tv Dateline MSNBC March 4, 2018 3:00am-4:00am PST
trace that ring to its owner in wisconsin, i'm really afraid we would have two guys sitting on death row for something they didn't do. ♪ i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> and this is dateline. it was tough. it was tough to think that anybody could do that to someone. to look at the pictures of what they did to her and hear details of how it was carried out, it's just, it's devastating. >> reporter: shauna tiaffay, loving mom by day, vegas cocktail waitress by night. >> i was at one of the bars and i saw her walk by.
every single head turned. >> it was after her shift that they found her, the victim of a ruthless attack. >> i mean, your heart just drops to your stomach. >> reporter: potential suspects? how about a casino's worth of customers? >> we didn't know if there was some psycho was watching us girls working at the palms. >> reporter: or, did the answers lie in the dead woman'past? >> shauna started thinking, i have got to get out of this situation. >> reporter: from out of the blue, a tip. >> he had some information that was connected to her murder. >> reporter: that would reveal a diabolical plot. >> i just could not understand how this was reality. >> reporter: but was this killer too clever to be caught? >> he is extremely smart. smarter than we all are. ♪ welcome to "dateline." shauna tiaffay hit the jackpot in las vegas. a handsome husband, an adorable daughter and a good job.
but there is a dark side to sin city. sadly, the beautiful cocktail waitress became its victim. in cases like this one, the husband is often a suspect but the crime scene was telling investigators something else. and they got a hot tip. but like so many things in vegas, nothing was as it seemed. here's keith morrison with "under a full moon." >> reporter: she was finished now. tired, wrung out. must have been as she walked away from the incessantly ' chirping machinery and the bleary eyes of the gamblers on holiday from real life who'd called out for her again and again and again. outside in the night, a full moon bathed the great houses of delight and sin in an unaccustomed shade of pale. it was september 29, 2012. at precisely 3:00 in the morning, in a back room of the palms casino, the cocktail waitress named shauna tiaffay
inserted her time card in the stamping machine, and set out to break a little rule. shauna had parked her car in the back lot, a practice discouraged because surveillance cameras were unable to track her all the way to her car. still easier this way. quicker. and after all, would a stalker really be waiting for her here, under a full moon? >> it was absolutely horrible. and we felt so helpless. >> it's every woman's worst nightmare. >> we didn't know if any of us were next. >> reporter: it never occurred to shauna to become a cocktail waitress when she moved to vegas as a 20-something back in the mid-90s. what she wanted then was to be closer to family, meaning big sister paula. >> she originally just thought, "oh, there's no way i could be a cocktail waitress. i don't even drink." >> reporter: but in a casino town, a cocktail waitress could make good money. so now, at 46, she was a veteran. >> and she would laugh. shauna laughed at herself a lot.
