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October 30, 2014

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Guilty verdict delivered in death, dismemberment of Luxor dancer

Prosecutors had sought first-degree murder conviction, settle for second-degree murder guilty verdict

Image

Steve Marcus

Defendant Jason Omar Griffith describes a struggle with his ex-girlfriend as he testifies in his own defense during his trial at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas Thursday, May 15, 2014.

Updated Thursday, May 22, 2014 | 7:50 p.m.

Griffith Takes Stand in Murder Trial

Defendant Jason Omar Griffith speaks to the jury as he testifies in his own defense during his trial at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, May 14, 2014. Griffith is accused of murdering Luxor Launch slideshow »

Luxor Dancer Murder Case

Jason Griffith, right, is charged with murder in the death of dancer Debbie Flores Narvaez. Launch slideshow »

A former Las Vegas Strip performer was found guilty today of second-degree murder in the December 2010 death and dismemberment of his dancer ex-girlfriend in a case that rattled the city's entertainment community.

Jason Griffith, 35, sat motionless as the verdict was read in Clark County District Court Thursday afternoon. His attorney, Jeff Banks, placed one arm around his shoulders.

Griffith, who was a performer in the Beatles-based Cirque du Soleil show "Love," was arrested in January 2011, a month after his ex-girlfriend Deborah Flores Narvaez, a dancer in Luxor's topless "Fantasy" revue, was reported missing. Taking the stand at his trial, he said he acted in self-defense.

After a jury of seven men and five women deliberated for an entire day Wednesday, they took a recess for the evening and continued their work this morning. They reached a verdict at midafternoon today.

Flores' mother and sister sobbed and hugged one another as they heard the decision, which was the culmination of a two-week-long trial that featured dramatic testimony and graphic images of the victim's mutilated body.

Griffith's attorneys vowed to appeal the decision.

"We plan to come back as many times as he tries to appeal. We won't allow him to go back out into the streets to hurt someone else," the victim's mother, Elsie Narvaez, said in Spanish. "When someone kills once, they lose their fear of God and they'll do it again."

Griffith's mother, Charlene Davis, declined to speak immediately after the verdict was announced.

"I don't want to talk right now," Davis said, waving a reporter away. "I have to talk to my son's attorneys."

Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction in the case, which would have meant a sentence of at least 50 years to life in prison without no possibility for parole for 25 years. The second-degree murder verdict brings with it a sentence of at least 25 years to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 10 years.

Griffith's attorneys were seeking a voluntary manslaughter conviction.

Flores' disappearance caused a media sensation for nearly a month in late 2010 and early 2011. Working on a tip, police found her body encased in concrete in two plastic tubs in January 2011 in a vacant downtown Las Vegas house.

At trial the tipster — Louis Colombo — testified against Griffith, his former roommate.

Colombo testified that Flores’ death came after she argued with Griffith that he didn't spend enough time with her. Colombo said Griffith told him the argument escalated into a fight that ended when “he grabbed her from behind ... choking her from behind."

Griffith said he put a plastic shopping bag over Flores' head to see if she was breathing, but she wasn't, Colombo testified. The bag was still there when Colombo returned home.

Colombo acknowledged helping Griffith try to dispose of the body in tubs of concrete.

Colombo testified he and Griffith had first entombed the body in a big tub. But that proved too heavy to move and store, so the two men trucked it in a rental van to a vacant downtown house, broke the cement apart, removed Flores' remains, cut the legs from the torso, and entombed them again in two smaller tubs of concrete.

Colombo came under intense cross-examination from defense attorney Abel Yanez about receiving blanket immunity from prosecution as an accessory to the slaying. Several times, Yanez derided the agreement as the “deal of the century.”

Griffith testified his relationship with Flores soured after he tried to break it off and start dating other women. She became possessive and started stalking Griffith and sending hundreds of emails and texts per day, he said.

Flores was so violent and persistent that Griffith called police on at least five occasions in which Flores harassed him. But police never took his accusations seriously and Flores was never arrested, Griffith said.

Flores, Griffith testified, subsequently taunted him, picked physical fights and called him a coward.

Griffith testified about the fatal argument, telling jurors at one point he thought Flores had a gun in her purse and was getting ready to shoot him.

"I think she's reaching for the gun in her purse, but I have no way to know," Griffith told jurors. As he restrained Flores from behind, Griffith testified, he fell back to the floor and held Flores tightly around the upper chest and neck until she stopped breathing.

No gun was ever found.

Griffith, who denied involvement to police, said he may have had a hand in the dismemberment of Flores’ body but laid most of the blame on Colombo, the former roommate.

"Whether I had the saw in my hand or not, I didn't stop him," Griffith testified.

Clark County District Judge Kathleen Delaney, who presided at the trial, set Griffith's sentencing for 9 a.m. July 23.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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