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April 19, 2014

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Crime:

Her final hours: How a Luxor dancer’s tumultuous relationship turned deadly

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Courtesy

Debora Flores Narvaez.

Luxor Dancer Murder Case

Authorities have charged Jason Griffith in the death of dancer Debora Flores Narvaez. Launch slideshow »

It's not unusual for two Las Vegas Strip performers to strike up a relationship.

But this one ended with one of them dismembered, placed in a pair of plastic tubs and encased in concrete.

Now, three years later, the gruesome homicide case is moving toward trial.

•••

Debbie Flores Narvaez moved to Las Vegas with a boyfriend in 2008, lured by dreams of dancing on Las Vegas Boulevard. It wasn't without risk. Debbie lacked formal training despite a stint as a Washington Redskins cheerleader.

Her dreams prevailed. The relationship did not.

The man Debbie was dating accused her of stalking him and obtained a temporary protective order against her — which she violated. It was consistent with what some say was her cloying behavior when it came to men.

But Las Vegas, where beautiful go-go dancers are a fixture in nightclubs and casinos, welcomed the striking 5-foot-2 Puerto Rican with big brown eyes and long, dark hair. She found work dancing at Rain nightclub at the Palms and eventually landed a more-coveted job in Luxor's show, "Fantasy," performing several times a month in the long-running topless production.

She worked hard, expanded her circle of friends and, somewhere along the line, met Jason "Blu" Griffith, by all accounts an easy-going, likable dancer in Cirque du Soleil's "Beatles Love" show at the Mirage. A months-long, stormy relationship emerged, even landing on police radar.

Debbie was identified as the aggressor in at least one incident and as the victim in two other altercations. One episode landed Griffith in handcuffs, arrested on a count of battery domestic violence and coercion.

•••

Their relationship tumultuous, the Las Vegas transplants — he from Brooklyn, N.Y., she from Puerto Rico and Maryland — broke up but continued to see each other occasionally. That apparently was her intention on Dec. 12, 2010.

Debbie, 31, left her condominium a block east of the Las Vegas Strip, dressed fashionably but casually in a dark shirt, jeans and knee-high black boots.

She planned to go to Griffith's place to watch "Dexter," the Showtime thriller about a sympathetic serial killer who cuts up his victims, puts their remains in black garbage bags and dumps them off the side of his boat.

The next night, Debbie was expected to perform alongside R&B star Sisqo, heralding the start of his two-week run with "Fantasy." This performance, which was her concept, might have been Debbie's big breakthrough. But she didn't show up.

Debbie's friends reported her missing. And an ex-boyfriend is always someone to check out.

Detectives investigating Debbie's disappearance first encountered Griffith on Dec. 15 outside his North Las Vegas home, changing a car tire. He avoided eye contact but acknowledged that, yes, Debbie had stopped by his place Dec. 12.

He was in a hurry. He said he needed to get to work.

About the same time, 6 miles away, police located Debbie's 1997 Chevrolet Prism abandoned in a Las Vegas backyard.

By this time, Debbie's disappearance had made a splash in local news, with both police and her loved ones pleading for information from the public.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Debbie's family through this difficult time," a "Fantasy" producer wrote in a statement released to the media. "We strongly urge anyone who may have information about her whereabouts to contact Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, immediately."

Weeks passed. Sisqo's performances with "Fantasy" ended, and Debbie's family spent the holidays without her.

On a Facebook page dedicated to finding Debbie, her older sister, Celeste Flores Narvaez, lamented the agony of returning to Atlanta from Las Vegas without reaching her goal: finding Debbie, the outgoing girl she tried to protect growing up.

"Debbie, I'm sorry, but I'll be back immediately to look and find you," Celeste posted Jan. 4, 2011. "I'll never stop looking for you."

Celeste never got the chance for a return trip. The next day, Jan. 5, police received a tip that hurled the case in a new direction.

Kalae Casorso, a former girlfriend of Griffith, told a friend that Griffith and his roommate, Louis Colombo, had tried to store a plastic tub containing Debbie's body at her Green Valley apartment. The friend contacted police, setting in motion a rapid series of events that led detectives to an aging bungalow on Bonanza Way, just north of downtown.

Colombo, buoyed by the promise that prosecutors wouldn't go after him, snitched on Griffith, laying out this version of events:

When Colombo returned to their home the night of Dec. 12, he saw Debbie lying dead on a bedroom floor. Griffith told him she died during a heated physical argument — and he needed help disposing the body.

Griffith bought bags of cement at Home Depot, which they mixed and poured over Debbie's naked body in a light blue, plastic storage tub. They rented a U-Haul truck the next day and drove to Henderson with the tub in the truck. But Casorso refused to store it, so the two men developed plan B — leaving the tub at some friends' house that would be empty for a long time.

But the tub started leaking.

