Thursday, October 25, 2001

Isle woman’s killer must
serve at least 48 years

By Gary T. Kubota

A man who shot a Maui woman in a Las Vegas casino will have to serve 48 years in prison before he's eligible for parole.

Clark County, Nev., District Court Judge Michael Cherry sentenced 33-year-old Stephen Mullen Jr. today in the murder of Heather Vitarelli and the attempted murder of casino guard Frank Willis.

Security guards were trying to disarm Mullen on Sept. 8 of last year, when he fired two shots, one wounding a guard and the other killing Vitarelli who was about 35 feet away in Harrah's casino.

Vitarelli, 29, a Baldwin High School graduate and described by a former employer as a "Maui rainbow" for her smile and kindness, was studying human development at California State University at Hayward.

She was scheduled to graduate last May and return home to find a job in social work.

Vitarelli had flown from Concord, Calif. to Las Vegas to see her friend whose husband was performing in a band. Kitch Richie, a close family friend, once described her as "my angel" who always had time for friends and was positive and nonjudgmental.

Vitarelli's family, who are Quakers and do not believe in capital punishment, had opposed Mullen facing the death penalty. Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney David Schwartz said the family member's wishes were a factor in his office seeking an extended prison term instead of the death penalty in the first degree murder case.

"They showed an awful lot of compassion," he said.

In a Sept. 24th letter sent by Heather's grandparents, who adopted her as a child, William and Henrietta Vitarelli said they had forgiven Mullen, hoped he would seek rehabilitation in prison, and offered to correspond with him.

"I hope you will meditate to find the light within yourself," the Vitarellis said.

The Vitarellis said they were also for enacting better gun control legislation and security measures at casinos.

William Vitarelli, interviewed today, said he felt the sentence was "too long" and he had hoped Mullen would receive a lighter sentence to allow him the possibility of rehabilitation. Schwartz said that although Mullen told the judge he was sorry and things got out of hand, "he's not going to change who he is. He's just a thug."

Schwartz said Heather Vitarelli's biological mother was in court to witness the sentencing. "She did say she was happy with the judge imposing the maximum," Schwartz said.

Mullen said he didn't intend to shoot Vitarelli. Schwartz said a guard held Mullen's trigger finger and prevented him from continuing to fire the pistol in the casino.

The handgun was one of 14 stolen from a gun store in Virginia last year. Michael Frimmel, 33, an alleged accomplice who pleaded guilty to four burglaries, is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 2.

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