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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 30, 2002

Couple seek damages in Vegas killing

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — The grandparents of a former Maui resident who was fatally shot at a Las Vegas casino two years ago are seeking damages in a civil trial here, contending that the establishment could have prevented the killing.

Heather Vitarelli, 29, was killed by a bullet that hit her in the back.

"How can you describe the loss of a child?" Maui resident Henrietta Vitarelli said in her tearful testimony this week before a six-member jury.

Testimony continued yesterday, with Clark County District Judge Mark Denton presiding over the trial. Closing arguments were scheduled for today.

Vitarelli said of the loss of her granddaughter: "It leaves an empty hole and it's something you can't fill. It's always there."

Vitarelli and her husband, William Vitarelli, 91, who adopted Heather Viarelli, are seeking unspecified monetary damages from Harrah's hotel-casino, alleging negligence by security guards at the resort. The Vitarellis contend that the security guards botched the arrest of suspected coin thief Stephen Mullen, 34.

According to trial witnesses and previous court proceedings, Mullen drew a gun and began shooting when two casino security officers confronted him and tried to handcuff him Sept. 8, 2000.

Mullen is serving a life sentence in prison for first-degree murder and attempted murder.

The Vitarellis' lawyer, Wayne Shaffer, said more Harrah's guards should have confronted Mullen and hustled him out of the casino.

In testimony Wednesday, Harrah's security manager James Cudney said hotel security officers can remove a person from a casino only if they have probable cause that a crime has been committed and are sure the person is the one they're seeking.