Watch CBS News

Vengeance in Vegas

Vengeance in Vegas
Vengeance in Vegas 42:50

Produced by Allen Alter, Alec Sirken, Chris Young Ritzen, Cindy Cesare and Chris O'Connell

[This story first aired on Oct. 17, 2015. It was updated on July 23, 2016.]

Shauna Tiaffay loved to laugh and sing with her daughter.

"When she was with Maddie, it was like nothing else was going on around her," said Paula Stokes- Richards. "So dedicated and so concerned."

Shauna's murder has been a devastating loss for her sister, Paula, and her husband, John.

"She just laughed at life. You know she had this innocence," said John Richards.

"It's sad because I just miss her," Stokes-Richards said. "And for something like this to happen to her --it's just unimaginable."

Shauna, a Mormon born in Salt Lake City, was just 28 when she came to Las Vegas. But to Shauna, Vegas was more than just one big, glitzy party; it was a city of opportunity. Her dreams of finding fun and fortune came true when she became a glamorous cocktail waitress at one of the hottest casinos in town, the Palms Hotel Casino.

"She just loved the Palms," Stokes-Richards said. "I think she really felt like the Palms was a family environment, which may sound contrary to what you would think. But I think the people that work there were really like family and they looked after each other."

"I never saw Shauna with a frown of anything. She was just so bubbly and laughing at everything," said Randee Emmett, who worked alongside Shauna for about 10 years.

"She loved her job, though. She loved her job," said another co-worker, Siana Nikolav.

"She just loved cocktailing," added Emmett.

And customers loved Shauna. She made close to $100,000-a-year in salary and tips, often paid in casino chips, which in Vegas is the same as money.

In 2002, Shauna hit the jackpot when she met George Tiaffay at the Palms. He was a star athlete and homecoming king at his California high school.

"Just to look at him, he's very handsome, very charismatic," Stokes-Richards said. "What more could you ask for?"

In fact, George Tiaffay is a West Point graduate who served in the Army Corps of Engineers.

"He likes to serve people," his sister, Bernadette Tiaffay said. "I think that's what attracted him to be a fireman."

And George Tiaffay is so handsome he was even featured in a firefighter pin-up calendar.

"The All-American boy, he sounds like," Van Sant commented.

"Yes. He was. He looked like it. He acted like it. He was that guy," said Bernadette Tiaffay.

His sisters also say George is a devoted family man who sent money home to help their mom care for their disabled younger sister.

"If you need a helping hand, there he is," said his sister, Maria McGrew.

George and Shauna started dating.

"George was in love?" Van Sant asked.

Maddie, George and Shauna Tiaffay
Maddie, George and Shauna Tiaffay

"Oh yeah. Head over heels," McGrew replied. "She was his world. That was his life."

And life only got better for George and Shauna. Just one year into their relationship, Maddie was born. Three years later, they were married in Hawaii.

"They really suited each other," McGrew said. "It was really nice. They're both hard working people ... they're both good looking people. They made a lovely couple."

But looks, as they say, can be deceiving. After two happy years of marriage, things started to change. When George lost money in the housing market crash, Shauna told friends he had become jealous, controlling and critical of her.

"He would tell her that she dressed like a slut when she would get dressed for work - in front of Maddie. Which, of course, would tear Shauna apart, for her little girl to hear these things," said Stokes-Richards.

Shauna also complained when George brought a homeless man into their lives, who he paid to do odd jobs around the house.

"She would call him creepy," her friend, Stephanie Vargas, said. "'God he's so creepy, why is he around my house?'"

But, George's friend from West Point, Roc Ryder, says he was as kind hearted as he was handsome, and befriending the homeless was something he had done for years.

"Every Thanksgiving he'd be serving soup to the homeless people," Ryder said. "He was just a very giving and kind person."

But even though he had a gracious heart, the strains continued in the marriage and after nearly 10 years of being together, she had enough and moved into a townhouse. They shared custody of Maddie, but Shauna was reluctant to file for a divorce.

"She was sad. Her family was breaking up and this isn't something she wanted," Vargas explained. "She wanted, you know the picket fence and the husband and the daughter. And she wanted the fairytale. And the fairytale was falling apart."

Determined to save their marriage Shauna and George both agreed to start seeing a marriage counselor.

