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Psychologist says accused NY-NY gunman angry, depressed

Suspect also had handwritten note that said, ‘Thank you if you shoot me,’ officer testifies

Updated Friday, July 10, 2009 | 6:47 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 »

A psychologist said Friday that Steven Zegrean was suffering from a major depressive disorder when he opened fire in the New York-New York casino in the early morning of July 6, 2007.

Thomas Kinsora, a local clinical neuropsychologist, testified today for the defense in Zegrean’s trial personal hardships, physical pain and alcoholism contributed to his depression, paranoia, anger and his attempt to die by being shot by police.

“This guy needed medication, psychotherapy and alcohol treatment,” Kinsora said. “He is still a suicide risk.”

According to earlier testimony, Zegrean fired 16 shots from the second-floor balcony onto the casino floor. Four people were injured. Zegrean, 53, has been charged with 52 felony counts, including 17 charges of attempted murder.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Kinsora was hired by the defense to review the case and to interview Zegrean and his two adult daughters. Kinsora said he interviewed Zegrean two separate times for a total of about eight hours.

Based on the interviews, Zegrean changed from a hard-working, doting father to an alcoholic, depressed and angry man who referred to himself as “stupid” and “a loser.”

Zegrean knew right from wrong but still behaved recklessly because of his depression, Kinsora said.

Kinsora said Zegrean told him that he never intended to hurt anyone but wanted to cause a commotion that would draw police into a standoff in which they would have to shoot him.

He was honest with police following his arrest and implicated himself in ways that someone trying to avoid trouble wouldn’t say, Kinsora said. “There’s a remorse behind there that’s worsened the depression,” he said.

Kinsora said Zegrean still carries the emotional pain from his 2001 divorce. “That was particularly devastating for him. He felt alone here,” Kinsora said.

In the following years, his three children grew up and moved away and he developed chronic pain that made working as a painter more difficult and eventually prevented him from working at all.

That began a downward spiral in which Zegrean turned to alcohol to deal with his emotions, Kinsora said.

Kinsora said Zegrean talked with his 22-year-old daughter, Andrea, a few days before the shooting.

She drove to Las Vegas from San Francisco following that call in which Zegrean talked about giving her his dog and getting rid of all his things, Kinsora said.

The family called police on July 4, 2007, to check on Zegrean at the home he rented in the southwest part of the valley.

Not knowing why the police showed up, Kinsora said, Zegrean became paranoid and believed they were tapping his phones and reading his e-mail. It wasn’t much of a stretch for Zegrean, who grew up in Hungary under an oppressive Communist regime, Kinsora said.

Zegrean told Kinsora that he moved to the United States in the early 1980s after corresponding with a woman named Mary. They married five months later.

Zegrean, his wife and children, moved to Las Vegas about 10 year ago. Unable to work steadily because of the pain, Zegrean asked his wife to find work. Eventually the tension between them over finances led her to file for divorce.

A few years later, Zegrean met a Hungarian woman in Las Vegas and married her so she could remain in the country, Kinsora said. She spent on their credit cards to the limit then left him after eight weeks, he said.

“He felt used and violated by that,” Kinsora said.

Zegrean moved back to Hungary to look after his mother and hired a rental company to rent out his home in Las Vegas. The company allegedly never paid his mortgage or homeowners association fees, Kinsora said.

When Zegrean returned to Las Vegas after four months, his home was in foreclosure and he faced mounting fees and liens from the homeowners association.

That was the last straw, Kinsora said.

On July 5, 2007, Zegrean was supposed to see his daughter Andrea, who was working at a restaurant at the MGM Grand but the two never connected. If they had, maybe she could have stopped him, Kinsora said.

“No one saved him, basically,” he said. “And then the course of events began to unfold.”

Police found a note on Zegrean after his arrest but the lead detective said he didn’t believe it was a suicide note. The note expressed anger at people in an office and an intent to kill them, prosecutors said.

Kinsora said the office referred to the homeowners association, which was probably his intended target. But he didn’t go there. Instead he went to a place where he knew police would show up to kill him, Kinsora said.

Kinsora reviewed the surveillance videos from the casino and said that if Zegrean intended to kill anyone, there were people closer to him who would have been easy targets.

“My belief is he didn’t intend to kill. He intended to get killed,” Kinsora said.

Earlier Friday, Metro Police Detective Fred Merrick testified that the note mentioned the police and read in part, “Thank you if you shoot me.”

Merrick conducted the investigation into the shooting and said the expletive-laden note found on Zegrean was written in two parts on the back of a receipt from a gun range in Henderson.

Merrick read the receipt, which shows Zegrean’s name and the rental of safety equipment and targets totaling $69.43. It was dated July 2, 2007.

Police also confiscated two computers from the home Zegrean rented in the southwest part of the valley. Police could not read his e-mails because they were not backed up on the hard drive, Merrick said.

Peter Schellberg, a Metro crime scene analyst, said Friday he recovered 16 spent ammunition casings and a Springfield 9 mm pistol from the crime scene. The pistol contained one live cartridge that had fed improperly into the chamber and caused the gun to jam, he said.

In addition to those 17 cartridges, Schellberg said, he cataloged four full magazines with 16 cartridges in each and 168 loose live rounds for a total of 249 cartridges of the same caliber.

The trial will continue on Monday.

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