LAS VEGAS » A Nevada jury found a former Las Vegas Strip performer guilty of second-degree murder on Thursday for killing and dismembering his dancer ex-girlfriend in a closely watched case that offered a lurid glimpse behind the curtains of the Sin City stage community.
Jason Omar Griffith sat motionless as the verdict was read in Clark County District Court. His defense attorney, Jeff Banks, reached to him and placed his arm around Griffith’s shoulders.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 14 hours over two days after hearing nine days of testimony about the strangulation death of Deborah Flores Narvaez during a Dec. 12, 2010, argument at Griffith’s home.
Flores’ sister Celeste Flores Narvaez sobbed into her mother’s shoulder after hearing the verdict.
Griffith could face 10 years to life in prison, or a definite 10 to 25 years. He could have faced up to life in prison if he had been convicted of first-degree murder. Griffiths will be sentenced July 23.
Deborah Flores’ disappearance drew intense attention for almost a month before Griffith’s housemate, Louis Colombo, led police to her dismembered remains in tubs of concrete in a vacant downtown house.
The trial was a tale of sex, lies, betrayal and violence between two passionate and ambitious Las Vegas Strip dancers.
Griffith spent four days testifying that Flores’ death was self-defense. He said he grabbed her from behind with his arms around her neck when he thought she was reaching for a purse that may have contained a gun. No weapon was found. He said he panicked afterward and asked Colombo to help dispose of the body.
Prosecutors derided Griffith’s self-defense claim as a fabrication.
Griffith, 35, is originally from Brooklyn, New York. He went by the name "Blu" as a performer in the Cirque du Soleil show "Love," based on Beatles music at The Mirage resort.
He testified that he juggled girlfriends and sexual acquaintances before and after he met Flores at a football halftime show in November 2009.
Flores, who went by Debbie, moved to Las Vegas from Maryland. She worked her way from go-go club work to a stage role in the racy "Fantasy" revue at the Luxor.
Evidence showed that by the time they became intimate in early 2010, Flores thought their relationship was monogamous. But Griffith was meeting several women for casual sex and pursuing Agnes Roux, a performer in the Cirque show "Zumanity" at the New York-New York hotel.
Griffith testified that his relationship with Flores had movie-style "Fatal Attraction" characteristics. He said she stalked, threatened, harassed and assaulted him when he tried to limit their time together, and that no one took him seriously despite more than a dozen calls to police for help.
Prosecutors said Griffith fanned Flores’ anger by deceiving her about his sexual relationships, pulling away after accompanying her to an abortion clinic in May, then resuming their intimacy about the time of her 31st birthday in early July. The two continued an off-and-on relationship until her death.
Flores had a temper, and several of Griffith’s friends and co-workers testified that she became violent when she was angry — drawing stares and sometimes security officers during outbursts in public places.
Roux, who also witnessed Flores’ tantrums, testified that she broke up with Griffith after learning that he was sleeping with other Cirque dancers. She said she told Griffith in early December 2010 they couldn’t be together if he was still seeing Flores.
On the witness stand, Griffith testified the fatal argument developed after Flores told him she was pregnant for the second time in about six months and wanted another abortion. He said it escalated after Flores demanded he quit seeing Roux and devote his full attention to her and her condition.
Flores’ arm hit his face, Griffith said, as she reached past him toward her purse. Griffith said he grabbed Flores from behind and fell backward to the floor. Her head was wedged in the crooks of his elbows, and she was saying she would kill him, Griffith said.
He said he held tightly until she stopped struggling.
Prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo said Griffith did nothing to resuscitate Flores and coldly plotted to dispose of her body out of fear that an arrest would mean the loss of his dancing career, his lifestyle and his relationship with Roux.
Colombo testified he helped entomb and move the remains. He received immunity from prosecution before leading police to the tubs of concrete on Jan. 8, 2011.
Griffith was the one who sawed Flores’ legs from her torso, Colombo said. Griffith said it was Colombo.