The man accused of killing a Las Vegas investigative journalist was upset over stories the reporter wrote about him, and his DNA was found at the crime scene, authorities said Thursday.
Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles was being held without bail, booked on a charge of open murder, after he was arrested Wednesday evening in connection with the stabbing death of prominent Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German.
German, 69, had written stories about alleged bullying and favoritism in Telles’ office. He was found stabbed to death outside his Bronze Circle home Saturday; police said he was killed Friday.
“This is a terrible and jarring homicide, one that has deeply impacted Las Vegas,” Joe Lombardo, the sheriff of Clark County and Las Vegas, told reporters Thursday. “Every murder is tragic, but the killing of a journalist is particularly troublesome.”
Detectives immediately zeroed in on Telles, 45, because he publicly expressed his anger at German and his reporting, police said.
"Telles was upset about articles that were being written by German as an investigative journalist that exposed potential wrongdoing, and Telles had publicly expressed his issues with that reporting," Las Vegas Police Capt. Dori Koren said Thursday.
“And then ultimately Telles was also upset — from what we found out later — that there was additional reporting that was pending."
German's family thanked police and his fellow journalists for working so hard in recent days to find his killer and publicize the story.
“Jeff was a loving and loyal brother, uncle and friend who devoted his life to his work exposing wrongdoing in Las Vegas and beyond. We’re shocked, saddened and angry about his death," the family said in a statement. "Jeff was committed to seeking justice for others and would appreciate the hard work by local police and journalists in pursuing his killer. We look forward to seeing justice done in this case."
The family added: "We also want to thank everyone for the outpouring of love, support and recognition for Jeff and his life’s work.”
In addition to Telles' public anger with German, Koren said another key piece of evidence was video showing a red or maroon GMC Denali driving suspiciously through the neighborhood before German was killed at about 11:18 a.m. Friday.
Investigators eventually found that a GMC Denali matching the one in German's neighborhood was parked at Telles' home and registered to his wife, police said.
The SUV had been driven away from Telles' home sometime from 9 a.m. to noon on the day of German's murder, matching the police timeline of the slaying, officials said.
"We developed a very critical lead, which was a vehicle that we identified as a maroon-colored GMC Denali that was suspiciously driving around in the neighborhood on the morning of the murder," Koren said. "That vehicle had stopped multiple times throughout the neighborhood and was behaving suspiciously."
Police this week concentrated their search on a possible suspect wearing a wide straw hat and a bright orange reflective long-sleeve shirt.
While the conspicuous getup caught the attention of police, the attire was probably Telles' "attempt to either disguise his identity or conceal his identity" before he attacked German, Koren said.
The suspect "went to the side of the house," Koren said. "Shortly after, German came outside of the garage door and then went to the side of the house, and ultimately an altercation took place between the suspect and victim."
Investigators were still working Thursday to develop clear home surveillance video of the murder itself, the sheriff said.
"We have some distorted video associated with the attack," Lombardo said. "We're in the process of clarifying that video as we speak."
Investigators who served a search warrant at Telles' home Wednesday found partly destroyed shoes and a hat, resembling the clothes of a man seen in images police had released early in the investigation, Koren said.
A DNA sample from Telles' clothes eventually linked him to the crime scene and prompted his arrest, police said.
“As you can see, there’s apparent blood on the shoes," Koren said, showing pictures of the shoes and the hat. "And the shoes were cut, likely in a manner to try to destroy evidence."
Police blocked off part of Spanish Steps Lane on Wednesday and hauled away what appeared to be a red SUV from a home. Telles has a listed address in the 9600 block of Spanish Steps Lane.
Telles was taken out of his home on a stretcher.
“He had self-inflicted wounds, and we were trying to provide medical attention,” said Koren, who declined to detail the injuries, which he called non-life-threatening.
Telles' office oversees the estates of Clark County residents who die without legal next of kin.
It was not immediately clear early Thursday afternoon whether Telles had hired or been appointed a defense attorney who could speak on his behalf.
Telles made his first court appearance after the police news conference and Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Elana Lee Graham ordered him held without bail.
If Telles is ever granted bail in the future, he won't be welcomed back to his office, officials said.
"The safety of our county employees and the public is our top priority, and the County has suspended Mr. Telles’ access to county offices or property," Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa said in a statement Thursday.
"County employees of the administrator’s office are currently working from home, and the office will remain closed until a determination is made about when it can reopen."
Telles could not be reached for comment during the police search Wednesday afternoon.
Reporters later spotted him entering his Spanish Steps Lane home through the garage — wearing what appeared to be an all-white one-piece protective outfit — as he declined to answer questions about the murder.
German's reporting about Telles' office might have played a role in Telles' losing his job, as he was narrowly edged out in the Democratic primary for the position over the summer.
He won 35,279 votes, or 32.4%, finishing just behind one of his top deputies, Rita Reid, who had 37,401 votes, or 34.3%.