and she would laugh at herself, and, you know, she'd say, "well, i still don't know, you know, what these cocktails are. you know, i -- i just order 'em and they give them to me and i go take them to the -- the people." >> reporter: but she was good at it. everybody could see that. >> all the customers loved shauna so much. >> why? >> she was a sweet person. >> beautiful. >> reporter: she made close friends. a work family, really, including kelly chapman and stephanie vargas. time, i was in the -- i was at one of the bars and i saw her walk by. every single head turned on that bar watching her walk by. and i remember thinking, i'm like, "why don't i look like her?" because men, women, they -- they just loved her. >> reporter: but no one loved her quite the way he did. a handsome boy scout of a firefighter named george tiaffay. george was the genuine article. an all american good guy. he'd overcame early obstacles to become a top notch student in high school, a star athlete. this is his sister maria mcgrew. >> a valedictorian and on the
football team. i -- >> yeah. you'd think he'd be just a jerk, right? >> yeah. >> just kind of a jock, mean-spirited sort of who knows, stereotypical. >> reporter: but it was quite the contrary, said maria. >> he was always the calming force amongst family and friends. you know, he was the gentle speaker. he had this outlook in life where, "i wanna go out and make the world a better place. i wanna go out and do something with my life." >> reporter: so george did. he earned a prestigious appointment to west point, and after graduation became a combat engineer, served as a nation builder in panama. his childhood friend, aaron solano, went down for a visit. >> the stories he told me about the missions that he accomplished, building schools, clinics, roadways and bridges, really had an impact on his life. he finally felt like, "hey, i'm getting to do something." >> reporter: when george left the military with the rank of captain, he took a corporate engineering job, but soon realized that life in an office building wasn't for him. he wanted to work for real
people, which is why george put aside that fancy degree of his and went to vegas to train as a firefighter/emt. >> focusing on himself was not how he wanted to live his life. he wanted to serve. that was a favorite word of his, to serve. >> reporter: so while shauna served drinks at the palms, george served as a firefighter and found time to volunteer, do what he could for the down on their luck souls who live on the fringes of so much glitz here. in 2004, they had a baby. >> there's daddy and mama. >> she loved it. her daughter was the most important thing to her in this world and everything she did revolved around her daughter. >> dancing to everybody's favorite. >> reporter: and then, two years later, a marriage in hawaii. >> mama and dada just got married. what do you say? >> just the three of them. back in vegas it was a busy, if complicated life what with
george's 24-hour shifts and shauna's night times at the casino. and then it was september 29th, 3:00 a.m. she walked the empty lot to her car, started it, pointed away from the strip. and under that full moon headed home. no idea what was waiting for her. it was 9:00 a.m. when george arrived with their daughter. she'd spent the night at grandma's, he at the firehouse at work. but why was the garage door open? and what was that inside? george had grown accustomed to trauma and death. but this? >> i think i need to report a break-in and a murder. >> it was a chilling discovery, shauna found beaten to death inside the home and some of her personal items found outside the house. what might they reveal. >> coming up.
safe, neighborhood. the part of town where vegas does not party, the part of town where the people who work the casinos raise their families and live ordinary, quiet lives. but this is where they found her. george and their 8-year-old daughter inside her own house. not so safe after all. >> i think i need to report a break-in and a murder. >> reporter: george would have known even if he hadn't been an emt. >> what's going on there? >> she had been dead for hours. >> my wife. my wife is on the floor, bloody, stiff, not moving. >> we-- we got a call in-- in the morning. >> reporter: detective dan long has been in homicide a long time, and god knows, vegas has kept him busy. him and his partner terri miller. >> when we arrived, there were fire department personnel everywhere. >> reporter: it was all too obvious. shauna had been attacked, probably as she walked into her house, had been beaten with something blunt and hard.
>> and there was things done with the body that made us think that there was possible sexual assault of some type and there was posing of the body. >> reporter: some kind of predator at work here? a predator who escaped with a good hunk of cash from the looks of it. shauna's purse was missing. >> cash and casino chips. they get tipped with casino chips quite a bit. they're known to make $300, $400, $500 in a night. they make a lot of money. especially if they're good. and we did send detectives over to the palms. they talked to them. they said shauna is one of the best employees they had. >> reporter: but something happened after she left the palms. so what? >> shauna was very beautiful. is it someone that saw her at work and followed her home? >> there we are. >> of course, as the husband, george would have to be considered a possible suspect, too. so detectives pulled him aside,
interviewed him right on the spot. >> george, do you understand the statement's being recorded? >> i understand. >> and you understand we want to talk to you about what happened this morning? >> yes, sir. >> reporter: george told the detectives that when he saw the garage door open, he had their daughter hang back while he went inside. >> i saw shauna's feet. just laying there frozen-looking. and, in my job, i know what that means. >> okay. are you a paramedic? >> i'm an emti firefighter. >> reporter: their daughter, thank god, didn't see anything, said george. he rushed her out to the street. >> i didn't know if there was somebody there. i just wanted to get out of there with my daughter. >> reporter: he had taken the little girl to shauna's place, he said, because it was shauna's turn. >> because we're currently separated and planning on moving back in together because we started getting along again. >> reporter: and meanwhile, they had this complicated arrangement. shauna worked 7:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. at the casino.
