A Las Vegas firefighter charged with hiring a homeless man for $600 to kill his estranged wife told a district judge Thursday that he is not guilty.
But a few hours later, the killer, Noel “Greyhound” Stevens, admitted to Judge Jerry Tao that he used a hammer to beat Shauna Tiaffay to death in September and that George Tiaffay hired him to do it.
Stevens, who testified to a grand jury that he hit the Palms cocktail waitress in the head 17 times with a hammer, pleaded guilty to six charges, including first-degree murder, robbery and two counts each of burglary and conspiracy.
As part of the plea deal with prosecutors, Stevens won’t be sentenced until after he testifies against George Tiaffay, who faces trial on Jan. 13, 2014.
A judge then can take into consideration Stevens’ cooperation with authorities in deciding his sentence, which could mean a chance at parole after serving a minimum of 20 years or a maximum life term without parole.
Tiaffay, dressed in navy blue jail scrubs with his arms and legs shackled, sat with his eyes closed in court Thursday.
After the hearing, he hung his head low as he was escorted by marshals from Tao’s courtroom, avoiding the stares from his and the victim’s families and friends who attended the hearing and numbered more than two dozen.
The two defendants were arrested in October in the Sept. 29 slaying of Shauna Tiaffay, whose body was found in her Summerlin home.
A key part of the case will revolve around the veracity of Stevens’ testimony, which George Tiaffay’s lawyer has already tried to discredit as the ranting of a “crazy homeless guy.”
In a motion seeking bail for George Tiaffay, defense lawyer Robert Langford has said, “The only evidence the state has is the fantastical claims of a deranged man, Noel Stevens, who also claims that he turned down a recent opportunity to commit a jewel heist of an Italian mobster at the Palms.”
The lawyer added, “Stevens is an addled drug addict whose far-fetched stories should not be believed, let alone support murder charges. These stories are the product of an altered mind. Stevens consumes large quantities of alcohol, takes methamphetamine and smokes weed.”
The bail motion was supposed to be argued Thursday, but Langford asked the judge to continue the hearing to a later date so he could review evidence prosecutors are expected to release to him. Tiaffay remains in the Clark County Detention Center without bail.
Authorities allege Tiaffay, a Las Vegas firefighter since 2002 and a 1994 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, paid Stevens to kill his wife. The couple were divorcing.
George Tiaffay was with the couple’s 8-year-old daughter when they found the body at the Willowbrook Apartments, 2601 S. Pavilion Center Drive, near the intersection of Sahara Avenue and the Las Vegas Beltway.
Shauna Tiaffay had been dead for hours by the time her husband and daughter made the grisly discovery.
Her body was cold and stiff, according to police. A hole from a hammer blow to the side of her head was so deep that paramedics initially thought she had been shot.
The 46-year-old mother had broken several fingers trying to defend herself after returning home from a graveyard shift at the Palms in the early morning hours of Sept. 29,.
Before his arrest, George Tiaffay spent time recovering in the hospital from injuries he suffered after he drove his truck into a wall near Summerlin Parkway and the Beltway. Detectives said he was trying to commit suicide after learning that he was a prime suspect in the slaying.
Stevens, who lived at vagrant campsites around Las Vegas, told detectives that George Tiaffay was a longtime friend who occasionally hired him to work as a handyman.
Detectives found several items of clothing from Shauna Tiaffay’s home, including her underwear, in one of Stevens’ tents near Charleston Boulevard on the west end of the valley.
Detectives also recovered a bloodstained T-shirt and pair of jeans during a search of a second tent near Town Center Drive and Tropicana Avenue. The blood tested positive for both Stevens and the victim, according to police.
George Tiaffay and Stevens were linked to the crime by cellphone records that indicated the duo met a few hours after the killing, authorities have said. They were recorded on a store surveillance camera buying a hammer, knife and gloves a few weeks before Shauna Tiaffay’s death.
Stevens told the grand jury he had made several “dry runs” before killing Shauna Tiaffay.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.