THIS ISSUE

Court of Public Opinion

-By Mark Fierro

Andrew Cash

It’s a case that has become known as the “Smoke Shop Shooting.” Many of us first heard about the case involving a young man who was clerking at a Las Vegas store when three young men burst into the shop with their faces covered and rushed the counter to steal items in a brazen robbery attempt. The event, which garnered international attention, was captured on video and aired on every local television station. (Link: http://www. lasvegasnow.com/news/man-accused-of-killing-teen-at-smoke-shop-will-stand-trial/683966864)

The video clearly shows the store clerk firing his pistol and shooting one of the would-be robbers dead. It’s the kind of storyline that Nevadans can get behind: A law-abiding citizen stands his ground against street criminals intent on robbery.

The police appeared to be comfortable enough with the initial facts. They removed handcuffs from the shooter, who soon volunteered a statement. But within days, public sentiment would dramatically shift. The store clerk, Raad Sunna, would be charged with one count of open murder with the use of a deadly weapon and soon be bound over for trial.

What could change so quickly? As the media weighed in and dug deeper into the story, the age of the deceased emerged as a prominent factor — he was just 13 years old at the time of the robbery. Secondly, the seven shots that hit him were all in the back. The court of public opinion had shifted against Sunna with lightning speed.

Attorneys for Sunna, Dominic Gentile and Paola Armeni of the law firm Gentile Cristalli Miller Armeni Savarese, say a closer look at the details of the shooting will lead to an acquittal. Armeni stated: “Age is a very big motivating factor but nobody knew his age when the perpetrator ran into the store.”

According to Armeni there was no way for Sunna to know that one of the attackers, Fabriccio Patti, was anything but a full-grown assailant. Patti stood 5-foot-9 and was wearing bulky winter clothes with his face covered by a T-shirt fashioned into a shemagh face mask, which is sometimes used by Middle Eastern terrorists.

“He (Patti) still made a choice. He made a very adult choice,” Armeni said. “He chose to run into the store with his face covered and made a criminal choice to run into that store and to do whatever he was planning on doing. At that point, whether he’s 13 or 40 should be irrelevant.”

Sunna, a churchgoing 24-year-old (he gave his statement to police accompanied by his pastor rather than an attorney) who had never had a scrape with the law, literally had a split second to react to the three-person crew that stormed into the store that late afternoon. Armeni says it was a decision made under the worst kind of duress, which was created by the robbers. “Raad was petrified,” says Armeni. “He was completely petrified. If Raad could change that day and make it all go away, of course he would. Even if there’s an acquittal, he still has to live with the trauma for the rest of his life. Was it justified? Absolutely. But he still has to live with it.

“In his voluntary statement, Raad said he thought he was going to die. He was thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to see you, Grandpa.’ This was all happening so quick. But he thought he was done. He thought he was about to go meet his maker.”

When questioned by police immediately after the shooting, Sunna said he thought the robbery was about to turn into an armed robbery. When asked by Las Vegas Metro Police Detective D. Boucher, “…what did you think was about to happen,” Sunna replied, “I thought maybe as he ran closer he would draw on me, I didn’t know. I don’t recall if he had a gun or not, any weapons, like, I don’t even know how to explain it, ’cause I’m still in shock and I’m still really shooken (sic) up by this. … I was afraid of dying tonight.”

At the March 31 preliminary hearing on the case, the defense called an expert, Robert Irwin, who has taught countless police academies and concealed weapons classes on “shoot/don’t shoot” situations. Irwin says that Sunna’s reaction was a textbook case of nanosecond response time:

Dominic Gentile: “Do you train your students … to wait before they shoot so that they see a weapon before they shoot?”

Irwin: “No. … These events generally take place in a half-second to one second to one and a half seconds, the actual part of this that the confrontation is. … Clearly if police or security or civilians wait until they see the gun coming or the knife coming toward their chest to fire their gun, they’re going to die.”

There are no winners, there is no prevailing party in this case. A young man, Raad Sunna, went to work that December morning just trying to make it through another day. The three robbers had very different goals. Patti is dead. The two surviving members of his crew face charges of attempted robbery. Sunna’s life as a somewhat cloistered young man living at home with his parents has changed forever. He has only one explanation for his actions on that December afternoon: “I was just petrified and afraid for my life.”

The father of the deceased, Martin Patti, is the one person who has not jumped to any conclusions, telling the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “God is helping me to go through this and I wish him the same.” As Sunna was bound over for trial by Justice Karen Bennett Haron, Gentile and Armeni informed the court of their intent to demand a speedy trial, which is now slated for July 31.


Mark Fierro began his career as a reporter/anchor at KLAS-TV, the CBS television station in Las Vegas. He worked at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. He served as communications consultant on IPO road shows on Wall Street. He provided litigation support for the Michael Jackson death trial. Heis president of Fierro Communications, Inc., and author of several books including “Road Rage: The Senseless Murder of Tammy Meyers.”He has made numerous appearances on national TV news programs.

The Firm, P.C. is a boutique Las Vegas law firm founded by Preston Rezaee, Esq. Preston Rezaee is also the founder and Editor in Chief of Vegas Legal Magazine. 

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