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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 16, 2001

Maui woman's killer avoids death sentence

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

The 32-year-old man who fatally shot a Maui woman and wounded a guard in a Las Vegas casino last year has pled guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Stephen Mullen Jr. pleaded guilty Tuesday to shooting Heather M. Vitarelli, 29, and a 43-year-old guard on Sept. 8, 2000, in Harrah's hotel and casino, said Clark County (Nevada) Deputy District Attorney David Schwartz.

Mullen, who will not face the death penalty, will be sentenced Oct. 16.

"He's going to receive a minimum sentence of 40 years to life, which means he has to do 40 years in prison" before he becomes eligible for parole, Schwartz said.

Schwartz said he wants sentencing on the attempted murder plea to run consecutively so that Mullen serves a total of 55 years before becoming eligible for parole.

According to police, shooting began when unarmed casino security guards approached Mullen and Michael Frimmel, 31, both of whom were suspected of stealing from casino gamblers.

Mullen bolted, but was caught near some blackjack and roulette tables, police said. Mullen struggled with guards, who pinned him to the ground and tried to handcuff him.

Police said Mullen grabbed a handgun from his waistband and fired two shots, killing Vitarelli and injuring a guard. Guards then subdued Mullen.

Frimmel was apprehended near a doorway.

Vitarelli was born in Saipan and moved to Hawai'i when she was 3. In 1998, she moved to Napa, Calif., where she attended classes at California State University, Hayward. Sandra Vitarelli, of Maui, said her niece was expected to earn a degree in human services last year.

She said Heather Vitarelli was in Las Vegas with some friends who were playing music in the area.

Heather Vitarelli was a Baldwin High School graduate.

She also helped promote surfing, and had volunteered to help with the 2000 Ho'okipa Classic surfing contest on Maui, contest organizer Jan Roberson said.