The local hero turned out to be a killer.
George Tiaffay grew up on a chicken ranch, which he helped tend as a boy after his father died. He became a high school valedictorian and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He served as a Las Vegas firefighter. Other firemen said he was “one of the best in the field.”
He seemed to have a grip on life.
But by 2012, his marriage to Shauna Tiaffay was falling apart. He lost control of the woman friends said he manipulated and verbally abused, and his finances were at risk in their looming divorce.
And on Sept. 29 of that year, he walked his 8-year-old daughter, Madison, into his wife’s Summerlin apartment, prosecutors said, knowing that the 46-year-old Palms waitress was dead inside.
George Tiaffay had hired a homeless man named Noel “Greyhound” Stevens to bludgeon her with a hammer. They spent weeks planning out the killing, authorities said. The thought had been stewing in Tiaffay’s mind for months, if not longer.
“That was probably the hurdle for everybody in this case,” prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo said. “Can you really comprehend a guy with this history committing this crime? And there’s no question he committed this crime. And if you commit this crime, you absolutely deserve life without (parole).”
A Clark County jury agreed Friday, deciding that Tiaffay, now 43, should spend the rest of his life behind bars with no chance of parole.
A day earlier, the seven men and five women found him guilty of first-degree murder and six other counts in Shauna Tiaffay’s death.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on the other charges next month.
In the weeks before the slaying, the confessed hitman and George Tiaffay were captured on surveillance video buying dark clothing, a hammer and a knife, though the tools were not those used in the slaying.
Stevens said he made several dry runs before he killed Shauna Tiaffay, at one point burglarizing her apartment. He testified that during one of those dry runs, he bumped into police officers who confiscated what they took to be burglary tools.
“Think about the number of times that he had the opportunity to end this,” DiGiacomo told jurors Friday. “There’s at least 30 days of premeditation and deliberation. Thirty days for the hero to stop Noel Stevens. … This was a despicable act conducted in a despicable and vicious manner.”
Stevens testified George Tiaffay told him to kill, but defense lawyer Robert Langford tried to paint Stevens as a psychotic liar. On Friday, Langford asked jurors for mercy and to give Tiaffay a chance at parole. Langford said Tiaffay would appeal the conviction and sentence.
Stevens has pleaded guilty and is to be sentenced after Tiaffay.
Prosecutors said Tiaffay manipulated Stevens. “Noel was George’s hammer,” DiGiacomo said.
The firefighter frantically tried to contact Stevens by phone after the murder.
Tiaffay had purchased a gun, which prosecutors suggested he intended to use to kill Stevens.
Tiaffay knew Stevens would not stay quiet for long, but the hitman had already bragged to a friend, and Stevens was arrested before Tiaffay saw him again.
Years earlier, Stevens had met Tiaffay while he was walking his dog. Stevens offered to perform odd jobs for a few bucks, and the two became friends.
Sometime in early 2012, Tiaffay mentioned having his wife killed. He ultimately offered $5,000, said Stevens, who only received about $600.
Shauna Tiaffay had been dead for hours by the time her husband and daughter arrived at her apartment.
Her body was cold and stiff, and blood stained the carpet around her. Her right hand was broken, with the rings on her fingers smashed. A hole from a hammer blow to the side of her head was so deep paramedics initially thought she had been shot.
The little girl was with her father because he wanted to appear innocent.
“If you don’t think that act in and of itself earned him life without,” DiGiacomo said, “think of what it did to Madison.”
In his backyard, Tiaffay and Stevens had erected part of a jungle gym for his daughter.
In the bottom right-hand corner of the dark brown panel, the girl had scrawled three stick figures in white chalk.
She drew her mother’s eyes as X X.
Contact David Ferrara at email@example.com or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.