george, as a firefighter, worked long shifts and got lots of days off. their daughter shuttled back and forth between them and when they were both at work, the girl spent nights with george's mother. >> okay. what shift did you work yesterday? >> a 24-hour shift. >> reporter: so he was at work when shauna was killed. of course, they did some checking, just to be sure. >> you know, if he was there on every run. you know, if he had left for any reason. >> but he was on every run. did not leave work. at all. so, not the husband this time. >> he had nothing to do with the attack of shauna. >> reporter: but george did offer a possible lead. >> the garage door was open, which is unusual. so we were worried because my wife's house got broken into a week or two ago. >> reporter: the thief in that earlier burglary, it appeared, used shauna's bathroom to take a
shower and left with several pairs of shauna's panties and some jewelry. he left behind a pair of boxer shorts, size small. back then shauna immediately suspected some neighborhood teens, said george. >> so she had discussed it with several people, including george, and decided that it may be that she left something unlocked. and it could be maybe some kids that live in the neighborhood. >> reporter: so, is that who killed her? looking around the crime scene, the detectives realized that shauna's killer or killers had been into her booze, and taken not just her purse but, like in that earlier burglary, her underwear. so they set about checking out every one of the neighborhood boys, and they had solid alibis, all of them. >> they were not involved in the break-in. they were not involved in shauna's death. now things get even more scary, because we don't know what we have.
>> reporter: once that word got out, it could very quickly spread the terror around. like it already had among shauna's co-workers. >> we didn't know if there was some psycho watching, you know, watching us girls work at the palms. we didn't know if any of us were next. >> reporter: the predator theory got a boost that second day when on a walking path near shauna's house, someone found bits from her purse -- i.d., make up kit, personal things. >> what crosses your mind when you realize it's somebody walking away from the scene, discarding things? >> a stalker? >> absolutely. a predator. sexual predator. >> reporter: so they spread out, got the rest of homicide involved. days off were cancelled. everybody out. they looked everywhere. >> there was considerable pressure, pressure from media, pressure from our administration. everybody wants this thing solved and put away quickly. >> reporter: and then quite suddenly a break.
a tipster on the crimestoppers line with a story to tell. >> he had some information that he thought was connected to our murder. >> reporter: a wild goose chase? maybe. and maybe not. >> coming up, the tipster mentioned a detail about the crime. one that gets everyone's attention. >> no one knew that but the two of us. when "dateline" continues. most pills don't finish the job because they don't relieve nasal congestion. flonase allergy relief is different. flonase relieves sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose, plus nasal congestion, which pills don't. flonase helps block 6 key inflammatory substances. most pills only block one. and 6 is greater than 1. start your day with flonase for more complete allergy relief. flonase. this changes everything.
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♪ >> good job. >> yay. >> good singing. >> reporter: it's a terrible thing to bury a young mother in the prime of her life. especially, in the shadow of murder. big sister paula had felt somehow frozen in a terrible dream that refused to end -- or make sense -- ever since her mother called with the news about shauna. >> what's it like to hear something like that? >> i don't know that you can describe it. you know, i mean, your heart just drops to your stomach. >> reporter: paula and shauna's family and friends gathered to mourn and remember how much they cared about her. the funeral itself was standing room only. >> it was a beautiful tribute to shauna. >> reporter: george's big sister, maria. >> i could see george was heartfelt and did what he could to express himself at a terrible time.
