The case of the Special Memory Wedding Chapel Christmastime knife fight continues its deliberate and stately crawl through the criminal justice meat grinder – Vegas style. Yeah, the metaphor is lame. So is American justice.
The eight defendants in this trial are Dominic Orlando, Frederick O’Dell, Brandon Young, James Sexey, John Dawson, Jeffrey Murray, John Merchant, and Armando Porras. Five more defendants named Charles Goldsmith, Brad Goldsmith, Joshua Ramos, Joseph Gennuso and Samuel Murray are scheduled to stand trial for the same incident on July 30. Collectively, the defendants are charged with Conspiracy to Commit Assault, Battery or Provoking Commission of Breach of the Peace; Attempted Murder With Use of a Deadly Weapon With Intent to Promote the Activities of a Criminal Gang; three counts of Battery With a Deadly Weapon With Substantial Bodily Harm With Intent to Promote the Activities of a Criminal Gang; Battery With Substantial Bodily Harm With Intent to Promote the Activities of a Criminal Gang; Assault With a Deadly Weapon With Intent to Promote the Activities of a Criminal Gang; Coercion With Force; and Coercion With Force With Use of a Deadly Weapon. The assault lasted 62 seconds.
The case began on a Sunday evening, December 20, 2008 when 13 guests at a Hells Angels wedding spotted a wedding party of Mongols.
At the time, Las Vegas Metro Police confirmed that the fight had occurred but refused to release even the most basic details of the brawl including the two clubs involved, the names of the combatants or the extent of their injuries. “We have some video that we are reviewing,” a Vegas Metro Police Lieutenant named Richard Fletcher admitted reluctantly. “It won’t be released at this time. It has been turned over to detectives.” Now both the criminal prosecution and defense and the civil litigants all say it is all about the Mongols and the Hells Angels.
The night of the assault the groom, Eugene Formica, told television station KTNV, “We were friggin’ attacked. We defended ourselves the best we could. It’s real hard to do when you are outnumbered that bad. But that is alright.” Formica has since left the Mongols Motorcycle Club and is now pursuing a civil suit against the Special Memory Wedding Chapel. He thinks the chapel should have hired extra security that evening. Formica testified for the prosecution last week.
A chapel employee told the jury that none of the employees understood that two clubs would be attending back to back ceremonies or that there might be a problem with that. The night of the fight Chapel manager Joshua Gust said, “There’s 100,000 weddings a year in Las Vegas and how many across the world. To have two groups that close together, I think that is very odd.”
The prosecution opened its case by showing jurors video surveillance footage of the fight and dozens of photographs of blood splatters and stains.
Tim Jameson, another witness for the state, testified that he wore a Mongols cut to the wedding at the request of someone in the club. Jameson is not and was not a member or prospective member of the Mongols. Jameson characterized the attack as “unprovoked.”
A Vegas Metro police officer named Joel Albert testified that crime scene investigators found illegal drugs left in a pew in the wedding chapel. He did not introduce any evidence that the drugs belonged to anyone in either the Mongols or Angels wedding parties.
Prosecutors hope to prove that the defendants were acting on behalf of the Hells Angels. Proving that would allow the court to impose draconian gang enhancements on the defendants and the assault could become a predicate in future racketeering cases against members of the Hells Angels.
The defendants are claiming self-defense. A quotable defender named Tom Pitaro told jurors that the Angels wedding party attacked the Mongols wedding party because they feared the Mongols were dangerous. Pitaro said the Angels “came for a wedding not a fight” and “acted reasonably under the circumstances as they believed them to be.”
Pitaro told jurors the wedding came just a few months after the death of San Francisco charter President Mark “Papa” Guardado. Guardado died at the hands of Mongol Christopher “Stoney” Ablett. Ablett was found guilty of four counts of racketeering and sentenced to multiple life sentences last May.
“Whether they were there for a wedding I don’t know and I don’t care,” Pitaro told the jury in his opening remarks. He said the Mongols are “considered a violent organization with a well deserved reputation for violence.”
The prosecution is expected to complete its case this week. The trial is expected to last for at least another two weeks.