"I think Shauna was an eternal optimist. She just kept hoping that things were going to get better," said Stokes-Richards.

Then weeks before her murder, Shauna's townhouse was burglarized. Her wedding ring was missing and, strangely, a pair of her bathing suit bottoms was taken. Strangest of all: the robber left something behind -- a pair of boxer shorts, size small.

"Did this burglary, did it shake her up?" Van Sant asked.

"Yeah, it did," said John Richards.

"I just don't think that in her mind she ever thought that any harm would come to her," said Stokes-Richards.

But in an ominous twist of fate, just three weeks later, someone was back in her house -- this time, waiting for her.

Shauna Tiaffay is seen on casino surveillance video clocking out at 3:01 a.m.
Shauna Tiaffay is seen on casino surveillance video clocking out at 3:01 a.m.

It is now the early morning hours of Sept. 29, 2012. Shauna is seen on casino surveillance video clocking out at 3:01 a.m. These are the last images of her life. After a 30-minute drive, Shauna arrives home, letting herself in through the garage.

Dan Long and Terri Miller are investigators with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

"She enters into that hallway, its dark, there's no light," Det. Long explained. "She moves toward the stairway to go upstairs to her bedroom..."

When suddenly Shauna was attacked by someone wielding a hammer.

"Her hands are up to protect her head and her face. Her fingers were broken ... and she was savagely beaten with this metal hand of that hammer until she was dead," Long continued.

At approximately 9 a.m., George and Maddie arrived to pick something up when they walked in and he discovered Shauna's badly bludgeoned body. George immediately called 911:

George Tiaffay's 911 call 01:52

911 Operator: 911 Emergency.

George Tiaffay: I think I need to report a break-in and a murder.

George Tiaffay: My wife... My wife is, uh ... on the floor, bloody ... stiff...not moving.

"Naturally George is going to be our number one suspect. A woman he's separated from .., he finds dead inside of an apartment," said Long.

Detective Miller interviewed George Tiaffay in a police car at the scene:


George Tiaffay: She was lying on the floor...

Det. Miller: OK.

George Tiaffay: ...and was covered in blood.

George Tiaffay: I just want to die.

The detective was surprised with what he told her:

Det. Miller: What shift did you work yesterday?

George Tiaffay: A 24-hour shift.

He said he was on call at the firehouse before he picked Maddie up. Maddie had spent the night at her grandmother's house while Shauna went to work.

"He had an alibi," Det. Miller told Van Sant.

"And what did that tell you?"

"He's not our killer," she replied.


Lead detectives Terri Miller and Dan Long, along with their entire team, had their work cut out for them.

The obvious initial suspect in a case like this is the husband. But George Tiaffay had that airtight alibi.

"They learned right away that he was at work at the fire station and was not the man that killed Shauna," said Long.

Shauna's murder was brutal and chilling.

"I remember thinking, 'Do we have a sexual predator?'" said Miller.

"And you gotta be wondering to yourselves, 'Do we have some sort of monster out there on the streets?'" Van Sant commented.

"Yes," Det. Miller replied. "And we're like, 'Who are we looking for? Are we looking for a male? Are we looking for a female?'"

The murder shocked the community and put Shauna's co-workers on edge.

"Were you worried that someone was targeting casino women?" Van Sant asked.

"We were all so scared," Siana Nikolav replied.

"Was somebody staking her? Was someone obsessed with her?" said Lacey Green.

"Maybe they're gonna, you know, come after one of us," said Randee Emmett.

But 48 hours into the investigation, detectives received a crucial tip from an unlikely source: William Pennix, known as Big Will.

"I been trying to live a straight life under the hands of the Lord," said Pennix.

Big Will had lived In Las Vegas for years, working as a maintenance man at an apartment complex.

He got an urgent call from a friend.

"He said, 'Big Will I need to talk to you,'" said Pennix.

The friend came to see him and dropped a bombshell: he'd just murdered a woman.

"When he told you that he had killed this woman, what was the expression on his face?" Van Sant asked.

"He was happy, happy like he'd just completed a mission, a mission to where he's gonna get paid a lot of money, he's gonna leave town and live a happy life, like that," Pennix replied.

"Did he tell you how he killed her?" Van Sant asked.