it was all about showing that shauna was loved and cared for. >> reporter: meanwhile, las vegas homicide detectives worked diligently to identify and track down whoever killed her. >> do we have a pred did she come home and theyere burglarizing the house? is there an enemy somewhere that she made that we need to find? >> reporter: and then -- they got lucky. a man who called himself "big will" pennix called the crime stoppers hot line. big will had a story to tell. >> he had spent time in prison. and he worked as a maintenance man. but he found satisfaction in helping others coming out of prison and helping them find the right path. >> reporter: one such man, said big will, was a homeless handyman who lived out in the desert. went by the name "greyhound." >> he did a lot of drugs. drank a lot of alcohol.
and was volatile. >> reporter: according to big will, this greyhound told a lot of tall tales, but will called police this time, because greyhound bragged about killing someone -- a woman. and said he used a hammer to do it. >> and we had just come from autopsy that morning. marks that were seen on shauna's body, we thought that it was possibly a hammer. so no one knew that but the two of us. >> but this guy brings it up. that's -- >> exactly. >> reporter: a homeless, drug addicted ex-con with a volatile temper, said big will. certainly seemed to fit the profile of the potential predator detectives were looking for. >> he told us that greyhound walks everywhere. he lives out in the desert. >> reporter: but big will wanted to help, he said, so he agreed to take them to some of the places where he thought greyhound liked to hang out. and what do you know? they ran into him in the parking lot of a gas station.
detective long approached him. sweet as pie, greyhound was. said he'd be perfectly willing to go to the station and have a chat. his real name was noel stevens. >> what did he tell you? >> he knows shauna. he knew where they lived. that he did yard work and handyman work for george and everybody else in the neighborhood. >> reporter: so, someone shauna knew. someone george -- the do-gooder -- had tried to help. a thing not out of character for george. but greyhound, or, noel, was adamant that he had nothing to do with shauna's murder. then he agreed to show the dectives his campsite out in the desert. >> what'd you find? >> swimsuit bottoms that in our search of shauna's house appeared to me that matched the top that i had seen in her bedroom. >> reporter: so, greyhound was the burglar poking around shauna's personal things. and in fact, her friend recalled
shauna had grown uncomfortable with this particular charity case who'd been doing work around the house. >> she didn't want noel in the house anymore. and she said, you know, "you're -- you better get out of this house or i'm calling the police on you." >> reporter: so was he the killer? out at the campsite, detectives did not find any evidence linking him to the murder. so, they kept looking. >> one of the other things big will told us was that noel had a campsite number one and a campsite number two. >> reporter: a second campsite. out there somewhere. but where? and what -- if anything -- was hidden there? >> coming up -- >> under the bush, he saw a pair of jeans that appeared to have blood on them. when "dateline extra" continues.
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hour's top stories. president trump tweeting the u.s. has an $800 billion yearly trade deficit because of our stupid trade deals and policies. thus he proposed tariffs on steel and alum anymore. 2018 midterm elections in texas where 600,000 have cast their ballots nerly voting. texas is holding primaries to replace five retiring congressmans, four republicans and a democrat. now back to "dateline." >> reporter: it is not on any sightseeing itinerary, not this way, but this, too, is las vegas. rugged desert terrain that is a kind of refuge or hiding place for the desperate and troubled. >> believe it or not, that whole area has homeless people that are up there. >> reporter: this is where greyhound took them. this is where he lived, he said. but out there somewhere, they
were convinced there must be a second campsite with possible evidence about the killing of shauna tiaffay. so detective miller went up with the police air unit to have a look around. >> those two pilots decided that they were going to fly that whole area for us, and they actually located the second campsite. and we entered and we found a citation in the name of noel stevens. so we were at the right place. >> reporter: so they spread out. kept looking. and pretty soon, one of them called out. >> about 175 feet from the tent, he found a bush. and under the bush he saw a pair of rolled up denim jeans that appeared to him to have blood on them. >> we put those in for immediate dna testing. >> how did that come back? >> it was shauna tiaffay's blood, and the pants were worn by noel stevens. >> that's kinda your story there, huh? >> that's kind of our story there. >> reporter: proof the homeless handyman george and shauna tried
to help was a murderer. but could the story be that simple, really? listen to shauna's sister paula, for example, and things start to sound a bit more complex. >> well, i just think that he always loved himself more than he loved anyone else. and it was all about him and what he wanted. >> reporter: that was george she was talking about. the selfless firefighter had another side, said paula. >> the verbal abuse, the intimidation, the control. i mean, george was always a controlling guy. >> hold the camera in your hand. push it away from us. >> reporter: according to paula, george had become ever more controlling, and judgmental, especially about shauna's spending habits. >> first time at the beach. >> reporter: only got worse when shauna told george the marriage was over. >> he said, you know, "if you don't come back to me and we can't sort this out, you're gonna lose custody of your daughter." and that was -- >> that was his threat. >> -- her number one fear.
