Nevada - The best friend of the man charged with murder in the 2011 John Ascuaga's Nugget shooting between rival biker gangs testified Monday in Washoe District Court, saying the defendant never mentioned the shooting to him following the fatal melee.
Richard Nickerson, a member of the Vagos motorcycle club, checked into the Nugget on Sept. 23, 2011 in the same room with Ernesto Gonzalez, who is charged on seven counts, including murder of Hells Angels San Jose Chapter President Jeffrey Pettigrew.
Nickerson downplayed rivalries between the two biker groups, while admitting tensions were high.
"We coexisted," said Nickerson, a short man appearing in his 50s with a pony tail hanging down his back, who walked to the stand with an obvious limp. "They respected us and we respected them."
Nickerson said the defendant was his best friend and that the two had traveled together to Nicaragua, Gonzalez's homeland and where he desired to begin a Vagos chapter.
According to Nickerson's testimony Monday, he did not know Gonzalez had a gun. He denied the testimony of Vagos Los Angeles Chapter Vice President Gary "Jabbers" Rudnick that there was a meeting just after 8 p.m. in which a hit was put on Pettigrew, and Gonzalez agreed to carry it through.
"You never attended a meeting when Mr. Gonzalez said, 'I'm going to shoot Pettigrew, did you?'" Gonzalez's attorney David Houston said.
"No," Nickerson said. "There was no meeting."
Individuals started the brawl, not rival groups, Nickerson said.
"(It started because) some drunken fool (Rudnick) shot off his mouth and started a hornet's nest," Nickerson said.
Nickerson said he and Gonzalez were on the casino floor doing what they were known to do - looking for women. Gonzalez had his "eye on some blonde," Nickerson said.
After they went to the In-N-Out Burger in Sparks, they returned to the casino. Nickerson went to the bar to get Gonzalez water, and before he returned he heard someone yelling, "You Mother F- want to get shot?"
Within seconds, Pettigrew punched Rudnick and shots were fired.
The following day, Gonzalez and a handful of Vagos, including Nickerson, felt driving back to San Jose on motorcycles presented the possibility of being shot given rising tensions, he said. They drove in a car. He said they then drove to Anaheim, Calif. to avoid conflict and wait for things to cool down, he said.
While Nickerson and Gonzalez traveled along the California coast, Gonzalez never said anything to him about shooting Pettigrew, Nickerson said.
"He never mentioned having to save his friend (Vagos member Robert Wiggins)?" Deputy District Attorney Amos Stege asked.
"No," Nickerson said.
Gonzalez was arrested the following week in San Francisco. He reserved a flight out of the country, but did not pay for it.
The defense argues Gonzalez shot Pettigrew to save Wiggins, who was playing dead on the floor when armed Hells Angels approached him and made a kicking motion at him.
Witness testimony is continuing today with another member of the Vagos, Greg Fern, who was pistol whipped by Pettigrew during the brawl.