Colombo and Griffith — armed with a sledgehammer, handsaw and cleaning supplies — returned to the bungalow several days later. They broke the concrete, dismembered Debbie's body, placed her remains in new, green plastic tubs, covered her again with cement and sealed a closet door with spray foam insulation.

Colombo led detectives to the house, where his grisly description proved true. The 25-day search for Debbie had ended.

Detectives contacted Griffith the next day, Jan. 8, as he left the Mirage. A meandering, recorded interrogation ended with Griffith refusing to answer specific questions.

"Like I said again, there's, there's, there's things that you guys know; there's things that you guys are assuming," he told detectives. "You guys are trying to put, you know, paint a picture, and that's cool. I totally understand it. You guys are gonna do your jobs. You're gonna do what you're supposed to do. I don't have anything else for you."

"All right," detectives replied. "You are under arrest for Debbie's murder."

•••

Click to enlarge photo

Jason Griffith waits for his arraignment on strangulation and dismemberment charges of 31-year-old Debora Flores Narvaez, a Las Vegas Strip dancer, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011 in North Las Vegas. Griffith could face the death penalty.

A grand jury charged Griffith with one count of murder. The trial had been scheduled to begin this week but was delayed for a fifth time. Attorneys plan to meet again later this month.

Griffith's public defenders, Abel Yanez and Jeff Banks, fought to keep photos of Debbie's body and possibly incriminating statements Griffith allegedly made to a detective out of the hands of jurors.

In the car ride to the Clark County Detention Center, Griffith allegedly told a homicide detective that what happened was the result of a "heat of the moment thing," sparked by Debbie attacking him, according to the arrest report.

Griffith's defense attorneys argued that he had invoked his right to remain silent and requested an attorney during his interrogation, rendering his statements off-limits to prosecutors. A judge disagreed.

Court documents indicate the defense will try to portray Debbie as the aggressor, based on her history of volatile relationships. During a four-year span in Maryland, five restraining orders were placed against her, and she was arrested on charges of assault, resisting arrest and harassment.

The defense plans to call Debbie's ex-boyfriend, Jamile McGee, to the stand. McGee obtained a restraining order against Debbie in August 2009.

"Flores Narvaez's behavior demonstrates a common plan or scheme that she had with the men she dated: Harass and stalk them — at times being physically violent — in order to place them in fear of their safety, which thereby allowed her to control them and prevent them from completely ending the relationship," Griffith's defense attorneys wrote in a motion.

Celeste Flores Narvaez sees it a different way.

"When Debbie fell for someone, Debbie fell hard," her sister said. "She would give you 120 percent."

Debbie, who once studied law in Maryland, set out to achieve her goals, her sister said. That same passion also was her Achilles' heel when it came to relationships.

She tended to date "the broken ones" — men who battled alcohol addiction, depression and anger issues — and would try to maintain toxic relationships, Celeste said.

If a heated argument led to her sister's death, Celeste said, Debbie's mistake was not walking away.

"The only thing she had on her is a mouth," she said. "She's a talker, but she's not a fighter."

•••

Click to enlarge photo

Celeste Flores Narvaez, Debora's sister, speaks during a memorial service for Debora Flores Narvaez at the Atrium Showroom at Luxor Friday, January 14, 2011.

The Clark County Coroner's Office concluded Debbie was strangled.

Two hundred people attended a memorial held at the Luxor days after detectives discovered her body. Three years later, friends and family members still leave Debbie messages on a Facebook page created in her honor.

And her pink, bedazzled Christmas tree took up residence in her sister's office this past holiday season.

But just as she was loved, so was the man accused of killing her.

Griffith, 32 at the time of his arrest, had lived in Clark County for six years, earning a living as a dancer in various Strip shows. In the month after he was charged with murder, more than a dozen friends wrote letters to a judge, urging that his bail be reduced.

They described him as a fun-loving cast member: "He joked around with the rest of the crew and never gave any of us a reason to feel we were not safe in his presence," wrote Nancy Burton, executive director of the "Nathan Burton Comedy Magic" show.

A good listener: "He was patient and always there if I called him on the phone upset or needed to ask his opinion on things," wrote fellow "Love" cast member Tina Cannon.

A bit of a health nut: "Never drank. He loved Buffalo Wild Wings, but most times I invited him, he said he had to stay away and take care of his six-pack," friend Matt Obernesser wrote.

And a caring father: "Jason would always call his children when they couldn't be in Las Vegas. Jason would often go to Reno to visit his children. He was very much a family-oriented man," wrote friend and one-time landlord Regina Axley.

A judge refused to lower his bail, so Griffith remains in the Clark County Detention Center, living among 70-some other inmates facing similar charges.

Debbie is buried in her native Puerto Rico.

The information contained in this story was gleaned from Clark County District Court records, the Metro Police arrest report and an interview with the victim’s sister, Celeste Flores Narvaez.

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