oh, absolutely. he used their daughter as a way to manipulate shauna, time and time again. >> reporter: shauna had been letting her work mates read the text messages george sent as things got worse in the marriage. >> one text, it would be nice, you know, short and sweet. like, "i love you. i've been thinking about you all day," "we need to work things out." and then, you know, we would be working. she wouldn't be able to text him back right away and ten minutes later, he's blowing up her phone cussing her out, calling her names. >> reporter: shauna's supporters remembered her funeral quite differently than george's people did. >> he had no emotion. no emotion at all. he did a eulogy, talking about how much money shauna liked to spend, and that there was one time she was at the gas station and accidentally left the pump in the car. >> in the eulogy? >> in the eulogy. >> reporter: paula watched george and his daughter at the cemetery and fumed.
>> they hadn't even lowered her in the ground yet, and he said, "come on," and took her hand, "it's time to go." and i watched him walk off with my little niece, you know, 8 years-old, just lost her mom, and i watched him walk off with her. and i thought, you know, this is exactly what he wanted. he wanted all the control over my niece. >> reporter: paula told the police her suspicions even before they began chasing down leads on greyhound. so even though they had their killer, the idea that george was involved somehow was already in the back of their minds. on the other hand, george's family was just as eager to assure the police that those attacks on george's character from shauna's side were complete nonsense. >> i never saw shauna act cowed or afraid of my brother. she had an equal footing in the way they interacted with one another. so that's --
that's why i still can't believe the -- the insinuation, the allegations that -- that he was abusive, or even controlling. >> reporter: george's friend aaron solano couldn't agree more. >> no matter where he finds himself -- what challenging situation he finds himself in, he has always been consistently kind, consistently caring. >> reporter: so which george was the real one? the detectives decided to pay george a visit at his house, though they didn't tell him what they'd heard about him. the good or the bad. >> mr. -- can i call you george? >> yeah, call me george. >> thank you. >> reporter: george said, sure, he knew greyhound. but said he'd never heard him called noel stevens before. >> you knew him as something else? >> i knew him as neal smith. >> reporter: george told detectives how he and shauna had befriended this neal smith. tried to help him get back on his feet. >> me and the wife kind of looked at him like our little
charity case because he was a nice guy and was down on his luck. >> reporter: by now the detectives knew greyhound was an addict and a big drinker. so they asked george. >> was he a drug user? >> nothing. >> okay. alcohol? >> yes. he would drink alcohol, but not a lot. just a beer or two. >> just a beer or two every now and then? >> yeah. >> reporter: that raised the antenna a bit. in his interview with detectives, greyhound said he and george were great friends, worked out together, drank together a lot. but then, listen to this. as george kept talking, the man he said he knew as neal became noel. >> she said, "can noel help us out with this?" if it was something i wasn't good at, well, maybe noel is good at it because noel seemed to be good at everything i wasn't good at. >> reporter: remember, george said he'd never heard the name noel stevens before. knew greyhound only as neal smith. so, was it an honest little slip or was george hiding something? >> is it possible he was
confused about the name, that it, you know, greyhound used several different names? >> when you get nervous you're gonna revert back to whatever is natural. and he reverted back to noel. he just got done telling us, "i've known this man for years as neal," and then, "noel helped me move." so i -- that's a tell. >> reporter: but why would george admit to knowing greyhound and then lie about the name? detectives left george at home and made a plan they hoped would shake out the truth. >> we decided to amp up the pressure. >> coming up, a bold calculation by detectives was about to to trigger a stunning chain reaction. fast, forcing vehicles off the road, and then plowed straight into a cement barrier. the officer follows said he just commit suicide. when "dateline extra" continues. let's talk about haribo goldbears.
