Police in Nevada are hunting the gunman who murdered deaf poker player Jonathan Cyril Collins in his car on May 11. The thirty-nine-year-old Collins is a three-time National Deaf Poker Tour (NDPT) champion. He died from a gunshot wound to his chest.
According to police reports, Collins and his girlfriend, Julie Kneisel, drove from Blue Earth County in Minnesota to Colorado in an attempt to purchase 10 pounds of marijuana. When that particular deal fell through, they drove to Las Vegas to meet a man known only as "Richard," who Collins had known for around three years, to make the purchase.
Collins and Kneisel arrived in Las Vegas in the afternoon of May 11 and were joined by "Richard" and an unnamed man. Then, the foursome drove to the parking lot of 625 South Royal Crest Circle near Twain and Swenson shortly after 2 p.m.
As Collins attempted to get out of the car, the unnamed man fired one round into Collins’ side before he and "Richard" fled the scene. Collins died shortly after being taken to Sunrise Hospital. The alleged gunman is still at large.
Kneisel, Collins' girlfriend, told detectives that the gunman also attempted to shoot her, but she managed to swat away his hand as he took aim. Police reported finding $7,880 in a duffel bag in the trunk of Collins' car and believe the Minnesota couple were caught up in a botched robbery for this substantial sum of cash.
On May 28, police arrested Rufus Anthony Smith III after Kneisel identified him from photographs. Smith is the man Kneisel and Collins knew simply as "Richard."
Smith was arraigned on July 5 and now faces a preliminary hearing on August 5 where he stands accused of murder, conspiracy, and kidnapping charges in relation to the death of Collins. Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Diana Sullivan ordered Smith be held without bail until at least the August 5 hearing.
Christy Craig, a public defender, says Smith intends to plead not guilty to the charges against him stating: "We have a lot that we need to know. There's a complicated set of facts with a lot of work to be done to figure out what really happened."
Collins won the NDPT Event #25 in Las Vegas in July 2012 and the NDPT Event #27 in Las Vegas in July 2013. He also won the NDPT Event #28 in Atlantic City in November 2013.
In 2009, Collins topped a 553-strong field in a $550 no limit hold'em event for a career-best score of $77,383.
Tributes to Collins have poured onto the National Deaf Poker Tour’s Facebook page, where people can donate to cost of returning Collins' body to Minnesota and the funeral via a GoFundMe link.
One member of the NDPT said, "Jon Collins was a very good poker player and he was a nice person, too" with another saying "I knew him as an efficient, brilliant player. I was very fortunate playing with him on several occasions. My profound condolences for him untimely passing. He will be remembered well by everyone he touched. RIP Jonathan."
Photo credit: Tony Webster via Wikimedia Commons.