A five man, seven woman jury in Reno found Vago Ernesto Manuel “Romeo” Gonzalez guilty of seven charges including first and second degree murder late yesterday afternoon after deliberating for about five hours. The seond degree murder charge will be incorporated into the premeditated murder charge.
Those charges refer to the shooting of Hells Angels San Jose charter president Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew during the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally in September 2011. Gonzalez admitted to shooting Pettigrew five times but he said he did so to save the life of fellow Vago Robert Wiggins who was being kicked in the head by Pettigrew.
Gonzalez was also found guilty of 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 jury reconvened this morning to consider whether to apply a Nevada “gang enhancement” to Gonzalez’ convictions. He faces up to life in prison without parole. He will be sentenced by Washoe County District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer October 3.
Two other men were also charged in the case. San Jose Hells Angel Cesar Villagrana pled guilty to battery with a deadly weapon and challenge to fight with a deadly weapon. He faces two to ten years in prison and will be sentenced by Steinheimer on September 4. Former Vago Stuart Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick pled guilty to conspiracy to murder last year, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and investigators and will be sentenced by Steinheimer on August 22. Rudnick started the fight that led to Pettigrew’s death. Because of his cooperation with authorities, Rudnick will probably avoid prison.
Lawyer Versus Lawyer
The prosecutions’ key witness in the conviction was Rudnick. Rudnick testified that ill-will between the Angels and the Vagos led to a Vagos all member meeting the night of the murder. According to Rudnick, Vagos International President Pastor “Tata” Palafox authorized an assassination of Pettigrew to stop Hells Angels from treating Vagos “like bitches.” Palafox has not been charged in the case. According to Rudnick, Gonzalez volunteered to murder Pettigrew.
In closing arguments yesterday, Gonzalez 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.”
Prosecutor Karl Hall trial strategy was to portray the shooting as part of a wider, ongoing conflict between the two clubs. Yesterday he stood in front of a display with a Hells Angels cut and a Vagos cut hanging side by side and told jurors, “This case is not about Gary Rudnick. This case is about gang warfare.” The jury believed Hall and afterward Houston was surprised.
Houston told Emerson Marcus of the Reno Gazette-Journal, “I’m still somewhat flummoxed that we could have resulted in a guilty verdict without so much as reviewing what I would consider to be a great deal of evidence.”
“(It) leads me to believe there is some concern with the idea that a very broad brush was utilized by the prosecutor to say Vagos did this, Vagos did that, and I think it may have been lost in translation that this was a case of state versus Ernesto Gonzalez,” Houston told Marcus. “It had nothing to do with state versus the Vagos.”
Houston also said Gonzalez “was very disappointed by the verdict. “He was very uplifted after closing arguments. He felt a very good case had been presented as to why he, Ernesto Gonzalez, didn’t do anything. Unfortunately, the jury disagreed and felt that Ernesto Gonzalez was a Vago, and if Vagos had done things, Ernesto Gonzalez was the only Vago in the room.”
Hall had no public comment on the verdict.
Houston, in the video below, intends to appeal the verdict. The advertisement at the beginning of the video has nothing to do with and in no way profits The Aging Rebel.