"Yeah, yeah," Pennix replied. "He told me that -- he was laughing when he said it. He said, 'I hit this woman with a hammer over and over and over, until the hammer broke.'"

The man who called Big Will was nicknamed "Greyhound," because he was lean and fast, and lived in a tent in the foothills far from the glittering lights of downtown. Greyhound was an ex-con and Big Will was helping him straighten his life out. But once the two men spoke, Big Will's mission became bringing Greyhound to justice.

"'This is a damn tragedy.' I said, so if I hear this on the news tomorrow morning the best thing I can do is follow his tracks, try to hunt him down so that I can try to bring some kind of closure to this woman's family," Pennix told Van Sant.

News report: A gorgeous cocktail waitress, a mother. Brutally murdered in her home.

That was it -- a woman murdered. Big Will knew exactly what he had to do -- he called police. At first, detectives Long and Miller were skeptical.

"Initially, I was thinking to myself, 'you've got to be kidding me,'" Miller said. "He is giving us this story about this man who lives up in the mountains in a tent who is homeless ... and, it's kind of a crazy story."

Crazy -- but cops felt they had to check it out.

Big Will told them Greyhound often walks miles from his desert tent to an Albertson's grocery store, where he'd been spotted before stealing food. So right away, the detectives went with Pennix to look for him there.

"I got out of the vehicle and went in to talk to the Albertson's employees in hopes that they would know who somebody named Greyhound, that matches this description, is," Miller explained.

Big Will knew Greyhound sometimes sold drugs at the Chevron station right next door. Then -- a stroke of luck.

"I see Greyhound. ... He says, 'Hey Big Will, whatcha doing over here?' So I said, 'Wait one minute I'll be right back.' So I went inside the store and told the detective, 'There he is right there,'" said Pennix.

"Big Will then exits the restroom and whispers in my ear ... and goes, 'That's Greyhound,'" said Long.

"We got lucky by the grace of God, he was there!" Pennix exclaimed.

"I'm like -- this can't be happening," Long told Van Sant. "I walk outside ... I wanna get as close as I can to him before he identifies me as a police officer."

Cops identified themselves and immediately found drugs in Greyhound's possession, so they took him to police headquarters.

"And he's volunteered to come to our office and help us with our investigation," said Long.

Greyhound's real name is Noel Stevens. He denied he has anything to do with Shauna Tiaffay's murder.

"'I have nothing to do with it, it's not me. You have the wrong guy,'" Long said of Stevens' denial. "He tells us that he does live in the desert. He has a tent."

While Greyhound was held on drug charges, a massive police search is launched to find his campsite.

"Terri and I walked it, that fence. We had to climb through that fence, it was tough," Long explained. "This case came down to shoe leather. We ran it all down."

It was out in the rocky desert foothills, about 8 miles from the Vegas strip, that detectives, making their way through the treacherous landscape, discovered some important evidence.

"We brought a helicopter with us and a bunch of people to search and we searched every one of these hills," Long said of the remote area.

Detective Sam Smith had found a crucial piece of evidence near the campsite -- a pair of Stevens pants; they were bloody. Police tested them on the spot.

"I walked past a small shrub, and rolled up underneath the shrub was a pair of pants that looked out of place," said Smith.

"And what did you learn later about the blood, whose blood was it?" Van Sant asked.

"That was Shauna Tiaffay's blood," he replied.

Back at headquarters, police confronted Noel Stevens with what they had found. Then they used an old trick to pry more information out of him.

"A lot of people don't know this. Investigators are allowed -- I'll use this word -- to 'mislead' a suspect," Van Sant noted to the detectives.

"No, we're allowed to lie," Long replied.

They bluffed Stevens, saying someone fingered him for the murder.

Stevens stunned the detectives by admitting he killed Shauna Tiaffay.

But why? More clues were found when police examined Stevens' cell phone.

"We find a guy by the name of George in his cell phone. And when we ask him, 'Who's George?' He says, 'That's my friend the firefighter,'" said Miller.

George was George Tiaffay--Shauna's husband. And Noel Stevens was the homeless handyman who had caused friction in the Tiaffay marriage.

"This is Vegas. You just hit all sevens, right?" Van Sant noted to the detectives.

