A Las Vegas woman was sentenced to four to 20 years in prison on Tuesday for her role in the 2015 shooting death of Palo Altan Neil Gandler, a Las Vegas news outlet has reported.
Megan Lee Hippie, 21, agreed to a plea deal in Clark County, Nevada on June 4. Court records regarding the details remain sealed, but a day after her plea deal prosecutors dropped all charges except voluntary manslaughter with use of a deadly weapon, according to a court filing. Hippie faced additional charges of attempted robbery with use of a deadly weapon, grand larceny of a firearm, conspiracy to commit robbery, attempted robbery with use of a deadly weapon, murder with use of a deadly weapon and grand larceny of a motor vehicle.
She apologized in a statement she read in court for her role in the crime, according to video of the proceedings by Las Vegas media outlet KSNV. She stated that she offered her "true, honest condolences" to Gandler's family and hoped they can find closure.
On Dec. 26, 2015, Hippie and her boyfriend, Kyle Staats, allegedly burglarized a silver Chevrolet Captiva in the Sierra Gold parking lot and stole a firearm belonging to the car's owner. She was the lookout and Staats broke into the car, according to an indictment against Staats.
Three days later, the pair was looking for cars to burglarize when they drove to a 24 Hour Fitness parking lot in her car and spotted Gandler's parked vehicle, according to a police arrest report. Surveillance video on Dec. 28, 2015, showed Gandler's Hyundai Sonata parking in the lot at about 10 p.m. He was not seen exiting the vehicle at any time.
At about 1:20 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2015, the surveillance footage showed a two-door sedan with two occupants pulled up alongside Gandler. Ten minutes later, Gandler's car rolled onto a parking median, and the driver's side window was shattered.
Hippie told police that Staats had pulled up to Gandler's vehicle, and, realizing there was a sleeping man inside, she and Staats spent several minutes discussing robbing Gandler. Staats left Hippie's car with a 0.40-caliber gun in his hand and knocked on the window. She heard Gandler say, "Don't do it," and then heard a gunshot. When Staats re-entered her car, she asked what happened. He said, "I think I got him," she told police.
The couple fled the scene and continued their auto-burglary spree. They also stole another car, according to the report.
Police called to the scene found Gandler, 42, with a gunshot wound to the torso. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Clark County coroner's office, which ruled his death a homicide.
Acting on tips, police arrested Hippie on Jan. 3, 2016, outside her apartment as she entered her car. She admitted to being involved in the crime and said she had removed the spoiler from her car in an attempt to avoid detection. She also told police where to find a 0.40-caliber bullet in her car linked to the Glock 27 handgun Staats used in the murder.
Police later arrested Staats as he left his apartment. They found the handgun and ammunition used in the shooting hidden in a bathroom exhaust vent, according to a police report.
Staats pleaded guilty to murder with use of a deadly weapon in July. He was sentenced on Thursday to 20 years to life in prison for Gandler's murder and an additional 12 to 30 months for use of the deadly weapon. The sentences are to be served consecutively, according to his plea agreement. He has previous felony convictions including battery with use of a deadly weapon and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell in 2007, according to court documents.
Gandler was, by many accounts, an admired and loved person. Friends have described him 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.
Another longtime friend wrote last week that she is still saddened by his death.
"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 (sic) just a gaping hole and his death is a real loss to this world. He truly was one of a kind," she 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 transition into school life, according to his LinkedIn.
He had been a project manager at Hearwear Technology and previously worked at Dell Inc. Business Group, Ford Motor Company and Applied Signal Technology. He was the founder of Mobile Audio Innovations.
A Silicon Valley engineer, Gandler was in Las Vegas for the CES tech show, a global consumer-electronics trade show. He also ran vegastechshows.com, a social forum for participants. Friends said he was in the habit of sleeping in a rented car when traveling to save money. Staying 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, his friend Charles Costa told the Weekly shortly after Gandler's death.
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, according to Costa.