LAS VEGAS (AP) — A prosecutor on Tuesday cast a homeless ex-convict who admits killing a former Las Vegas firefighter's wife as a witless dupe, and suggested the woman's estranged husband-turned-murder defendant nearly plotted the perfect crime.
Sure, it was Noel Scott Stevens who hid in Shauna Tiaffay's apartment and bludgeoned her to death with a claw hammer when she returned home from her cocktail waitress job. Stevens had hid in her apartment and attacked her when she returned home from a night shift serving cocktails at a Las Vegas resort.
Prosecutor Pamela Weckerly called the slaying "as cold and dispassionate as it can get."
And sure, Stevens pleaded guilty to all seven charges against him, including murder and conspiracy.
But George Miguel Tiaffay put Stevens up to it, said Marc DiGiacomo, a chief deputy Clark County district attorney.
Tiaffay planned the killing, bought the murder weapon with Stevens, supplied him with a key to Shauna Tiaffay's apartment, and arrived to find his wife's bloody body at her town house in September 2012. Tiaffay had their 8-year-old daughter with him when he called 911.
"Noel Stevens used a hammer," DiGiacomo said during closing arguments after a weeklong trial. "The person who used Noel Stevens is George Tiaffay."
Defense attorney Robert Langford told the same Clark County District Court jury that Tiaffay didn't commit the crime or plan it. The jury spent a week hearing more than 40 witnesses for the prosecution and just one for the defense. Tiaffay didn't testify.
Tiaffay was at work when Shauna Tiaffay was killed, and Langford said there were plenty of reasons to dismiss Stevens' testimony implicating Tiaffay as the ramblings of a man who said he drank 1.75 liters of 101-proof liquor a day and is being treated in jail for voice hallucinations and depression.
"He's crazy. He hears voices. He drinks," Langford said. "If it's not reasonable to believe, it's reasonable doubt."
Langford recalled testimony from a Stevens friend who rated him a 1.5 on a 10-point believability scale.
Stevens is also a four-time felon whose plea deal with prosecutors means he won't face the death penalty. Langford hinted that Stevens might have been coached about what to say when asked about who told him to commit the killing.
"I lost track of the number of times I heard the answer, 'Oh. George,' " the defense attorney said. "How was his memory of anything else? Not so good."
DiGiacomo said that while Stevens had no motive to kill, Tiaffay was upset that his wife wanted a divorce and incensed that he might lose money to her. He was also angry that she accused him of drinking too much, tried to control her and used their daughter as a wedge between them.
"George is smart," DiGiacomo said, listing accomplishments including high school valedictorian, U.S. Military Academy graduate and 10 years as a firefighter. "He just doesn't have much experience in the crime of killing your wife — or getting someone else to kill your wife."
Still, if Stevens hadn't bragged about the slaying to a friend who called police, it's possible the crime might never have been solved, DiGiacomo suggested.
Stevens told the jury last week that George Tiaffay promised him $5,000, bought the murder weapon and plotted several ways to kill Shauna Tiaffay.
Police 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 had told him their relationship was over.