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Jury works late in Pasco strip club murder case

NEW PORT RICHEY — Until Bryan Heater retrieved an Uzi-style handgun from his car, authorities say, the fight outside Diamonds Gentlemen's Club was a lot of punching and kicking.

Kellie Zorka, who had previously worked at the club, was there with her friend Anthony Monti on Feb. 24, 2008. Heater and three friends were there, too, and one of them made a remark to Zorka. She brushed it off, but the conflict revved back up after closing time in the parking lot. Monti took a fist to his face. Zorka was getting kicked.

Then someone fired a gun, and as the crowd scattered, a blast sent a bullet past a bouncer's ear, deafening him for hours. Another bullet hit Monti's arm. Zorka was shot in the head. She lingered in a coma for a few days before dying.

Heater, 31, was identified by several witnesses as the shooter, and authorities charged him with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder. After hearing four days of testimony, a jury deliberated for two hours Thursday before breaking for the night. They will return this morning.

Zorka was 27. She had left the club scene after her son was born the year before and had completed a nurse's aid course. She was out that night celebrating her new life. "She was beaming, she was glowing," Greg Stratton, the DJ, testified. "I told her I was proud of her for doing well."

Heater's attorney, Scott Andringa, tried to blame the shooting on Rolston Drummond, Heater's friend. He is serving four years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated assault and felony battery for punching Monti.

Defense witness Melissa Johnson testified that she saw Drummond with a gun later on the night of the shooting. Another witness testified that he bought the gun from Drummond about a month later for $650. That man was later arrested in a traffic stop, and police recovered the gun.

Andringa said people who identified Heater left room for reasonable doubt. Some of them were intoxicated. Some said he was 3 feet from Zorka when he fired. Others said 25 feet.

"It's a mosaic of confusion that took place outside of this bar," Andringa said.

Assistant State Attorney Chris Jensen said witnesses with the best view of the shooting were consistent.

"Everyone who got a good look at him that night picked out this man, Bryan Heater," he said.

Monti said he saw the muzzle flash but not who shot the gun. He insisted it wasn't Drummond, the man who punched him. "I didn't see the shooter. But I know who didn't shoot me," he said.

Jury works late in Pasco strip club murder case 05/19/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2011 9:25am]
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