Vago Ernesto Manuel “Romeo” Gonzalez will plead not guilty this afternoon when he is re-arraigned for the murder of Hells Angel San Jose charter president Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew during the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally in September 2011.
After deliberating for about five hours, a five man, seven woman jury in Reno found Gonzalez guilty in August 2013 of seven charges including first and second degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to engage, challenge to fight resulting in death, carrying a concealed weapon and discharging a firearm in a structure.
The case against Gonzalez centered around the testimony of a disgraced Vago named Stuart Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick. Rudnick deliberately picked a fight with Pettigrew and then became the star witness against Gonzalez. There was a blatant quid pro quo relationship between Rudnick’s testimony and his eventual punishment.
Rudnick arranged a plea agreement and pled guilty before Gonzalez trial but he was not sentenced until after he gave his testimony against Gonzalez. He testified that he and Gonzalez had a meeting prior to the fight with the international president of the Vagos; that the club president authorized a “green light” on Pettigrew, and that Gonzalez agreed to kill Pettigrew.” Rudnick was the only witness who testified that there was a conspiracy to kill Pettigrew.
The case, in the words of defense attorney David Houston, boiled down to, “Either Gonzalez is telling the truth or Rudnick is telling the truth.” The jury believed Rudnick.
Washoe County District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer both sentenced Rudnick and presided over Gonzalez’ trial. Rudnick spent 26 months in a Nevada penitentiary before he was paroled in October 2015.
Gonzalez appealed his conviction to the Nevada Supreme Court. Last December, that court overruled his conviction on the grounds that Judge Steinheimer abused her power when she refused to answer juror questions that “suggested the jury was confused or lacked understanding of a significant element of conspiracy to commit murder.” She also failed to ward the jury that Rudnick’s testimony was unsubstantiated by any other evidence.
Today the case starts all over again in Steinheimer’s courtroom.