"Yes, we did," Long replied.

"Jackpot," said Miller.


As soon as she heard about the tragic murder of her beautiful sister, Paula Stokes-Richards and her husband, John, immediately had one suspect in mind.

"We all thought that George was involved. But we couldn't figure out how he did it," she said.

So they decided to call George, who was still standing outside Shauna's townhouse with police.

"So I thought, we need to record this," added John Richards.

George Tiaffay: Hello?

Paula Richards: George?

George Tiaffay: Yes.

Paula Richards: This is Paula. Can you tell me what's going on?

George Tiaffay: Shauna passed away [crying].

Paula Richards: And what did they do to her?

George Tiaffay: Oh God. I don't know. She's layin on the floor with blood on her head.

Paula Richards: [sighs] Is she still ... is Shauna's body still there?

George Tiaffay: Yes, I think so. Oh my God.

George then handed his cell phone to a grief counselor.

"No one else can hear what I'm saying, correct?" Stokes-Richards asked the counselor, who replied, "Correct."

Paula then made a startling accusation.

"I have my suspicions that her husband may be involved in this," she told the counselor. "Based on, you know, many, many conversations I've had with my sister, I highly suspect that he may be involved."

The day after the murder, the couple caught the first flight to Las Vegas from Nashville.

"When we landed on the flight out to Las Vegas, we had both shifted into this investigator mode," said John Richards.

While the Richards were conducting their amateur investigation, detectives Miller and Long were continuing their professional one, armed with a good luck charm: a casino chip that belonged to Shauna.

"And I said, 'I want you to hold onto this because this has allowed me to feel like Shauna is near us," John Richards said. "And -- you can give it back to me when you get an arrest."

Remembering Shauna Tiaffay 01:38

Soon into their investigation, detectives had discovered dozens of phone calls between Noel Stevens and George Tiaffay before the murder.

"You said 87 calls?" Van Sant asked.

"That's correct, 87 phone calls in one month. That's more than I talk to my husband," Det. Terri Miller replied.

Tiaffay and Stevens met years earlier when both were living on the same middle class street; Noel at his sister's house, and the Tiaffays down the block.

"Noel got to know George, asked him if he could do yard work for George," said Det. Dan Long.

Cops soon learned from Noel Stevens their relationship was complicated; Noel idolized George.

"He genuinely thought he and George were very, very close and would never turn on one another," said Det. Miller.

But detectives believed George Tiaffay was manipulating his friend--who may have suffered from mental illness.

"He has a pawn; he has an implement, a tool in Noel Stevens. And he's gonna use that tool," said Det. Long.

Big Will told detectives that George gave Noel Stevens $600 in cash to kill Shauna, with the promise of thousands more to come.

"He said, 'Well, uh, he gave me a key to get in this lady's house and I murdered her.' And my heart dropped. And I said, 'What?' I said, 'What you just signed yourself a death warrant! You don't know if this man is gonna try to kill you or what,'" Pennix told Van Sant.

When cops were scouring Noel Stevens' desert campsite, another intriguing clue they found was a bar code tag. They scanned it and it matched the style of hammer used to kill Shauna.

"...and we figure out that Lowe's sells those hammers," said Long.

That launched investigators on a tedious mission: reviewing hundreds of hours of video surveillance tape. Finally, they hit pay dirt when they spotted George Tiaffay and Noel Stevens shopping together for hammers.

George Tiaffay and Noel Stevens seen shopping together on surveillance vide
George Tiaffay and Noel Stevens seen shopping together on surveillance video Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.

"We have our definite connection between Noel and George," said Long.

Stevens was singing to cops like a canary.

"So he gave you a roadmap and you're following it and you're finding exactly what he said you'd find?" Van Sant asked.

The murder weapon
The murder weapon Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.

"Absolutely," Miller replied.

Even leading them to where he had buried the murder weapon: a hammer, which broke in two during the brutal attack.

"And there was blood on it," said Miller.

They also discovered a possible motive for murder: money. Shauna liked to spend it and George liked to save it.

"There's some financial transactions that appear like he's trying to hide money -- through his mom," Miller explained.

With the noose tightening on George Tiaffay, detectives met with his family nine days after Shauna's murder.

"So at the end of the interview, I tell mom and sister that George is involved in killing Shauna," said Long.

