LAS VEGAS (AP) — Prosecutors said they won’t seek the death penalty against a former Las Vegas-area politician who pleaded not guilty Wednesday to killing a veteran investigative journalist who wrote articles critical of him and his managerial conduct.
“Not guilty, your honor,” Robert Telles, a Democrat who has been stripped of his elected position, responded during his arraignment on an indictment in the Sept. 2 stabbing death of Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German.
Telles, 45, appeared with his new lawyer, Ryan Helmick, who Telles hired to replace deputy public defenders initially named to his case at taxpayer expense following a declaration by Telles that he was unable to afford a lawyer.
The Review-Journal last week reported that Telles and his wife were making $20,500 per month before his arrest and that he owns five rental houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Local property records show the couple also owns a Las Vegas home with a taxable value of more than $320,000.
A trial date was not immediately set. Telles’ next court date is Nov. 2 before Clark County District Court Judge Mark Denton.
Helmick declined outside court to comment.
Telles was Clark County administrator, in charge of the office that handles assets of people who die without a will or family contacts. Six former co-workers — including Rita Page Reid, Telles’ former top assistant — attended the court hearing.
Reid won the Democratic party primary in June and is vying against two other candidates on the upcoming ballot to replace Telles. She called seeing Telles in court “a little disturbing and very emotional,” but told reporters that attending was to honor German and the reports he wrote about conditions in the office.
“The ultimate price that Jeff German paid was in support of all of us,” Reid said.
A grand jury last week indicted Telles on a charge of murder with a weapon of a victim 60 years or older. At trial, he could face the possibility of life in prison without parole.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said he and a panel of prosecutors concluded that there were no qualifying aggravating factors to make Telles’ trial a capital case.
“We can only consider the death penalty if an aggravating circumstance exists,” Wolfson said.
Nevada law lists 15 aggravators, mostly involving murder while committing another felony such as kidnapping, rape, escape from custody, torture or multiple killings. Murder of a police officer, prison guard or firefighter in the line of duty also qualifies.
Prosecutors say evidence against Telles is overwhelming, including DNA believed to be from Telles found beneath German’s fingernails, video showing a man believed to be Telles walking near German’s home, and a vehicle believed to be Telles’ in the area.
Attorneys for police say the criminal investigation won’t be complete, however, until authorities access and review records on German’s cellphone and electronic devices to see if there is more evidence.
Telles’ previous lawyers said they want to know if those devices have information that might exonerate him or identify other people with a motive to kill German.
That dispute has spawned a case now pending before the state Supreme Court over concerns about revealing German’s confidential sources and notes.
The Review-Journal, with backing from dozens of media organizations, is fighting the release of the information. It cites Nevada’s so-called “news shield law,” which is among the strictest in the nation, along with the federal Privacy Protection Act and First Amendment safeguards.
German, 69, was widely respected for his tenacity, and his colleagues said he was working on follow-up reports about Telles and the public administrator’s office when he was killed.
The state Supreme Court has also suspended Telles’ law license pending results of a State Bar of Nevada investigation of allegations that he misappropriated funds of clients in his private law office.