LAS VEGAS, Nev. – It’s a murder trial with all the elements of a Sin City made-for-TV drama: A tempestuous relationship between two passionate Las Vegas stage performers who traded accusations of domestic violence but kept returning to each other until one was dead.
Lawyers and a Nevada judge began selecting a jury Monday to hear the murder case against Jason Omar Griffith, who is accused of strangling Deborah Flores Narvaez during a heated argument and dismembering her body.
Defence attorney Abel Yanez told prospective jurors it was a case of self-defence.
Friends and family members knew something was wrong when the 31-year-old woman who went by the name Debbie Flores failed to show up in mid-December 2010 for her spotlight role in the glittery Las Vegas Strip burlesque show “Fantasy” at the Luxor hotel-casino.
She had told her roommate the night before that she was going to visit her ex-boyfriend, Griffith, at his North Las Vegas house, police said. She said they planned to watch the TV show “Dexter,” about a crime scene analyst who leads a secret life as a serial killer.
Griffith, then 32, was a dancer with the Cirque du Soleil show “Love,” based on Beatles’ music, on the Strip. He also uses the nickname “Blu.”
He initially told police that Flores sat in her car outside his house while they talked Dec. 12. Then, she drove away, he said.
Flores’ remains weren’t found until the following month, when Griffith’s roommate told police where to find her dismembered body. It was encased in concrete in two large, green plastic tubs with red locking handles in the closet of an empty downtown Las Vegas home.
By that time, Flores’ 1997 Geo Prizm sedan had been found abandoned in a backyard of another home. Her older sister, Celeste Flores Narvaez of Atlanta, had spent the Christmas and New Year holidays in Las Vegas, pleading publicly for information and searching for clues to her disappearance.
Police arrested Griffith late Jan. 8, 2011, after taking him in for questioning as he left work at The Mirage resort.
Griffith, now 35, has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge that could get him life in state prison. He has been jailed in Las Vegas while his trial has been postponed several times.
His lawyers and his mother maintain that Flores had a history of aggression against Griffith and other former boyfriends when she lived in Maryland from 2002 to 2006 and in Las Vegas in 2009 after moving across the country with another boyfriend.
Griffith’s defence is expected to focus on what they say was a heat-of-the-moment confrontation. His attorneys, Yanez and Jeff Banks, haven’t said whether he will testify.
Clark County District Court Judge Kathleen Delaney is allowing jurors to be referred to by numbers, not names, so they can be comfortable answering questions about what they have heard about the case. Opening statements could come Wednesday, she said.
The trial is expected to feature incriminating testimony from several people close to Griffith.
His housemate, Louis Colombo, told police he left the house after seeing Griffith put his hands around Flores’ neck as they argued late Dec. 12, 2010. Colombo said when he returned, he could see Flores was dead.
Colombo received a promise from police that he wouldn’t be prosecuted for telling how he helped Griffith dispose of Flores’ body not just once, but twice.
A friend, Kalae Casorso, told police that Griffith and Colombo brought a big blue plastic tub full of hardened grey concrete to her house to store on her patio. She said Griffith wouldn’t answer at first when she asked what was in it.
“She described Griffith as hesitating again,” police said, “but then telling her Debbie was in the tub.”
Later, Colombo said, they broke the body out of the large tub and Griffith sawed the legs off so the parts would fit in two smaller concrete-filled tubs that weighed less when moved.
A key to Griffith’s defence could be a black-and-white video recording that his mother, Charlene Davis of Brooklyn, New York, said he made while confronting Flores about the tires of his car being slashed.
In it, Flores admits hitting Griffith, entering his house, looking on his computer, pouring egg whites on his car and slashing three tires.
She tells Griffith that if he fights her, he will lose.
“I am not going to lie about anything I’m doing,” she says.
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