News


Shooter gets to 20 years to life for Vegas killing of Palo Altan

Silicon Valley engineer Neil Gandler was murdered during a 2015 robbery

A Nevada man who pleaded guilty to the 2015 first-degree murder of Palo Altan Neil Gandler in Las Vegas was sentenced on Sept. 6 to 20 years to life in prison and an additional 12 to 30 months for using a deadly weapon, according to the Clark County District Attorney's office.

Kyle Staats, 29, of Las Vegas, admitted to a count of murder with use of a deadly weapon in a plea deal on July 5. Prosecutors dropped charges against him for conspiracy to commit larceny, burglary while in possession of a firearm, grand larceny of a firearm, conspiracy to commit a robbery, attempted robbery with use of a deadly weapon, grand larceny of a motor vehicle, possession of a stolen vehicle and ownership or possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited person.

On Dec. 26, 2015, Staats and accomplice Megan Lee Hippie allegedly burglarized a silver Chevrolet Captiva in the Sierra Gold parking lot and stole a 0.38 caliber Keltic firearm belonging to the car's owner. Hippie was the lookout and Staats broke into the car, according to the indictment.

Three days later, Staats and Hippie, using her car, went to a 24 Hour Fitness parking lot and attempted to rob Gandler, 42, who had been sleeping in his vehicle.

Staats shot Gandler in the torso. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Clark County coroner's office, which ruled his death a homicide.

Gandler, a Silicon Valley engineer, was in Las Vegas for the CES tech show, a global consumer electronics trade show. He ran vegastechshows.com, a social forum for the tech show's participants. He was in the habit of sleeping in a rented car when traveling to save money, a friend, Charles Costa, told the Weekly shortly after Gandler's death. Sleeping in a vehicle gave him more freedom to travel, which he loved to do, while still affording to live in the high-priced Bay Area, Costa said.

Gandler would work from his laptop and slept in the driver's seat. He usually stayed in RV parks or in secure locations where surveillance cameras are present, Costa said. He had a membership to 24 Hour Fitness where he had access to a shower and often parked in those parking lots.

Surveillance video on Dec. 28, 2015, showed Gandler's Hyundai Sonata parking in the lot at about 10 p.m. He did not appear to leave his car or enter the fitness center.

At about 1:20 a.m. on Dec. 29, the surveillance footage showed a two-door sedan with two occupants pulled up alongside Gandler's vehicle. Ten minutes later, Gandler's car rolled onto a parking median, and the driver's side window was shattered.

According to a police arrest report, Staats and Hippie had been out looking for cars to burglarize when they spotted Gandler's parked car. Staats pulled up to Gandler's vehicle, and, realizing there was a sleeping man inside, the pair discussed robbing Gandler. Staats left Hippie's car with the gun in his hand and knocked on the window, Hippie told police. She heard Gandler say "Don't do it," and then heard a gunshot. Staats reentered her car. When asked what happened, he said, "I think I got him," she told police.

They fled the scene and continued to burglarize other vehicles, according to the report. At some point, they stole another car.

Hippie has also accepted a plea deal, which has been sealed by the court pending her sentencing on Sept. 11. Police picked her up on Jan. 3, 2016, outside her apartment as she entered her car after detectives received a tip that she had told someone about the shooting. They later arrested Staats as he left his apartment. Police found a handgun and ammunition used in the shooting hidden in a bathroom exhaust vent.

Friends have described Gandler as a great friend and a generous person with an adventurous spirit and zest for life. In the Bay Area, he was involved in the Jewish community. On Palo Alto Online's Town Square, a friend described him as a kind person who was humorous and warm. He was a devoted son, an intellectual powerhouse, a biking enthusiast and a food connoisseur, the friend wrote.

Gandler was raised in Baldwin, New York, and obtained a master's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Buffalo, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He also had a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business. While there, he created a new program to help late-admitted students to transition into school life, according to his LinkedIn.

Gandler had been a project manager at Hearwear Technology and previously worked at Dell, Inc. Business Group, Ford Motor Company and at Applied Signal Technology. He was the founder of Mobile Audio Innovations.

