The law in Nevada is now officially an ass. Two Vagos and a Hells Angel have been charged as “co-conspirators” in the “second-degree murder” of San Jose Hells Angel Jeffrey Pettigrew. Pettigrew was shot in a Sparks casino on September 23.
The Hells Angel is a man named Cesar Villagrana. Villagrana is also charged with carrying a concealed weapon and two counts of felony battery. He is alleged to have shot two Vagos named Leonard Ramirez and Diego Garcia.
The two Vagos who are charged with second degree murder are Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez, who is alleged to have actually shot Pettigrew, and Stuart Gary Rudnick. All three defendants are also charged with “conspiracy to engage in an affray” and “challenge to a fight resulting in death with the use of a deadly weapon.”
The prosecution’s theory of the case seems to be that all three men engaged in a pre-arranged duel. The preposterousness of that charge might also demonstrate that Washoe County District Attorney Richard A. “Dick” Gammick (photo above) and Assistant District Attorney John Helzer understand that their high-profile prosecution is full of holes.
What the charges imply, is that these individual men – not the two motorcycle clubs but these particular men – had a previously arranged agreement to meet on the Nugget casino floor and fight – just like in High Noon and many other Western movies. The facts undermine that theory.
According to the consensus of several conflicting accounts, the Vagos were surprised to see a dozen Hells Angels enter John Ascuaga’s Casino Resort. Several witnesses have said that the Vagos there that night were under the impression that most Hells Angels intended to stay out of Sparks in order to avoid potential arguments between members of the two clubs.
After the Angels entered the casino a fight did ensue. According to the indictment filed November 9, it began when Rudnick challenged Pettigrew. Friends of both men jumped in.
A fairly obvious argument is that Gonzalez believed he was defending Rudnick and Villagrana wanted to defend Pettigrew. Several witness have said that Villagrana was shouting “get down” as he brandished his gun. He did not ask anybody to stand still while he aimed.
Whatever happened, the deadly fight was provably not pre-arranged which immediately disproves the idea of a conspiracy to have a gun fight. The brawl was also provably spontaneous. And, if Pettigrew’s homicide happened in what the law calls the “heat of passion” the proper charge for Gonzalez is manslaughter not murder.
The accused men probably are guilty of misdemeanor affray, which in most jurisdictions is defined as a sudden quarrel. And at the same time all three of the indicted men might be able to raise the issue of self defense.
Gonzalez, who has already pled not guilty, is scheduled to go to trial January 17, 2012. It would set a speed record if he goes before a jury that fast.
The second-degree murder conspiracy charges look like a step in the plea bargaining dance and at this point the defendants seem to be on top even though the prosecutors are making more noise. It would be a shock if any of the Vagos or Hells Angels who were there that night actually testify. So, unless any of the defendants gave incriminating statements to the authorities, the main evidence in the case is the video recording of the brawl. And a good defense lawyer can probably interpret that to prove anything he wants it to prove.