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.