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Comments

15 people like this
Posted by RIP
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 9, 2018 at 3:27 pm

By all accounts, Neil Gandler was a great guy who accomplished some innovative and selfless things in his life. I’m glad to know the perpetrator will go to jail, but I would appreciate his image being minimized deliberately. I am happy to have a memory of Gandler from this story and think it’s right that the other guy should mostly be forgotten.


15 people like this
Posted by Exercise Caution
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 9, 2018 at 3:36 pm

Why do so many sociopaths tend to have a troublesome appearance/look?

I have created a mental profiling of sorts and always strive to stay clear of certain individuals who strike me as potentially dangerous.


3 people like this
Posted by spare the rod
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 9, 2018 at 6:43 pm

" admitted to a count of murder with use of a deadly weapon "

Cannot offhand think of a first-degree murder not using a deadly weapon.
Will "20 years to life" mean out in 10?
Let's check again in 2025.


4 people like this
Posted by Veryupset
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 9, 2018 at 9:03 pm

I remember reading about this when this was reported and it was absoltely shocking then and even more now. This guy Staats ad=nd Hippie are cold blooded murderers and I am sure there are very serious drug addicts or meth addicts and that is the reason why they killed Gandler and it is really distrubing that the killers are not getting a much more serious and far severe punishment like death penalty or few life times. The Nevada judicial system may have a too liberal bias and that is the reason for this lenient sentence and it is really shocking how insensitive and irresponsible the liberals are to serious crimes like murder.


18 people like this
Posted by The Lone Star State
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2018 at 7:34 am

>> it is really distrubing that the killers are not getting a much more serious and far severe punishment like death penalty or few life times. The Nevada judicial system may have a too liberal bias and that is the reason for this lenient sentence and it is really shocking how insensitive and irresponsible the liberals are to serious crimes like murder.


I'm originally from Texas and they tend to handle crimes like this a bit more expeditiously.


5 people like this
Posted by James Bond
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 10, 2018 at 8:29 am

Quite concerning! ...like Gandler, I am also an engineer in Silicon Valley and have attended (Comdex and) CES for many years, often choosing to sleep in my own car (not rental) for the same reasons ...flexibility and to save $$$.

The idea that one must keep their Glock locked in the trunk and unloaded in order to please the liberals (and PD) in America is most annoying. And further, the idea that criminals would randomly search for cars to burglarize (and then choose to commit murder once they find one that is occupied) is particularly difficult to thwart. One is no longer free to rest peacefully where they choose, and no longer able to defend themselves. Calling 911 in such circumstances won't work.

~Bond, James. 007

p.s.- Will be there in Vegas next January again for CES. Will need to come up with new defense strategy that still complies with the laws, or risk getting arrested by those servants (who swear an individual oath to uphold the US Constitution) we fund with our tax dollars.


12 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2018 at 8:52 am

QUOTE: Will "20 years to life" mean out in 10?

I've never quite understood the shortened prison terms based on 'good behavior' while incarcerated. Shouldn't the 'bad behavior' which triggered the initial sentence (i.e. 1st degree murder) also be taken into full consideration?

Is this primarily due to prison overcrowding or the review board's actual belief in one's rehabilitation? If so, the number of repeat offenders should (in theory) drop considerably.


QUOTE: I'm originally from Texas and they tend to handle crimes like this a bit more expeditiously.

They most certainly do...as time's a wastin'.


16 people like this
Posted by guns
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 10, 2018 at 8:54 am

This chain of events started when a poorly secured loaded gun was stolen from a different car. If that unnamed gun owner had properly secured their weapon, would this murder have happened? Why was the original gun owner not also prosecuted?


24 people like this
Posted by R. Davis
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 10, 2018 at 9:05 am

QUOTE: This chain of events started when a poorly secured loaded gun was stolen from a different car. If that unnamed gun owner had properly secured their weapon, would this murder have happened?