>> reporter: it's an old police tactic to stimulate -- maybe upset -- a suspect you haven't quite cornered, hoping for an overreaction. sometimes it works, sometimes not. so even though they didn't have a solid case yet, the detectives let word slip that they intended to arrest george, charge him with murder, hoping he would do something rash and maybe incriminate himself. >> he was told by his former attorney that he was going to be arrested. at the same time,
police officers were showing up at my mother's doorstep. >> reporter: what did george do? got into his truck, raced over to his mother's house, dropped off his daughter, roared off again. police watching. >> he was driving extremely fast. he was forcing vehicles out of his way, forcing vehicles off the road. and then plowed straight into a cement barrier. the officer following said, "he just committed suicide." >> what did you think when you got that report, when you heard about that? >> well, i think it was a very good indication to us that we were definitely on the right track. >> reporter: but, if suicide was his intent, as the detectives assumed, it didn't work. his injuries were not severe. still, it looked to detectives like a guilty george would rather kill himself than face a murder charge. and as george lay in a hospital bed recovering, noel stevens gave police the final piece they needed. he confessed that he killed shauna and said his good pal, george, asked him to do it.
>> so we went to see him at the hospital. we went in and told him that he was under arrest. >> did he say anything? >> he asked to speak with his attorney. >> i just knew that george had something to do with it. >> reporter: both george and noel were booked on murder, and conspiracy and burglary charges. >> george is the one that wanted shauna dead. george is the controlling man that needed that control of shauna. and he had a tool at his disposal that worshipped him, that loved him, that would do what needed to be done. >> reporter: noel stevens pleaded guilty to several charges, including murder, and spent the next three years cooperating with the investigation. stevens was later sentenced to 42 years to life. george, who pleaded not guilty, set up a ministry in the clark county detention center. and george's sister maria remained convinced he did not do it. >> why, the age-old conclusion,
the husband always does it. >> he was a statistical suspect from day one, for sure. my opinion is, they sandbagged around that to make a case. >> reporter: why, she asked, would anybody believe an addict and known liar over george? and the detectives' theory that a guilty conscience led to a suicide attempt? that was hog wash, said maria. >> but let me tell ya, he has been on suicide prevention squads, he's an emt. he is quite knowledgeable about what it takes to kill yourself in a vehicle. so, driving that large vehicle into a k-rail with your seat belt on is not how an expert tries to commit suicide. he did something stupid, but he didn't try to kill himself. >> reporter: and it wasn't just george's family who stood firmly behind him. fellow fire fighters came to his defense, fellow west point grads, childhood friends. >> i truly believe he's innocent. he gives too much of himself, and i think that that is one of
the reasons he finds himself in the situation he's in. >> were you surprised at the amount of support that george got? >> no. no. george, he makes lifelong connections. it's part of his generosity. >> reporter: and so, on a searing hot summer day in late august, 2015 -- >> good morning. >> reporter: -- those lifelong connections sat on one side of a las vegas courtroom. >> george was adamant that this go to trial. he would not accept any plea deals, anything. we all agreed with him, family and friends. good, do that. we want to show people that this is all wrong. >> reporter: and on the other side, a sea of hot pink. >> there were just an outpouring every day. you know, lots of people that showed up wearing pink, and -- >> why that? >> pink was shauna's favorite color. and not pale pink, hot pink. >> reporter: ex-work mates were there, too. >> i wanted the jury to see that she wasn't just a vegas cocktail waitress.
