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October 24, 2014

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Gunman in NY-NY shooting sentenced to 26 to 90 years

Steven Zegrean will be eligible for parole in 26 years

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Justin M. Bowen

Steven Francis Zegrean, 53, stands during court proceedings on Sept. 16, the day he was supposed to be sentenced for a shooting at the New York-New York casino. He was sentenced Oct. 19 to 26 to 90 years in prison.

Updated Monday, Oct. 19, 2009 | 3:26 p.m.

The man convicted of injuring four people in a shootout at the New York-New York hotel-casino in July 2007 was sentenced today to a maximum of 90 years in prison.

Steven Zegrean, 53, was arrested at the scene after firing 16 shots. His 9 mm semi-automatic pistol jammed on the 17th bullet and Justin Lampert, an Army National Guardsman from North Dakota, took the opportunity to jump onto Zegrean's back and wrestle him to the floor. Several others helped Lampert subdue Zegrean until police arrived.

A jury convicted Zegrean on 51 of 52 charges, including attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon. Today, 16 of the assault and battery charges against him were dismissed for being redundant.

Each charge correlates to how many times Zegrean pulled the trigger. The state already charged him with attempted murder based on the same evidence, which violates his Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy, said Deputy Public Defender Lynn Avants, Zegrean's attorney.

"They decided they wanted to charge attempted murder with a deadly weapon then they went ahead and charged him with a bunch of other counts that were the exact same thing," Avants said. "They gave them the opportunity in front of a jury to give the jury a smorgasbord of different ways to convict him."

The charges could be reinstated following a Nevada Supreme Court decision of his appeal.

Zegrean will be eligible for parole in 26 years.

Zegrean read a prepared letter in which he apologized for his actions and for hurting his victims. In a heavy Hungarian accent, he said he was psychologically and physically unstable after losing his house, his marriage and his job. He also suffered back pain and admitted he was an alcoholic.

"I had no right to shoot and harm you people," he said to his victims, two of whom were seated in the courtroom. "I only hope you can forgive me and have mercy on me."

Deputy District Attorney Ravi Bawa said after the hearing that the sentence was fair because it basically amounted to a life sentence.

"This guy needs to go away forever as a deterrent to other would-be shooters, other would-be murderers," he said.

Bawa argued that Zegrean went into the casino with 249 rounds of ammunition plus 17 rounds in the gun to kill as many people as possible in "a blaze of glory."

Zegrean and his attorneys said he never wanted to hurt anyone. He only intended to create a situation in which police would have to shoot him dead.

"He's firing into the air," Avants said, referring to the surveillance video. "There's an individual that, if he took proper aim, he could have hit very easily."

In sentencing Zegrean, District Court Judge David Barker said he didn't think the motive was suicide by cop because he wasn't shooting at any uniformed officers. Barker referred to Zegrean's actions as "extreme selfishness."

During four days of testimony, jurors heard from 23 witnesses, including the four who were injured. Zegrean did not take the stand.

The mothers of two of the wounded and one victim spoke during the sentence hearing.

One bullet struck the leg of Pennsylvania resident Carrie Zeravica, 26, and partially paralyzed her left leg below the knee. She said she could no longer work as a dance teacher or respiratory therapist because of the pain she feels while standing.

"It's so disappointing to work so hard for something and have it all taken away," she said. "He might be sorry but he can't take back what he did."

Troy Sanchez, 15, was visiting from California and spending the evening with his brother who worked at the resort. Just 13 years old at the time, Sanchez was shot in his ankle.

An avid skateboarder, Sanchez said his wound has healed though his ankle still can be a little stiff and he sometimes relives that night over again in his head.

"I'm just glad it's all over," he said. "It could have been a little more but I'm happy he's behind bars."

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