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Staff Sgt. Nathan Paet had been in a hurry.
The devoted father of four overslept and was rushing out the door the night of Dec. 1, 2010 to get to his overnight shift at Nellis Airforce Base in Nevada.
But the 28-year-old would never make it to work that day—or any other day.
Nathan was gunned down in the garage of his suburban Las Vegas home, 13 miles outside the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip, in a shocking homicide that would stun his family, according to “Dateline: The Last Day,” streaming on Peacock.
“My husband—he just walked in the garage. He’s bleeding,” his wife Michelle Paet can be heard screaming in the 911 call. “Oh my God.”
Nathan had been able to stumble back into his home before collapsing onto the carpet in his military uniform. The 911 operator tried to coach Michelle through CPR, but it was too late.
Nathan died from the extensive injuries at a nearby hospital.
Las Vegas Metro Police detectives were struck by how a crime this violent could have happened in the quiet, suburban neighborhood of Mountain’s Edge.
Det. Tod Williams, now retired, arrived at the scene to find the garage door of the home open.
“When you walked into the garage you could see a large amount of blood deep into the garage around a weight bench,” he recalled. “There was blood smeared on different walls and on a vehicle inside.”
Inside the home, Nathan’s bloody military uniform had been left on the floor.
“That struck me that somebody had killed a United States serviceman,” Williams added.
Once there was nothing else medical personnel could do, Nathan’s wife Michelle recounted her husband’s final hours to now-retired Det. Laura Anderson, describing how the day had been unlike the couple’s normal routine.
Although Michelle usually went to school after her own job, arriving at home around 10:40 p.m. –just five minutes before Nathan had to leave for his own shift—on that day she had felt sick and left school around 5:30 p.m. The family had settled in together on the couch for nap, but for some reason Nathan’s alarm never went off.
When he did wake up at 11 p.m., he rushed upstairs to take a shower and get dressed before racing out the door to put his boots on in the garage around 11:30 p.m.
Michelle described hearing “two bangs” but told detectives that she didn’t go outside because the noise had startled her children.
“And then, I hear the door open to get into the house. And he just walks in, and he just drops,” she told Anderson through tears. “And he’s—he’s bleeding out of his mouth.”
Nathan’s keys and wallet were found at the scene, dismissing the idea of a robbery gone wrong. But Michelle did admit to investigators that the couple had been struggling financially.
Investigators wondered whether Nathan had been harboring any secrets—whether it was gambling, a loan shark or another woman on the side—but a search of his phone revealed no suspicious activities.
“The only thing we could find was that he was a dedicated family man, loved his family, and there was nothing but pictures of his wife and kids on his phone,” Anderson told Dateline reporter Keith Morrison. “He was just a good guy. He was just a good man.”
Half a world away in Guam, where Nathan had grown up, his parents rushed to hop on the first plane to the United States, so they could help their grieving daughter-in-law.
“I cried the whole time,” Nathan’s mom, Carmelita Paet, said of the agonizing flight.
When she arrived in Las Vegas, she said Michelle practically fell into her arms and collapsed, but the theatrical display almost appeared to be staged.
Nathan’s brother and sister-in-law, Eric and Veronica Paet, had also picked up on an unusual vibe when they went to visit the couple for Thanksgiving just days before Nathan’s death.
While Veronica said the couple had once had a “really good balance of taking care of each other and picking up where the other one just couldn’t,” Eric and Veronica noticed a tension between the couple and obvious signs—like a nearly bare pantry and refrigerator—that confirmed their worries that the family was struggling financially.
“You almost felt like they were just tolerating each other,” Eric recalled.
As the investigation into the murder got underway, detectives did have one clue to go on. Witnesses in the neighborhood reported seeing a black car fleeing the scene just after the shots rang out.
In an interview with detectives, Michelle said her coworker at a telemarketing company, Michael Rodriguez, drove a black car and authorities quickly chased down the lead.
Rodriguez, a convicted felon with a past record of forgery and theft, agreed to come down to the station and answer questions.
He insisted that on the night of the murder he had met a woman named Shannon, a former porn star, at a Walmart around 9 p.m. He said the pair hit it off and they checked into the Sunset Station hotel around 11 p.m. for a one-night stand, a story that Shannon also corroborated.
Detectives were troubled, however, about a bizarre text message exchange between Michelle and Rodriguez about a "contract” and client named “vandyke” just minutes before the fatal shots rang out.
At 11:12 p.m. on Dec. 1, Rodriguez texted her “Hope you are feelng (sic) better. Just about done with vandykes contract for tomorrow. He’s a pain in the a--.”
Two minutes later, he texted “If you don’t feel up to it let me know and you can take a few days to rest up. I appreciate your help.”
At 11:19 p.m. Michelle texted, “My husband just woke me up and he’s trying to rush out the door. I guess he’s late lol. Sorry that contract is a pain.”
Investigators felt the pair had been talking in code about the murder, but without enough evidence to make an arrest they had to let Rodriguez go.
Michelle was brought in for questioning again and this time she admitted to having an affair with Rodriguez.
She claimed that Rodriguez had come with up the plan to kill Nathan for his military life insurance policy on his own and although she had gone along with it, she had tried to sabotage the plans the night of the murder, by not unlocking Nathan’s truck as Rodriguez had instructed her and intentionally turning off Nathan’s alarm so that he wouldn’t go outside at his usual time.
She claimed she believed that by the time Nathan went outside, Rodriguez and his friend Corey Hawkins would have already left the scene.
Investigators didn’t buy the story and believed the text messages told the real story and proved that Michelle had been an active participant in the killing.
The evidence in the case was further strengthened when Shannon came into the police station to tell police that Rodriguez had forced her to act as an alibi the night of the shooting.
Although she never realized he had been planning to carry out a murder, Shannon said Hawkins’ girlfriend had told her Hawkins and Rodriguez planned to rob a heroin dealer and needed her help to act as an alibi.
As soon as Hawkins and Rodriguez returned from the Paet home, the men took off their clothes, threw them in the fireplace and she and Rodriguez headed to the hotel around 12 a.m. to establish the alibi. But when she later learned the truth about what happened, she decided to come forward.
“I’m really afraid for my life,” she said through tears.
Police arrested Rodriguez, Hawkins and Michelle. Rodriguez was later found guilty of first- degree murder and conspiracy and was sentenced to life without parole.
Michelle agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and conspiracy. The Paet family asked that prosecutors take the death penalty off the table.
“Eye for an eye wasn’t necessarily what we wanted,” Eric said. “I think for her to know that her family was going to move on without her, that her kids were going to grow up knowing what happened, that was, I guess, more satisfying.”
The Paets’ four children are being raised in Guam by Nathan’s parents.
"Dateline: The Last Day" is available to stream on Peacock, with new episodes dropping Tuesdays.
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