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Aspiring Musician Shot Outside Las Vegas Bar and Item Left Behind Is Eventually Tied to His Killer

“The caller reported a male covered in blood,” a retired Las Vegas detective said of the 911 call placed after aspiring hip-hop artist Michael Portaro was gunned down.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

On March 30, 2011, a 911 call was made just before midnight from the Tenaya Creek Brewery in Las Vegas.

How to Watch

Watch Sin City Murders on Peacock or the Oxygen app.

“The caller reported a male covered in blood,” Dean Raetz, a retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department homicide detective, told Sin City Murders, airing Sundays at 7/6c p.m. on Oxygen.

The victim was identified as Michael “Mikey” Portaro, 22, an aspiring hip-hop artist. He was shot several times, including in the head. First responders “realized that medical interventions would not be necessary,” said Raetz.

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Cigarette butt found at Michael Portaro murder scene

The LVMPD collected evidence at the scene. There were no casings found, suggesting a revolver was used in the slaying.

There was cash on the ground near Portaro. A cigarette butt was found under his body. “Cigarettes are a good source of DNA,” said Raetz.

Portaro’s cell phone was on him, but his gray 2006 Nissan Altima was missing. Police reviewed footage from nearby security cameras in search of leads.

The video showed that Portaro pulled into the bar parking lot, got out of his car, and stood by it while it idled.

Michael Portaro featured on Sin City Murders Episode 102

Another car pulled in and Portaro walked over to it and leaned into the passenger side window. “The only rational belief is that there may be a drug deal going on,” said Frank Coumou, former Chief Deputy District Attorney in the Clark County DA's office.

In the background, police saw an individual wearing a sweatshirt whose face was covered. It appeared “to be a Black male,” Coumou told Sin City Murders. The person came up to Portaro and a struggle ensued.

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The video footage was grainy. Investigators believed that the individual had “a cigarette hanging from his mouth,” said Raetz. After the encounter, Portaro was on the ground as his car sped away.

Michael Portaro's mother Cynthia "lost it" when police came to her door

Cynthia Portaro, the victim’s mother, learned about her son’s murder at 3:30 in the morning. “I knew if police come to the door that it’s fatal,” she told Sin City Murders. “I just lost it.”

Michael and Cynthia Portaro featured on Sin City Murders Episode 102

But she assured police that her son wasn’t selling drugs. “Mikey was selling tickets to a concert with his best friend Jeff,” she said.

Jeff Thompson and Portaro made music together — hip-hop, beatbox and rap. On March 30, they were selling tickets to their performance set for the next day, Thompson told Sin City Murders.  

“Everything was bright on the horizon,” said Thompson, who performs under the name Ekoh. He confirmed Cynthia’s account. Ticket sales had been brisk.

“Mikey had at least $1,200 in cash,” said Raetz. “The majority of that $1,200 was missing.”

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Investigators learned that Portaro had four siblings. As a baby, he needed open-heart surgery. His parents found faith through the experience, according to Cynthia.

“Mike was an incredible beatboxer and a great dancer,” said his brother, Joe Portaro. Alongside Thompson, he was striving to be a hip-hop artist.

Investigators search for a suspect in Michael Portaro slaying

Portaro had no enemies or rivals in the music industry who may have wanted to harm him, investigators learned. Using Portaro’s cell phone data, investigators interviewed the woman in the car that had pulled into the bar parking lot.

She had purchased concert tickets and a CD. “There was no hand-to-hand deal involving narcotics,” said Raetz.

Portaro’s autopsy showed no sign of drugs or alcohol in his system. “Mikey was clean,” said Coumou.

The autopsy also showed that the 38-caliber bullets that killed Portaro were fired from a revolver.

As police worked the case, they interviewed Portaro’s ex-girlfriend. She’d begun dating an MMA fighter.

“Detectives explored the possibility that Mikey might have gotten caught up in a love triangle,” said Paul Matadeen, a former reporter for KSNV NBC Las Vegas. This line of investigation was a dead end.

Michael Portaro featured on Sin City Murders Episode 102

Investigators learned that DNA on the cigarette didn’t match the victim’s. That meant it could be his murderer’s. Around the same time, police found out that Portaro’s car had been impounded.

“The vehicle was found in an empty lot,” said Raetz. “It had been left running and the interior had been set on fire.” The car doors were closed, so the fire went out quickly, leaving parts of the vehicle and its contents intact. 

Area carjacking tied to Michael Portaro murder

DNA swabs from the burned auto’s steering wheel and gearshift were taken. Awaiting those results, detectives looked for carjackings in which a revolver was used.

“During this search, we find that a vehicle of the same make and model was recovered earlier that day of the murder less than a mile away from Tenaya Creek Brewery,” said Raetz.

In the carjacking, a driver was in his vehicle when he was approached “by a Black male wearing a hoodie with the hood up who produced a silver revolver,” Raetz added.

“The suspect had forced... the owner of the car to move into the passenger side,” said Coumou. “The owner slipped out the passenger side door.” The victim said the carjacker had a revolver.

About six weeks into the investigation, police used the media to request tips. The Portaros offered a $30,000 reward for the arrest and capture of their son’s killer.

Brandon Hill emerges as a suspect via an anonymous tip

Through an anonymous tip, homicide investigators got the name of a potential suspect, Brandon J. Hill, then 22. He had recently been arrested for carrying a concealed firearm, a revolver.

The gun was collected as evidence. After the bust, Hill was released. Ballistics analysis showed that Hill’s gun matched the one that fired the bullets that killed Portaro. The carjacking victim identified Hill as his assailant from a photo array

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Detectives served a search warrant on Hill’s residence. The suspect was taken into custody and his cheek was swabbed for DNA.

Hill denied any involvement in Portaro’s murder and quickly asked for a lawyer. Initially, police were only able to charge Hill for the carjacking.

As investigators awaited results from DNA testing, the Portaros were struck by another personal tragedy in September 2011. Cynthia’s daughter Christina was killed in an ATV accident.

“I was so mad,” Cynthia said, “That God would do this again.”

When results of the DNA analysis came back, it showed that the DNA on the cigarette found under Portaro’s body matched Hill’s genetic material. Also, blood on shoes from Hill’s residence belonged to Portaro.

Brandon Hill featured on Sin City Murders Episode 102

Brandon Hill arrested and tried for Michael Portaro's murder

With the DNA matches in hand, police arrested Hill for murder.

The wheels of justice were slowly turning for the grief-stricken Portaros. But while awaiting a court date, Cynthia’s husband, Richard, died from cancer in November 2014. Then, Cynthia faced yet another blow when she was diagnosed with cancer.

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On February 20, 2015, a jury found Hill guilty of the shooting death of Michael Portaro. He faced the death penalty.

“When I first went in the courtroom, I wanted justice. I wanted (Hill) to rot in hell,” said Cynthia, who came to question the death penalty.

Cynthia spoke with prosecutors. “I said, ‘Frank, I need you to take away the death penalty.’ He said, ‘Are you crazy?'”, Cynthia told Sin City Murders.

Hill ultimately was sentenced to 28 years go life, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reportedHe apologized to Cynthia after the jury verdict and at the sentencing, according to the same news account. 

Cynthia, now cancer-free and a life coach who helps others deal with grief, told Sin City Murders that she told her son's killer she forgave him.

To learn more about the case, which is featured on the show's “Hip Hop Homicide” episode, watch Sin City Murders, airing Sundays at 7/6c p.m. on Oxygen.