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Prosecutors: New York-New York gunman intended to kill

Trial in 2007 shooting expected to last four or five days

Updated Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | 6:07 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 »

Prosecutors in the trial of Steven Zegrean said today that when he opened fire in the New York-New York hotel-casino on July 6, 2007, he intended to kill someone.

Deputy District Attorney Ravinder Bawa told jurors in his opening statement that Zegrean carried a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and 249 rounds of ammunition. The only reason no one died is because the gun jammed, Bawa said.

"He was not feeling merciful," Bawa said.

Bita Khamsi, Zegrean's attorney and a public defender, told jurors that Zegrean was depressed and distraught and only wanted to create enough of a commotion that police would have to kill him.

"The only person he wanted to kill that night was himself," she said.

The 53-year-old Zegrean faces 52 charges stemming from the incident in which he wounded four people with gunfire before two witnesses tackled him. Authorities said he fired 16 shots from the balcony.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is being held in the Clark County Detention Center without bond.

A 12-member jury was selected Tuesday with two alternates. Seven jurors are male and seven are female.

Zegrean was born in Hungary and speaks English fairly well but will have a translator by his side for complicated legal terms during the four- to five-day trial.

The defense plans to call one witness, a psychologist, who will testify to Zegrean's mental condition at the time of the shooting.

Khamsi portrayed Zegrean as a man who suffered physically and emotionally leading up to the shooting. He suffered from chronic back pain that prevented him from working as a painter. He also endured two failed marriages. The second lasted eight weeks and ended when his wife ran up his credit cards to their limits, then left him. He lost his house to foreclosure and turned to alcohol to try and ease his pain, Khamsi said.

For a short while he was homeless, but he was renting a room in a Las Vegas house at the time of the shooting.

"Even though he had a roof over his head, he felt ashamed for what his life had become," Khamsi said.

The prosecution expects to have about 30 witnesses testify, including police officers, tourists in the casino, the four victims and Zegrean's two roommates.

"The evidence will show what his intent was and what he was really trying to do when he shot into that crowd," Bawa said.

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