"How do they react to that?" Van Sant asked the detectives.

"It's traumatic to them," Long replied.

"'No, no, no.' They're crying. They're telling us that we are absolutely 100-percent wrong," said Miller.

Minutes after that conversation, police, who had George Tiaffay under surveillance and were monitoring his phone calls, overhear his sister calling him. Then suddenly, George "jumped back into his truck and took off quote, unquote, 'like a bat out of hell,'" said Long.

George weaved erratically through city traffic and onto the Summerlin Parkway. He accelerated to 90 miles per hour and smashed head-on into a barrier. Cops believe it was a suicide attempt.

"He's trying to end his life right now. Because he can't face the fact of what's going to come," said Miller.

Amazingly, George survived the crash because, cops say, he was wearing a seat belt. He was rushed to a local hospital where detectives later arrested him.

George Tiaffay with his attorney at his arraignment
George Tiaffay with his attorney, Robert Langford, at Tiaffay's arraignment

"And I said, 'George, you're under arrest for the murder of your wife, Shauna Tiaffay.' And his reaction was simply to look up from his hospital bed and say, 'OK,'" said Miller.

That's when police also charged Noel Stevens with Shauna's murder.

"It was a feeling of relief, all we wanted was justice for Shauna," said John Richards.

Detectives believed George Tiaffay was just one step away from getting away with it all.

Noel Stevens booking photo
Noel Stevens booking photo Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.

"Commit the murder and then do away with Noel," Long said. "If he can get that done in the right way, he's gonna commit the perfect crime."

But George was steadfastly maintaining his innocence, and prosecutors become worried about their key witness, Noel Stevens.

"He's at the heart of the murder conspiracy, right?" Van Sant asked Prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo.

"He is a very important factor in the case," he replied.

"He's mentally ill, right? He has a violent criminal history ... And he's your star witness?" Van Sant asked.

"You know, the defense wants him to be our star witness," said DiGiacomo.


George Tiaffay's defense attorney, Robert Langford, knows how to take command, whether as an actor in front of a live theater audience or before a jury, in a Sin City courtroom. And now, Langford is front and center in a case that even a playwright would find difficult to imagine.

"It's a good story. It's real interesting. But it's not evidence yet in the case," said Langford.

"Who is responsible for the murder of Shauna Tiaffay?" Van Sant asked.

"Noel Stevens. Noel Stevens says he is. Noel Stevens beat her to death with a hammer," Langford replied.

"Was he hired by George Tiaffay to do that?"

"There is no evidence of that," said Langford.

It's been three years since the murder, and Shauna's family and friends, like Lacey Green, are apprehensive.

"I'm not confident," Green said. "It's very scary not knowing what's going to happen."

"I fear that he will be found innocent," said Paula Stokes-Richards.

In his opening statement, Prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo knows he has to make Noel Stevens and George Tiaffay partners in crime.

"At no point during the communication with the police does George Tiaffay ever mention Noel Stevens," DiGiacomo addressed the court.

"He calls Noel Stevens 87 times in the month of September," he continued.

The prosecutors' biggest challenge will be getting a jury to believe George Tiaffay is capable of murder.

"You are going up against an all-American boy," Van Sant noted to DiGiacomo. "That's a tough challenge."

"It is," he replied. "As a prosecutor, it's highly unusual to have the resume of George Tiaffay and then him be a murder suspect."

Pam Weckerly, Assistant Clark County District Attorney, has scrutinized what she thinks makes Tiaffay tick and what may have driven him to murder.

"I think George Tiaffay is someone who had numerous successes in his life," she said. "When his marriage is crumbling, I think that's something that he just can't cope with. ...the idea that he wouldn't have complete control over his daughter and Shauna, ultimately."

Unraveling the complicated tale of George Tiaffay's intertwined relationship with Noel Stevens is left to prosecution witnesses. Big Will Pennix remembers exactly what Stevens told him the day Shauna was killed:

William Pennix: He said, "I got sumpin' to tell you." And I said, "Well, what is it?" He said -- "I just -- murdered a woman." And right then and there, I said, "You've got to be a damn fool."

Robert Langford: Did you believe everything that Noel Stevens Greyhound told you?

William Pennix: It depends on the day.

