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Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Death penalty
will be sought in
Las Vegas slaying
of Maui woman

The victim's Quaker family is
against such punishment,
her uncle says

By Gary Kubota

WAILUKU -- Prosecutors in Nevada will seek the death penalty against a man charged with the murder of Maui resident Heather Vitarelli in a Las Vegas casino last month, even though Vitarelli's family belongs to a religion that opposes the death penalty.

"I personally don't want to see violence replaced with more violence," said David Vitarelli, Heather's uncle and a member of the Society of Friends.

"We're all Quakers," he said. "I think that's generally how the rest of the family feels."

Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney David Schwartz said today he will file a notice about seeking the death penalty against Stephen Mullen Jr. with Mullen's defense attorney.

The trial of Mullen, 32, is scheduled for March 15.

Schwartz said prosecutors needed at least one aggravating circumstance to seek the death penalty against Mullen. "In this case, we have four," he said.

He said the killing put more than one person at risk and was done in the commission of a burglary. The other aggravating circumstances are that Mullen was on probation at the time of the shooting and that he allegedly fired at security guards while trying to escape.

Vitarelli, 29 , a Baldwin High School graduate, was attending college in California. She was vacationing with friends in Las Vegas at Harrah's casino on Sept. 8 when hotel security guards attempted to capture Mullen and 32-year-old Michael Frimmel. Security officers suspected the pair of stealing change from casino patrons.

During the struggle, Mullen pulled a gun and fired two shots. Schwartz said one bullet struck a guard and the other went through another guard's pants and hit Vitarelli, who was 25 to 40 feet away. One of the guard's held Mullen's trigger finger and prevented him from continuing to fire the pistol, Schwartz said.

"Mullen was trying to squeeze the trigger. The guy was just going to empty his gun," Schwartz said.

Mullen has said he did not intend to shoot Vitarelli. However, Schwartz said that Mullen intended to shoot the guards restraining him. Schwartz added that the handgun used in the killing was one of 14 stolen from a gun store in Virginia in August.

Schwartz said prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty against Frimmel, who allegedly was an accomplice in the theft at the casino.

Frimmel, 32, also charged with murder, is fighting extradition from New Jersey.

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