The conviction of Vago Ernesto Manuel “Romeo” Gonzalez for the murder of Hells Angel San Jose charter president Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew during the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally in September 2011 was overturned on New Year’s Eve, The “gang enhancement” for that conviction was also overturned as were Gonzalez’ convictions for conspiracy to engage in an affray, carrying a concealed weapon, discharging a firearm in a structure and conspiracy to commit murder.
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Washoe County District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer abused her power when she refused to adequately answer two questions from the five man, seven woman jury that convicted Gonzalez. The Court ruled the questions “suggested the jury was confused or lacked understanding of a significant element of conspiracy to commit murder.”
The first question asked, “Legal Question: Looking at Instruction number 17. If a person has no knowledge of a conspiracy but their actions contribute to someone (else’s) plan, are they guilty of conspiracy?”
Steinheimer replied, “It is improper for the Court to give you additional instruction on how to interpret Instruction number 17. You must consider all the instructions in light of all the other instructions.”
The jury’s second question was, “People in here are wondering if a person can only be guilty of second degree murder or first. Can it be both?”
Steinheimer answered that question with, “You must reach a decision on each count separate and apart from each other count.”
The high court also ruled that Steinheimer should have warned the jury that testimony against Gonzalez by former Vago Stuart Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick was uncorroborated and suspect.
“The district court’s errors cumulatively denied Gonzalez of his right to a fair trial,” the court wrote in a 16 page opinion. “We order his judgment of conviction reversed and remand to the district court for a new trial.”
Gonzalez was sentenced to life in prison and is currently incarcerated at High Desert State Prison near Las Vegas.
Jabbers And Pettigrew
Pettigrew died during a brawl between members of the two clubs inside John Ascuaga’s Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nevada on September 23, 2011. The appeals court noticed that the fight was “instigated” by Rudnick. A Vago testified that Rudnick had hoped to collect a Hells Angels cut as a souvenir. Rudnick taunted Pettigrew for almost an hour before the fight. At Gonzalez’ trial a Vago named Richard Nickerson testified the two clubs had “coexisted” until “some drunken fool shot off his mouth and started a hornet’s nest.” Rudnick was expelled from the Vagos hours after Pettigrew’s death.
Rudnick agreed to cooperate with authorities and became the state’s principle witness against Gonzalez. Judge Steinheimer sentenced Rudnick to two to seven years in prison in August 2013. He served his time under the alias Tommy Jones. He was paroled on October 28, 2015
The Nevada Supreme Court wrote, “Although Rudnick pleaded guilty prior to Gonzalez’s trial, he was not sentenced until after he testified against Gonzalez. At trial, Rudnick testified that he and Gonzalez had a meeting prior to the fight with the president of the international chapter of the Vagos. Rudnick further testified that the president put out a ‘green light’ on Pettigrew, meaning that Pettigrew was to be killed, and that Gonzalez said he would kill Pettigrew. No other witnesses testified to the existence of this conspiracy to kill Pettigrew.”
At Gonzalez’ trial, defense attorney David Houston told the jury, “Either Gonzalez is telling the truth or Rudnick is telling the truth. That’s what this case boils down to.”
It seems likely that Rudnick will testify again when Gonzalez is retried.