Yet, Pennix admits under defense questioning that trusting what Stevens has to say is a dubious prospect at best:

William Pennix: At a scale of one to 10, I would put him at a scale of maybe one-and-a-half [chuckles].

Robert Langford: Ten being very honest and zero --

William Pennix: One-and-a-half - one-and-a-half meaning not honest at all, that's correct.

And prosecutors admit that honesty may be the least of Noel Steven's problems.

"He's an alcoholic. He's told a ton of lies before and, oh, he's a multiple-time felon on top of it," said DiGiacomo.

Tiaffay trial: A killer takes the stand 02:27

Despite all that, the courtroom falls silent as a very different looking Noel Stevens, perhaps the most unlikely star prosecution witness in Clark County history, takes the stand.

"He looks like a maniac. I literally felt like my heart dropped into my stomach when I saw him walk through that door," said Stokes-Richards.

Stevens, who pleaded guilty in 2013 to Shauna's murder, agreed to testify against Tiaffay once prosecutors, in a pretrial deal, promised not to seek the death penalty against him.

Marc DiGiacomo: When you get nervous, do you have sometimes a little trouble speaking?

Noel Stevens: I stutter.

"Are you guys thinking to each other, 'Are we nuts?'" Van Sant asked.

"Yes," Pam replied. "We're saying it to each other," said DiGiacomo.

But Stevens soon settles in, and prodded by DiGiacomo, recites details of his relationship with Tiaffay:

Marc DiGiacomo : ...are you just doing work for him, or is -- there some --

Noel Stevens: We're friends.

Marc DiGiacomo: OK. What kinda things have you done together?

Noel Stevens: We worked out, stuff like that.

He recounts breaking into Shauna's townhouse three weeks before her murder, and admits he's the one who left behind those size small boxer shorts:

Marc DiGiacomo: Who told you to make it look like a robbery?

Noel Stevens: George did.

And without a hint of remorse, Stevens coldly describes how he killed Shauna with that hammer:

Noel Stevens: I hit her in the head.

Marc DiGiacomo: What happens when you -- come out that door and you're holdin' that hammer?

Noel Stevens: She had -- she's -- she tells me why I'm doing this.

Marc DiGiacomo: She says, "Why are you doing this?"

Noel Stevens: Yes.

Marc DiGiacomo: Who told you to kill Shauna?

Noel Stevens: George.

"He is -- a zombie parrot ... in that he had a response which was always 'George. George did it. George told me. George,'" said Langford.

Itching to cross examine Stevens, Langford rips right into him, getting the state's star witness to admit he not only hears voices, but has visions:

Noel Stevens: 'Cause I hallucinate.

Robert Langford: What kind of hallucinations?

Noel Stevens: I see -- Shauna sometimes.

Robert Langford: Sometimes?

Noel Stevens: Yes.

Robert Langford: Do you see other people?

Noel Stevens: Sometimes.

Robert Langford: Do you hear voices?

Noel Stevens: Yes.

"Noel Stevens is the craziest person I've ever seen take the stand," Langford said. "What is reasonable doubt if not Noel Stevens?"

"I think the more Noel talks, the more believable he is," Pam Weckerly said. "It seemed impossible to me that he could have fabricated this notion of a conspiracy with that level of detail--unless it really happened."

Prosecutors replay some of the most damning evidence. That footage of George Tiaffay and Noel Stevens buying hammers, knives, and other items.

"You have this defendant buying two hammers in five days. His ex-wife is killed with a hammer. That is not an item you are buying very often," Weckerly told the court.

George Tiaffay sits calmly through the trial, showing no emotion. He never takes the stand.

"They have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. And they didn't," Langford said. "So there's no reason to put George on the stand."

The only defense witness: Tiaffay's sister, Maria McGrew.

Robert Langford: In all the years that you've known George, have you ever known him to be a violent person?

Maria McGrew: Never ever, ever.

Along with Tiaffay's family, friends from his childhood and West Point days are in court to show their support.

"I'm here because I'm willing to stand behind and defend George's character," said Terri Reed.

"George is not the person being depicted by the prosecutor," said Roc Ryder.

After a week-long trial, hearing from some 40 witnesses and with 400 exhibits in evidence, 12 jurors will now decide the fate of George Tiaffay.