you know, that she was a good person, a beautiful person, a good human being. >> reporter: prosecutors mark digiacomo and pam weckerly told the jury that while noel "greyhound" stevens was the admitted killer of shauna tiaffay, he never would've done it had george not put him up to it. >> he's got this singular goal of, i need to kill my wife. and he has to keep pushingoel to do it. >> reporter: shauna's sister paula testified that she encouraged her sister to move out. >> i told her that based on the things she was telling me about that had been going on for quite a while, that i believed that she should separate herself from george and move to a different home. >> reporter: so she did and george increased his contact with noel. his phone calls to stevens in the month before the murder proved a conspiracy, said the prosecutors. they showed the jury george's phone records.
>> if you looked at how much he called noel, there's 87 phone calls. >> that's three or four calls a day. >> yes. his mother is about once a day. >> reporter: then, they said, look at this. here are george and noel shopping together. buying gloves, dark clothing, a knife. and on four different occasions they bought hammers. >> this ends up at mr. tiaffay's house where he happens to have two other perfectly good hammers in the garage. >> reporter: what else could all this have been, they asked, but a murder kit. one final thing. greyhound told the cops that he got into shauna's place with a key george gave him. and look at this. here's george at the hardware store, buying a key just like the key noel used. only one possible conclusion, said the prosecutors. >> noel stevens used the hammer. the person who used noel stevens is george tiaffay. >> reporter: ahh, but --
>> it's a good story, it's real interesting, but it's not evidence yet. >> reporter: this is george's defense attorney, robert langford. >> there is absolute reasonable doubt as to george tiaffay's involvement in this case. >> reporter: those surveillance videos, for example, that the prosecution found so damning? none of the hammers they bought was the actual murder weapon. and besides, most of what they bought together was simple --and innocent camping gear. george helping a man in need, as usual. >> he thought he was helping out noel stevens to live out where noel wanted to live, which was outside of town. >> reporter: as for the 87 phone calls the prosecution said proved george and greyhound had conspired to kill shauna, there was nothing sinister there, said the defense, just a man trying to contact his charity case handyman. >> i live out in that area. and cell service is notoriously bad.
on top of -- have you ever tried to call a handyman in this town? it is ridiculously difficult to get hold of those kinds of workers to come do work. >> reporter: in fact, said the defense, the only thing the state had tying george to the murder was noel stevens's word. >> without noel stevens's statement to the police, george is an innocent man. >> reporter: and how could the jury believe stevens, said the defense, when even his own friend, the tipster big will said -- in court -- that the man was an habitual liar. >> honesty, i would put him at a scale of 1 to 10, i would put him at a scale of maybe 1 1/2. >> ten being very honest and >> one and a half, meaning not honest at all. that's correct. >> reporter: george's attorney was itching to cross-examine the habitual liar who'd condemned his client. which presented the prosecutors with a dilemma -- the man at the center of their
case against george might just destroy it. >> he could be a real problem. >> he could be a real problem. and there was a substantial amount of discussion between pam and i over whether or not we're calling him or not. >> does that imply that you disagreed? >> oh, yes, we disagreed. a risn looks like it might just backfire. >> do you hear voices? >> yes. >> when "dateline" continues. hi, can i help you? yes. the moment you realize it's better to plan for spring than to pretend it's spring. ♪ at lowe's, we'll help you start planning for spring today. so, when it's time to get outside and enjoy your yard, you'll be ready. ♪ all projects have a starting point. start with lowe's. ♪
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welcome back. noel stevens murder, he confessed to it, but he also claimed he was told to do it by her husband, george. prosecutors had a tough decision to make. and their case hinged on the outcome. here's keith morrison with the conclusion of "under a full moon." >> prosecutors had a big problem and they knew it. the problem had a name, noel stevens, greyhound. >> noel is an important piece of information, but he's also the biggest risk. >> in the credibility sweepstakes, he's way down here and your confident is way up there. >> yes. >> so they argued the prosecutors and put them on the stand. >> my thought is you don't understand who george is and how
sinister this is until you meet noel and say, this is the person that he gave access to. >> he says, don't take a advance. >> they can take this crazy, psychotic homeless man did it on his own. >> who prevailed? she did. >> the state calls noel stevens. >> up went greyhound to the witness stand to offer his grizzly story. >> i hit her in the head. >> you hit her in the head and what happened? >> she hits the floor. >> after she hits the floor, what do you do? >> i jump on top of her. >> you jump on top of her and what do you do? >> keep on hitting. >> how long did you hit her for? >> hit her until she doesn't move anymore. >> why? because he said someone told him to. >> who told you to kill shawna? >> george. >> but was it true? now the defense got to ask greyhound about -- well, for starters, his addictions.
