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Testimony: NY-NY shooter said ‘I’m going to kill you’

Steven Zegrean charged with 52 felonies in 2007 Strip shooting

Updated Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | 7:21 p.m.

Casino shooting trial

Steven Francis Zegrean, 53, pleaded not guilty to 52 felony charges in the July 2007 shooting at the New York-New York casino. He is shown July 7, 2009. Launch slideshow »

Justin Lampert spent almost a year in Iraq clearing roadside bombs while serving in the Army National Guard.

Despite having faced life-threatening danger before, Lampert testified in District Court Wednesday that he feared his life was in danger when Steven Zegrean allegedly pointed a pistol at him and said “I’m going to (expletive) kill you.”

“As soon as we locked eyes, I took off,” Lampert said.

Zegrean, 53, is charged with 52 felony counts in connection with a July 6, 2007, shooting at the New York-New York casino.

Police said Zegrean fired 16 shots from a second-floor balcony overlooking the casino floor and injured four people.

Zegrean has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Jurors listened to testimony during the second day of the trial from two victims, two witnesses, a Metro Police officer, a hotel employee and the first two men to subdue Zegrean.

Lampert, 26, said he was staying at the hotel on that day and was in Las Vegas for a bachelor party.

Zegrean didn’t fire at Lampert even though the two men were about 10 feet apart when the alleged exchange of words took place. Authorities have said the 9 mm Springfield pistol jammed and Zegrean was trying to clear it and reload.

Zegrean walked past Lampert and was headed for the door. Lampert then ran and jumped onto Zegrean’s back, knocking the gun away, and wrestled him to the floor, he testified.

While the two men struggled, David James, a merchant marine and Navy reservist, ran up and kicked the gun out of Zegrean’s reach, James said.

James said during testimony Wednesday that Zegrean pointed the gun at him and he felt his life was threatened.

Zegrean’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Lynn Avants, seized on contradictions in the two men’s written statements, given to police in the hotel after the incident, and in their testimony on the witness stand.

Lampert didn’t tell police on the night of the shooting that Zegrean turned to face him and said anything. Lampert provided that information first to a grand jury.

Lampert responded by saying he didn’t think it was a vital point at that time.

James, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., testified that he first thought the gunfire was part of a Las Vegas show. After he realized what was happening, he ran a short distance away but kept his eyes on Zegrean, he said.

Surveillance videos from the casino show Zegrean extend his arm with the pistol in his hand but whomever he is pointing at is not on screen.

While watching that video for the first time Wednesday, James said Zegrean was pointing the gun at him.

Avants said Wednesday was the first time James had ever told authorities that Zegrean pointed a gun at him.

James’ testimony was halted at 5 p.m. after Avants pointed out the contradictions in what he had said earlier during the prosecution’s direct questioning.

His testimony will be reviewed when the trial continues at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Metro Police Officer Michael Roe was the first officer to arrive on the scene. Roe, a 5-year-veteran with Metro, testified that by the time he arrived, Zegrean had been subdued by civilians.

Roe handcuffed Zegrean and sat him down on a bench. He said Zegrean didn’t resist or act hostile toward him.

Roe testified that Zegrean told him he wanted police to kill him, an act known as “suicide by cop.”

“He claimed he was screaming at the top of his lungs: ‘Come get me. Come get me,’” Roe said.

Roe wrote in his report that Zegrean talked even when he wasn’t asked questions and said he didn’t care about his life anymore.

Jurors also heard from two of the victims that Zegrean allegedly shot.

Troy Sanchez was 13 years old at the time and was visiting from California with his mother. His brother worked at the hotel and they had just finished riding the roller coaster. Sanchez and his mother and brother were riding down the escalator nearest the shooter when Sanchez said he heard a loud noise and saw people running.

Sanchez, now 15, followed his brother, who was running toward a door. A bullet penetrated Sanchez’s shoe and left ankle.

“I tried running after that but I couldn’t,” he said. “I tried to hop with my brother dragging me.”

Carrie Zeravica limped to the witness stand. Her left leg is paralyzed from the knee down because of nerve damage caused by a bullet, she said.

She wiped away tears as she recounted what happened that day.

Zeravica was a dance teacher and college student studying respiratory therapy in Pennsylvania and was on vacation when she was shot at the New York-New York.

She, her boyfriend and two cousins, were walking toward the escalator nearest the shooter when she heard what sounded like fireworks.

Before she could run, she felt her leg go numb, comparing it to a feeling of it being asleep.

“When I went to step on my leg, I realized I had no leg to step on,” she said. “I realized I’d been shot.”

She testified that the bullet went through the left side of her knee and exited just above her calf.

She says she now has to wear a device to help her walk, otherwise she would trip on her leg.

Zeravica can no longer teach dance and said she has trouble finding work as a respiratory therapist because the job requires her to be on her feet for many hours.

“I can’t point it, flex it, nothing,” she said.

Earlier in the day, prosecutors showed jurors a video that recorded the shooting.

The video showed a busy casino shortly before 1 a.m. on the day of the shooting. The shooting began at 12:43 a.m., according to the time stamp on the tapes.

A man identified as Zegrean is seen pacing back and forth on the mezzanine near escalators for three minutes before pulling out the pistol and firing on the casino floor.

He was wearing a tan, waist-length coat while many patrons in the hotel were dressed appropriately for the summertime heat.

The video did not record sound but the patrons walking calmly through the casino suddenly start running and looking for cover. Two people duck beside a pillar within a few feet of the shooter and scoot down the escalator on their backs.

Jeff Narveson testified he was the surveillance supervisor on duty at the time of the shooting. The 9-year employee of the resort said he was one of three people recording the incident from the hotel's control room.

“We have patrons scrabbling in all different directions trying to duck and cover,” he said, describing the tape.

One camera caught the shooter wrestling with two other men after he stopped firing. Several other men assisted in holding the man face-down on the floor. One man kneeled on his back and another kicked him one time.

Several Metro Police officers arrived at 12:45 a.m., according to the tapes. A minute later, one officer tackled another man who had run to the site wielding a knife because he believed his son may have been in danger, Narveson testified.

By 12:52 a.m., police had Zegrean in handcuffs and sitting on a bench on the mezzanine.

Prosecutors plan to call nearly 30 witnesses to testify in the four- to five-day trial.

The defense has said that Zegrean, 53, was distraught over problems in his personal life and went to the casino not to harm anyone, but for police to shoot him dead.

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