffay wanted to keep his wife from getting his money.
The broken murder weapon was found buried near one of Stevens' homeless encampments in the desert outside Las Vegas, along with bloody jeans with DNA matching Stevens and Shauna Tiaffay.
The jury saw store video showing George Tiaffay and Stevens together buying dark clothes at a Wal-Mart, and a hammer, knife and gloves at another store several weeks before the slaying.
Langford said the only thing certain was that Stevens killed Shauna Tiaffay.
This story corrects the slaying date Sept. 29, 2012, not 2013.