Tuesday, March 28, 2000 | 2:06 a.m.
The former owner of a spy shop has agreed to plead guilty but mentally ill to killing a 20-year-old entertainer in the back of his store while her husband waited outside.
John Flowers, 29, is scheduled to officially plead guilty to the murder charge and a charge of battery with intent to kill on April 3. He will have to serve at least 25 years in prison before he is eligible for parole. He was not given credit for three years already spent in a state mental institution.
According to police, Ginger Rios, a singer and dancer, disappeared after walking into the Spy Craft bookstore to buy a book on improving credit reports on April 4, 1997. Her husband of five months, Mark Hollinger, waited outside for her, but she never came back out.
When Hollinger tried to go into the store, Flowers, the store's owner, slammed the door in his face, closing the store two hours before its posted closing time.
Flowers told police Rios left his store after buying books on how to disappear.
Four months later, Flowers' wife, Cheryl Ciccone, led police to Rios' body in the Arizona desert. She told police her husband told her he killed Rios after she "got in his face."
Ciccone said Flowers spent hours stuffing Rios' body into plastic bags. Two days later, she said, he used concrete to bury her in the Arizona desert. Ciccone directed investigators to Rios' body. Another body, to this day unidentified, was found nearby.
Previously, county prosecutors had indicated they would try for the death penalty. But Edward Kane, Clark County chief deputy district attorney, said he went ahead with the plea agreement because he feared a new Nevada Supreme Court ruling could have made it easier for Flowers to be found guilty of second-degree murder, a lesser charge.
"That would have made him eligible for parole in 10 years," Kane said.
In Byford vs. State, the Supreme Court redefined requirements of proof needed for a murder to reach the level of first degree. District Attorney Stewart Bell said Monday that the high court ruled that "spur of the moment" killings may not meet standards needed to prove first-degree murder.
Kane also noted that the case already had dragged on for three years.
Flowers' case stalled because until late last year, he was not considered mentally fit to stand trial. The courts waited as he underwent psychiatric evaluation at Lakes Crossing, the state's facility for mentally ill offenders, in Sparks.
"We would have rather had it go to trial, but not if it means he gets less prison time," said George Rios, Ginger's father.