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Defense gives opening statements in biker murder trial in Reno (watch video)
BY: Emerson Marcus

Nevada - The defense gave its opening statements in the 2011 shooting at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks focusing on a man they described as "drunk…out of control" and a person "no one could seem to muzzle that night."

That man was one of three suspects in the shooting: Gary Rudnick, a member of the Vagos, also known as Jabbers.

Ernesto Gonzalez, a 55-year-old Vagos member, is charged on seven counts, including murder of Hells Angels San Jose Chapter President Jeffrey Pettigrew. Gonzalez's trial began Monday and is scheduled to last three weeks in Washoe District Court.

On Wednesday, Gonzalez's counsel argued self defense, and said Gonzalez was not involved in the fight until the moment he fired fatal bullets to save his friend.

About 15 members of the Hells Angels were at the Nugget on Sept. 23, 2011 when members of the Vagos felt disrespected for what they believed was encroachment on their territory - the hotel they were staying at for the annual Street Vibrations motorcycle rally.

No man felt more disrespected than Rudnick, Gonzalez's attorney David Houston said.

"We are all here because of the actions of one man," Houston said. "That one man is Gary Rudnick."

Houston accused Rudnick of cooperating with the state to forge a deal. To do this, he fabricated a story after he was arrested that Vagos members met to plan a hit on Pettigrew for payback of that disrespect.

Moments after the first fight, which two were fired upon, Pettigrew walked to Vagos member Robert Wiggins, Houston said.

Wiggins was injured after the crowd ran into him, lying on the floor, playing possum when Pettigrew walked over to him and kicked his head, said Houston, holding a large boot for the 12-person jury to see.

"Mr. Wiggins, Mr. Wiggins, Mr. Wiggins on the ground," Houston said. "When they walk up to where Mr. Wiggins is located, you will hear, 'This will teach you,' pardon the expression, 'to f-with the (Hells Angels).' At which point in time you will see Mt. Pettigrew kick Mr. Wiggins' head.

"You will also see on the video, (Hells Angel) Mr. (Cesar) Villagrana kick Mr. Wiggins' head. You will then see…Mr. Pettigrew literally braces because Mr. Pettigrew has a prosthetic limb - so Mr. Pettigrew braces to give one final shot."

"Gonzalez was put in a position to make a decision: 'Do I not move and let that happen, or do I fire this weapon?'" Houston said. Gonzalez then fired fatal shots into the back of Pettigrew. He is then seen on video surveillance running through the casino and leaving before he was eventually arrested a week later in San Francisco.

The defense also worked to discredit Rudnick's testimony further by reading an acquired phone conversation Rudnick made to his wife, in which Houston quoted Rudnick as saying to her, "I do everything that (the detective) wants me to. Everything that he wants me to do. And…the judge will drop everything to probation."

"His testimony is tied in with (the fact) he is going to get probation and go home," Houston said. "He continually refers to the fact he made a deal and he owns up to it."

Rudnick has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and is expected to testify in the trial.

Villagrana, one of the three suspects along with Gonzalez and Rudnick, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of battery and challenge to fight. His sentence date is Sept. 4.




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