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Prosecutors will not seek capital punishment for Robert Telles

Updated October 26, 2022 - 7:32 pm

Employees with the Clark County public administrator’s office filed into a courtroom on Wednesday to watch as their former boss pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in the killing of Las Vegas Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German.

Prosecutors then announced that they will not seek the death penalty in the case of former Public Administrator Robert Telles, who is accused of fatally stabbing German last month, after German had reported on Telles and his role as an elected official.

Assistant Public Administrator Rita Reid and five of her co-workers wore pins with images of German’s face on them at Telles’ arraignment in District Court on Wednesday. Reid said the group wanted to honor German and the work he did reporting on inner turmoil in the office, which included allegations of hostility, bullying, and an inappropriate relationship between Telles and a staffer.

“We just really want to be here for Jeff,” Reid said. “He was there for us at a very difficult time, when everyone really couldn’t believe how bad it might be in the office.”

Reid, a Democrat, defeated Telles in the primary election. She is now running against Republican Patsy Brown and nonpartisan candidate Tabatha Al-Dabbagh in the general election.

A district judge removed Telles from office in early October, before his term was set to expire.

The public administrator’s office is small, and the five employees who attended court Wednesday said they make up the majority of staffers. Reid said they are prepared to follow what is expected to be lengthy court proceedings in Telles’ case.

“It’s going to be a difficult time, but we’re going to move on as best we can in the office, and try to make that better,” she said. “That’s what Jeff was trying to do, is improve services at a government office. As small as we are, we are important to the people that we serve, and he felt that that was important.”

German, 69, was found dead with stab wounds outside his Las Vegas home on Sept. 3, the day after Telles allegedly walked onto German’s property and attacked him.

Telles, 45, was indicted last week on a charge of murder with a deadly weapon against a victim who is 60 or older. During Wednesday’s court hearing, he quietly answered “yes, your honor” when asked if he understood the charge he faces.

“As to that charge, how do you plead: guilty or not guilty?” District Judge Tierra Jones asked.

“Not guilty, your honor,” Telles replied.

Death penalty review

Chief Deputy District Attorney Pamela Weckerly told Jones that prosecutors are not sending the case to the death penalty review board, which is a panel of prosecutors, including Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who decide if the state will seek capital punishment.

In Nevada, 15 aggravating factors can make a defendant eligible for the death penalty. The factors include: if the defendant has been convicted of another murder or violent crime; if the killing happened while the defendant was attempting a robbery, burglary, or home invasion; if the killing was random; or if the killing involved torture or mutilation.

“The lead attorney on the Telles case, Pamela Weckerly, believed that there was no aggravating circumstance to make this case available to be submitted to the death penalty review committee,” Wolfson said Wednesday, adding that he concurred with Weckerly’s opinion.

Prosecutors have accused Telles of “lying in wait” for German at his home. Although lying in wait is an aggravating factor in other states, it is not included in Nevada’s list of aggravating factors, according to the Death Penalty Information Center’s website.

German was stabbed in the torso and neck. An autopsy revealed seven sharp force injuries, including four to his neck.

Wolfson said that while “many, many murder cases have possible aggravators,” prosecutors also have to determine if they can prove the aggravating factors in court, and if those factors would outweigh potential mitigating circumstances.

He said prosecutors did not get to the point of determining mitigating factors in Telles’ case, because the case did not make it in front of the death penalty review board.

Deputy Public Defender Scott Coffee, who has represented defendants in death penalty cases for two decades, said aggravating factors in Nevada “are subject to some interpretation,” which has helped lead to Clark County pursuing the death penalty at higher rates than other counties in the U.S.

Coffee also has spent 20 years tracking death penalty data in Nevada, and has recorded 65 cases currently pending in Clark County where prosecutors are seeking capital punishment.

“In terms of absolute numbers, I believe Clark County has the most in the country,” Coffee said.

‘Overwhelming’ evidence

On Wednesday, Telles also waived his right to a jury trial within 60 days. He has been held without bail at the Clark County Detention Center since his arrest on Sept. 7.

Although he was formally represented by public defenders, Telles hired private defense attorney Ryan Helmick on Monday. The Review-Journal reported last week that Telles was assigned public defenders despite having thousands in property assets.

Helmick declined to comment on the case on Wednesday.

Prosecutors previously have argued that the evidence against Telles is “overwhelming.”

At Telles’ home, police found clothing matching items worn by a suspect seen in surveillance footage outside German’s house. Surveillance footage showed the suspect driving to the house in a maroon GMC Denali, which matches the description of a vehicle registered to Telles’ wife, according to authorities.

DNA found underneath German’s fingernails also matched Telles’ DNA, prosecutors have said.

Telles is scheduled to appear in court again on Nov. 2.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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