Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Man who shot
Maui woman in
Las Vegas
pleads guilty

Heather Vitarelli's family asks
that he not get the death penalty

By Gary Kubota

The man who shot and killed a Maui woman last year in a Las Vegas casino pleaded guilty today to first-degree murder and attempted murder with use of a deadly weapon.

Stephen Mullen Jr., 33, is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 16 for the Sept. 8 death of 29-year-old Heather Vitarelli and for wounding a security guard at Harrah's casino.

Vitarelli, a Baldwin High graduate, was attending college in California and was vacationing with friends in Las Vegas.

Security guards were attempting to disarm Mullen when two shots were fired, one striking a guard and the other hitting Vitarelli who was from 25 feet to 40 feet away.

Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney David Schwartz said the plea agreement means Mullen will not face the death penalty.

Schwartz made the decision after talking with Vitarelli's family, which does not not believe in capital punishment.

Schwartz said Mullen, on probation at the time of the shooting, will serve at least 40 years in prison and could serve longer if the District Attorney's office is successful in seeking additional time because of the attempted murder of a guard.

"It's conceivable he will be sentenced to a minimum of about 55 years before he's even eligible to get out of prison," Schwartz said.

Mullen has said he did not intend to shoot Vitarelli. But Schwartz said that Mullen intended to shoot the guards and a guard held Mullen's trigger finger and prevented him from continuing to fire the pistol

The handgun used in the killing was one of 14 stolen from a gun store in Virginia last August, prosecutors said.

William Vitarelli, who adopted his granddaughter Heather as his daughter, said the family continues to grieve her death.

"She spread so much joy among her friends. That's gone," Vitarelli said.

A former professor of sociology at Columbia University, Vitarelli said he would prefer seeing Mullen undergo rehabilitation to try to turn him into a "decent citizen."

"Some people can change," Vitarelli said. "I believe in rehabilitation and education."

Vitarelli said he hasn't spoken to Mullen but was willing to talk with him to have him understand the "terrible thing" that happened as a result of his actions and to assist in his rehabilitation.

Michael Frimmel, 32, an alleged accomplice, is also charged in the killing and awaiting trial.

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