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Court TV

Body stashed under apartment floor

By Chris O'Connell
Court TV

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (COURT TV) -- Gregory Stiegler bludgeoned his roommate to death, hid the body in a shallow cement grave, and then invited his girlfriend to live with him in the very apartment where the body lay buried for months, a prosecutor told jurors at Stiegler's murder trial.

"That was the ultimate resting place of Bob Wilson," prosecutor Marc DiGiacomo told jurors during opening statements, showing them crime-scene photos of what he called Wilson's "crypt" -- a shallow grave beneath a patch of carpet.

When Stiegler's girlfriend, Teresa Cheney, complained of a foul smell drifting up from below the staircase in her new home, DiGiacomo said Stiegler explained it away by telling her it was from a broken pipe in the basement.

Stiegler, 36, is accused of first-degree murder for the death of Robert Wilson, a 51-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran who took Stiegler under his wing and allowed him to live in the apartment he rented in a rough Las Vegas neighborhood.

If convicted, Stiegler faces life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors say Stiegler killed and buried Wilson between late December 2001 and April 2002. Wilson's body was discovered when Stiegler and Cheney were evicted from the apartment and maintenance workers noticed a small irregular lump beneath the stairwell.

Both the lump and the smell motivated the workers to call the police, who unearthed Wilson's body beneath cement, plywood, and tar. The body was wrapped in plastic and masking tape, the arms and legs were bound by electrical cord, and the mouth was covered with red duct tape, according to police.

Stiegler left town for Arizona after local television news reported the gruesome discovery on May 13. He was apprehended by FBI agents in Flagstaff later in 2002.

Compassionate veteran

During opening statements Tuesday, defense attorney Frank Kocka offered no explanations for his client's behavior or the body under the stairs.

Instead, Kocka urged jurors to focus on what he said were key pieces of a "jigsaw puzzle" that were missing from the state's case against his client.

"I ask you to put that emotion aside and listen not to what could have happened," Kocka said. "Listen closely if the state can prove to you what did happen."

With several of Wilson's family members in the courtroom, DiGiacomo portrayed the victim as a drug addict who used disability payments from an arm injury sustained in Vietnam to pay his rent and then used whatever was left to "party."

"Bob Wilson wasn't always an alcoholic. He wasn't always a crackhead. He was pretty much down on his luck," DiGiacomo said.

Despite his addiction, the prosecutor said, Wilson had a soft spot for the people he met on the streets of Las Vegas, one of whom was Gregory Stiegler.

"Bob liked to take in strays," he said.

Bizarre phone call

Wilson's brother Jim and sister Susan Gaynor both testified for the state Tuesday, describing for jurors the almost daily calls they made to Wilson for several months after he failed to call their mother on New Year's Day.

Tearing up as he recalled the unanswered calls, Jim Wilson said that someone named Greg once answered the phone and claimed to be his brother's roommate. Wilson testified that he believed this person was Stiegler.

Wilson said that Greg, who by his accounts seemed to be on drugs and was "speeding," initially told him that his brother moved out with a woman, but then his story changed.

The witness said that Greg then told him about several people who may have hurt Robert Wilson, including a bartender, a member of a street gang and a drug dealer.

"He would ramble back and forth," Jim Wilson said. "He was in one subject and out of one subject."

He told jurors that Stiegler then told him that "he would never do anything to harm" his brother.

"He volunteered that info to me," Wilson said of his 42-minute conversation with Stiegler. "I got the impression he was lying to me."

After the phone call, Wilson filed a missing persons report for his brother.

Signs of trouble?

Jurors also heard from the man who employed both the victim and the defendant for odd jobs around the apartment complex they lived in.

Jerry Honert testified that Stiegler often spoke negatively about Wilson and another roommate while he worked as a painter and handyman for Honert.

"It seemed like every day he came into work he complained about them," Honert said. "[Stiegler] said he hated Bob and had to get out of there."

Honert also said that Stiegler admitted to him that he took tape, plastic, a hacksaw and several other work-related items from him. He returned all but the plastic and the tape, Honert said.

Stiegler's wife, his girlfriend Teresa Cheney, and a former roommate of both Stiegler and Wilson are expected to testify.

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