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Man pleads guilty to raping, murdering UNLV student

Updated June 4, 2024 - 7:31 pm

A 26-year-old man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to raping and killing a UNLV student in 2019.

Giovanni Ruiz was facing the death penalty in the death of his ex-girlfriend, 19-year-old Paula Davis. He entered a guilty plea during a court hearing Tuesday, less than two weeks before his trial was scheduled to begin.

He agreed to a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 42 years, and to pleading guilty to first-degree murder with a deadly weapon and sexual assault with a deadly weapon. If he is ever released on parole, Ruiz will face a lifetime of supervision and will be required to register as a sex offender.

“Is that your understanding of the deal?” District Judge Tierra Jones asked during Tuesday’s hearing.

Ruiz’s voice shook with emotion as he answered: “Yes, your honor.”

Jones will have the final say in the sentence, but Ruiz will be able to withdraw his guilty plea if the judge does not follow the agreement.

“We’re glad that Gio took responsibility for his heinous crimes and hope that his sentence keeps other families from experiencing this nightmare,” Davis’ father, Sean Davis, said in a statement texted to the Review-Journal on behalf of his family.

Ruiz has remained in custody since his arrest in 2019. He appeared in court on Tuesday wearing a blue jail uniform and a surgical mask, as he hid his face from news photographers. He appeared to cry and rub at his eyes following the hearing.

He was arrested after Paula Davis was found shot to death in her family’s van on Sept. 6, 2019, at the Desert Horizons Park in North Las Vegas. Davis had sent Ruiz a final breakup text the same day she was found dead.

Her family told police that Ruiz was possessive and jealous, according to Ruiz’s arrest report.

Davis died of two gunshot wounds to the head. A Clark County medical examiner testified before a grand jury in 2019 that there were signs Davis was raped as she died.

Investigators found a semi-automatic handgun missing two rounds inside Ruiz’s home, along with a receipt showing the weapon was purchased two days before Davis was killed, according to police.

Davis was studying economics at UNLV, where Ruiz was a graduate accounting student.

Hundreds of people attended Davis’ funeral shortly after she was killed, held at St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church. Davis was a devout member of the church who sang, played flute and drums in the pastoral musical program.

She also frequently volunteered at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada’s homeless services and food pantry. After her death, Catholic Charities renamed one of its programs the Paula Marie Davis Medically Assisted Treatment Program, meant to help treat and house people struggling with mental illness and addiction.

Following Tuesday’s hearing, Ruiz’s defense attorney, Gabriel Grasso, said there were “no winners” in the case.

“It’s the culmination of an extremely tragic episode in the lives of two families that have been, to some extent, destroyed by what happened,” Grasso said.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 25.

Davis’ family said anyone “willing to support Paula’s legacy of love, faith, and positivity” can consider a donation to Catholic Charities’ Paula Marie Davis Medically Assisted Treatment Program.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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