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Cirque performer arraigned in Vegas dancer's murder

By Timothy Pratt

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - A Cirque du Soleil performer charged with murdering and dismembering a Las Vegas burlesque dancer was arraigned in court on Wednesday in a brief but emotional proceeding that ended with the dancer's sister's screams.

Jason Omar Griffith, 32, is accused of strangling his former girlfriend, Debora Flores Narvaez, 31, then cutting her body into pieces and encasing her remains in cement after the two argued last month.

Judge Chris Lee of North Las Vegas Justice Court recited to Griffith the charges of murder, battery and destroying evidence on Wednesday morning. Griffith, who is being held without bail, offered no plea. The judge set a preliminary hearing date of February 15.

Flores Narvaez, a performer in the burlesque show "Fantasy" at the Luxor Hotel and Casino, had been missing for several weeks when authorities found two tubs containing her remains on Saturday behind a sealed closet door inside a Las Vegas house.

Police, acting on tips from acquaintances of Griffith, one of whom admitted to helping him dispose of the body, took the suspect into custody at his place of work on Saturday night, according to the arrest report.

Griffith had been a performer in the Beatles-based Cirque du Soleil show "Love" at the Mirage Hotel and Casino.

Celeste Flores Narvaez, Debora's older sister, could not contain her emotions when the accused killer entered the courtroom Wednesday morning.

"Is that him?" she asked, almost breathless, as bailiffs led the suspect in. Griffith, dressed in a black prison jumpsuit, stood to one side of the room.

The victim's sister then rose and quickly crossed the hushed courtroom to get a closer look.

She visibly tried to steel herself as Judge Lee asked Griffith if he understood the charges against him, to which he replied, "yes." The judge spoke briefly with two public defenders about filling out a form to determine if the defendant was eligible for their services.

Flores Narvaez began to cry. Cameras shuttered. Then, almost as quickly as he had entered the courtroom, Griffith turned to leave.

Flores Narvaez shouted after him, "For what you did to her ... I hope you rot in hell!" Griffith did not respond. She then ran from the courtroom.

Seated in front her during the hearing was an acquaintance of Griffith's, Eduardo Mata, 36, who recalled studying dance with the defendant more than a decade ago in New York and said he found it "shocking" to see him now as a murder suspect.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan)

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