You are creating another 'what if' kind of query that serves no real purpose (unless you happen to be the defense attorney for these two sociopaths).

Common sense dictates that if one happens to see a handgun in the backseat of an unattended car, you call 911 and bring it to the immediate attention of the police or sheriff's department. They will take over from there.

You don't go ripping it off and then using the weapon to kill and/or rob someone.



4 people like this
Posted by Old Sparky
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 10, 2018 at 9:13 am

This psycho should have gotten life with no parole.


Like this comment
Posted by spare the rod
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 10, 2018 at 9:23 am

" Staats and Hippie had been out looking for cars to burglarize "

Glad we have nobody looking for cars to burglarize here in Palo Alto.


16 people like this
Posted by The Color of Money
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2018 at 10:01 am

>>> "I'm originally from Texas and they tend to handle crimes like this a bit more expeditiously."

It took nearly 2-1/2 years following the arrests to finally arrive at a court sentencing decision?

Just how many 'continuances' did the court-appointed attorneys (assuming they had one) seek with the approval/consent of the court?

So as it stands, the convicted will also receive 'credit' for time served at the county jail...to be subtracted from their final sentence.

As usual, the taxpayers are now stuck with a bill for any extended court proceedings, the costs of the two defendants' legal representation + 2-1/2 year's room and board (including medical/dental if needed) at the 'Hotel Clark County'.

Crime and punishment is a racket...except for maybe in TX.


8 people like this
Posted by Beige Nest
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2018 at 1:33 pm

I had the pleasure of knowing Neil quite well, since he lived in a house in Palo Alto for several years, and I was involved in its upkeep and maintenance. Neil was incredibly handy, fixed whatever was broken and did it well, was an absolute pleasure to work with, and was so smart and engaging. I had many long conversations with him, and I was so impressed with his knowledge, friendliness, and sense of humor.

I miss him greatly and may he rest in peace.

P.S. I too am dismayed and shocked that the 2 monsters, who killed him are getting such light sentences when you consider they shot to death a totally innocent man minding his own business. So, So Sad.


8 people like this
Posted by Allison
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2018 at 9:04 pm

Neil was a very good friend of mine throughout late 90s and early 2000s. He was a very kind and supportive friend, not to just me, but A LOT of people. That was witnessed at his celebration of life event after his death. I spent a lot of time with him in San Francisco, but was happy to find out he landed in Palo Alto for a few years before his death, and I saw him for the last time just a few months before this senseless murder. He was the type of person that you had a cosmic connection to -- and it lasted a long time, through time. I can't describe it - but he just "got" people and I find myself talking to him now into the sky, just in case he can hear. Its just a gaping hole and his death is a real loss to this world. He truly was one of a kind.

Still so sad.


2 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2018 at 12:50 am

This vile killer should have received the death penalty. In fact, I wish that the death penalty for heinous crimes like this would be implemented more quickly. It should include conviction and two automatic appeals followed by a review board.

If an admission of guilt is offered AND/OR the evidence is overwhelming, why should taxpayers flip the bill for a pointless life behind bars? Most of the costs associated with the death penalty are due to the enormous costs of endless legal appeals.

If capital punishment is meant to be a deterrent, then the punishment should happen when the crime is still relatively fresh in the minds of the killers.


14 people like this
Posted by The Death Penalty Debate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2018 at 8:00 am

>> This vile killer should have received the death penalty. In fact, I wish that the death penalty for heinous crimes like this would be implemented more quickly.

The death penalty is a very controversial subject. It always has been as the pro-con factions are very adamant in their convictions.

Personal opinion: Implementation of the death penalty (or life imprisonment) should be the choice of the immediate victim's family.


Like this comment
Posted by jesse james
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 11, 2018 at 1:18 pm

jesse james is a registered user.

I’m from Texas.In Texas if U take a life U pay with your life.This makes sense & prevents prison overcrowding.Remember when U take a life U take everything that person had & would have in future life.No parole for so called ‘good behavior “Simply pay the max just as the victim has done.This may also serve as a deterrent if those would be killers know their true fate.


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