>> while turkey 101. >> yes. whatever i can get my hands on. >> you drink it every day. >> every day. >> one or two? >> i drink it until i don't have no more money. i drink. >> and asked if he smoked weed, he admitted he did speed. but it got worse. >> do you hear voices? >> yes. >> do you remember saying to that person that they sounded like monsters? >> yes. >> hallucinations, too. >> what kind of hallucinations? >> i see shawna sometimes. >> do you see other people? >> sometimes. >> i think everybody agreed that noel stevens is as crazy as the outhouse rat. >> how can you believe a man as crazy as that? >> you are outside of reality at that point. >> you can't trust the primary witness.
they just didn't have it. >> so a man who hears voices? that got the jury's attention. one jury submitted a question read by the judge. >> did the voices you said you would hear from time to time ever tell you to kill shawna? >> no. >> there was the choice for the jury. george used noel as a murder weapon, or the drunk who heard voices killed shawna and blamed an innocent man. the lawyers, the friends, the family from both sides could only sit and wait. >> it was nerve-racking. >> for three days they waited. the prosecutors once confident were worried. >> of the hung jury situation. by day three, you think, uh-oh, is there a hold-up. >> count one -- >> then finally, here it was. >> guilty of first-degree murder. >> guilty. george tiaffay, his face
almoster almost sere serene, charged with murder. >> it was just a big weight taken off my shoulders. you know, because i had felt this entire time that shawna hasn't had a vouice in this. and i've been so worried about representing her right and saying the right things and making sure that i portray her as the wonderful person that she was. >> both george and noel were sentenced to life. george has no chance at parole. but what felt like justice to some, to others did not. and here's this little kid who was happy-go-lucky and smart and valedictorian, a football player and west point grad, an upstanding guy you could all look up to. >> right, good guy. >> walked away forever. >> and he's be in that horrible place. i hope he finds purpose for
himself there. and i think he will. he's that kind of person. >> in july 2017s part of his petition for relief, george presented the court with this. words cannot say how sorry i am. my wife, whom i truly love dearly is dead, brutally murdered, and it is my fault. he went on to blame his lawyer for not arguing that prescription drugs george was taking led to la hallucinations, that god was drawing him to portray a crime. and now a child will not be able to live with either parent. >> i do feel like my niece is the true victim in all of this. it is so tragic. and i just don't have words for what she's going to have to come to terms with and understand as she gets older, you know? it's really tough. >> momma plans to make sure the
daughter of shawna tiaffay never forgets. >> he talk about her mom and how much she loved heifer. and what we think her mom would want for her now. >> that's all for this edition of "date line." i'll craig melvin. thank you for watching. good morning. i'm dara brown in new york at msnbc world headquarters. 7:00 in the east, 4:00 out west. here what's happening. a new report of dark days at the white house apparently reflecting the president's mood. details on that and new reaction ahead. in the cross hairs, prosecutors turn their attention to jared kushner. could they put down charges against the president's son-in-law? and new remarks at a fund-raiser that appear to be a joke, but could they be interpreted as anything re