Juror Roy Wright had questions.

"Were they just buying these things for Noel to be a handyman with, or were they buying 'em for a murder?" he explained.


It has been three years since Shauna Tiaffay was found brutally murdered, and her family hopes their long, agonizing wait will end in justice.

"I'm just on pins and needles, you know. My stomach has been in knots for days. I don't think I've ever been so nervous," Paula Stokes-Richards said as she waited for a verdict.

George and Shauna Tiaffay
George and Shauna Tiaffay

A jury will decide if George Tiaffay was the mastermind behind his wife's murder.

"George Tiaffay is the evil one," said John Richards.

On one side of the courtroom sits Shauna's family; some are dressed in pink, her favorite color. On the other side sit George's supporters. His sister Bernadette takes a moment to pray.

"He's been called a monster. People call him a monster! It's just ridiculous and shocking," she said.

Finally, after three long days, a verdict: guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder; seven counts in all. George Tiaffay stands silent with the same emotionless stare he has had throughout the entire trial.

His family is simply devastated.

"In your opinion, was an injustice done?" Van Sant asked defense attorney Robert Langford.

"Yes. Because I believe there was reasonable doubt," he replied.

Paula Stokes-Richards, who knew from day one that George was behind her sister's murder, is humbled.

"It was almost three years ago that Shauna was brutally murdered. And were so happy that justice was served," she told reporters.

Prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo says he never lost sight of his good luck charm - that casino chip that belonged to Shauna and given to him by her family.

"And for you, what did that chip represent?" Van Sant asked.

"It represented their hope of justice. You know, it sat on my computer for three years. When I walked over for the verdict I had put it in my pocket," DiGiacomo replied.

At his sentencing, a jury must decide George Tiaffay's fate: life in prison or life with the possibility of parole in as soon as 20 years.

"We hope he gets the maximum penalty. George is a controller, manipulator. And I think the worst hell for him will be staying in prison the rest of his life and not being able to control anything," said Stokes-Richards.

Paula takes the stand to remind the jurors of her loss.

"Shauna's greatest joy in this world was being a mother," she addressed the court. "I remember she always running her fingers through Maddie's ponytail and she would call her 'Little Monkey.'"

Who is the real George Tiaffay? 01:18

George Tiaffay's family and friends also speak, hoping their words will persuade the jury to show mercy.

"George is one of the best of us. He's hard working. Compassionate. You will not find a better fire fighter on the job than George," Andrew Steyn, a friend and fellow firefighter, said on the stand. "Just one of the best people I've known. "

"I'm George's brother, that's pretty much who I am," said Patrick Tiaffay.

"How did you feel about that? Langford asked.

"I was proud," he replied.

George Tiaffay shows no emotion as he learns his sentence: life without possibility of parole.

He will now spend the rest of his life in prison.

Juror Roy Wright says that while Noel Stevens is troubled, they never doubted his story.

"I think the general consensus was, he wasn't really that smart enough to make up an elaborate story that would fit the timeline so perfectly," he explained.

Big Will: The unsung hero 02:06

And the jury also believed witness Big Will Pennix, who jump-started the investigation.

"I said, 'Praise the Lord. Justice has been served!'" Pennix said following the verdict.

"Is Big Will a hero in this case to you?" Van Sant asked DiGiacomo.

"He is. He doesn't believe in being an individual who turns a friend in. But when he heard the story from Noel ... he felt a moral conviction to make the phone call. And for that you know he is a hero," he replied.

With the trial behind them, Paula and John Richards worry about Shauna's daughter, Maddie, who is now 11 years old. She has lost both of her parents. Maddie lives with George's family, but Paula and John visit her as often as they can.

"I'm sure she was hoping her daddy would come home. But when she's old enough, I'll explain to her why that's not the case and why it shouldn't be the case," Stokes-Richards told reporters.

"Sometimes when we're talking about Shauna with Maddie, I can tell when Maddie's reflecting in her face that she laughed a lot with her mom," she said. "I can't explain it, but I know that Maddie found a lot of laughter ... with Shauna."

Noel Stevens was sentenced to 42 years to life in prison.

Shauna's family founded Justice4Shauna, a group raising awareness of domestic violence.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.