LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Clark County public official Rob Telles is in custody, facing murder charges related to the death of Las Vegas journalist Jeff German. Many are asking how long it might take to prosecute the case.
8 News Now Investigators discovered that it isn’t unusual for a murder case to last five years or longer thanks, in part, to a backlog created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, when Ada Priolo, 81, was taken from a parking lot, stuffed into the trunk of her car and left to die in the hot August sun in 1994, her family members were anxious for justice. Cold case detectives identified Christopher Mack as a suspect in the crime 25 years later. A teenager at the time of the killing, Mack was already behind bars for other crimes.
However, Priolo’s family said a speedy trial was not in the cards.
“That’s part of the justice system game in Nevada,” explained Rob Ruckus, well-known Las Vegas musician and grandson of Priolo. “Putting it off, putting it off, putting it off.”
Priolo’s granddaughter, Tami Stillwell, described the emotional rollercoaster the family has been facing.
“We get ready emotionally, and then we’re slammed back down again,” Stillwell said..
After three and a half years of delays and continuances, Mack agreed recently to plead no contest in the Priolo case, and will soon be sentenced.
The delay between charges being filed and sentencing is not uncommon. Assistant Sheriff Andrew Walsh said the Clark County jail is full of examples.
“What we’re dealing with is people who’ve been here and been here for an extended period of time,” Walsh explains.
Walsh said there are more than 400 inmates in the Clark County jail charged with murder. He said that approximately 30 have been there for five years or longer awaiting trial and that dozens of others have been released on bail.
“We have 59 murderers on electronic monitoring, 59 people wearing an ankle bracelet out when the public,” explained Captain Jonathan Clark of the Clark County Detention Center.
Why would murder suspects be released on bail? Statistically, murder suspects do not commit more murders if they are released on bail. The same cannot be said statistically for armed robbers or drug dealers. Sheriff Walsh says that allowing some criminal suspects to keep their jobs during the years-long wait for trial can help stabilize families.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a factor in the slowing of the justice system. Local courts essentially shut down during the worst of the pandemic. The closure created a massive backlog of criminal prosecutions, and those effects were felt immediately at the jail.
With fewer tourists in Las Vegas during the pandemic, overall crime numbers plummeted. However, murder and domestic violence cases among local residents spiked. Sheriff Walsh says jail officials did what they had to do to ensure the jail population’s safety, In some cases that included releasing inmates. Walsh said that the jail has between 30 and 35 percent vacancy.
The pandemic was more evident in the court system where trials were simply untenable for more than a year. Trials for murder and other serious crimes stacked up and by the fall of 2021, Chief Judge for the Eighth Judicial District Court of Clark County Linda Bell described the backlog as “significant.” Nearly 6,000 trials were waiting to commence. That number was thousands more than the pre-COVID backlog.
In January, an edict was issued to all judges and lawyers to initiate at least ten trials per category, including murder cases. Lawyers were warned to meet deadlines and to avoid asking for continuances. The prediction was that it would take 18 months to get caught up.
“We had a 75 percent closure rate,” explained District Court Chief Judge Jerry Weiss. “In ’21, our closure rate went up to 95 percent, and so far in ’22, our closure rate is 122 percent.”
Weiss said those numbers indicate that courts are getting back into older cases and eliminating the backlog.
Murder cases, including the pending prosecution of Rob Telles, won’t be part of the COVID-caused case backup, but could still take years to complete. Weiss said judges assigned to homicide cases tend to be more lenient with both prosecutors and defense attorneys because the stakes are so high.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson says that when a death sentence is possible, prosecutors are cautious so as to avoid reversed verdicts during inevitable appeals.
“Murder cases are going to take longer,” Wolfson explained, adding that in 2022, his prosecutors won six homicide verdicts in one two-week period.
At the end of the day, he said, the public gets justice.