Closing arguments this week in a lengthy federal racketeering trial against eight members of the Vagos Motorcycle Club have cemented two versions told to a Las Vegas jury of a fatal 2011 shooting inside a Northern Nevada casino.
The version told by the government could put those eight men away for life, and, according to defense attorney Michael Kennedy, was largely built on lies from an ousted member who received immunity for his testimony against his former allies.
“They have asked you to convict Ernesto Gonzalez and these other men on first-degree murder and racketeering conspiracy on the word of a man whose reliability they questioned,” Kennedy told the jury Wednesday, the third day of closing arguments in the trial.
Kennedy, who is representing Gonzalez, the alleged shooter, was referring to Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick, the government’s star witness who admitted in September to repeatedly lying on the witness stand after testifying for three days that Vagos members had plotted the 2011 killing of rival Hells Angels leader Jeffrey Pettigrew inside a Sparks casino.
The first of eight attorneys to deliver closing arguments, Kennedy told jurors that Gonzalez was “acting in the defense of others” when he fired the fatal shots.
Kennedy presented his arguments Wednesday after federal prosecutor Daniel Schiess had spent more than two days painting a picture of a violent gang for the jury, citing Rudnick as he argued that Pettigrew’s slaying was an authorized hit by Pastor Fausto Palafox, the international president of Vagos at the time.
But Kennedy, playing snippets of casino surveillance footage from the night of the shooting, argued that Pettigrew and another Hells Angels member were “actively shooting” inside the casino after picking a fight with Vagos members.
“And so the incident came to an end only when Mr. Gonzalez acted to stop it,” Kennedy said. “Shooting to stop two active shooters is not murder.”
Gonzalez and Palafox have been on trial since late July along with Albert Lopez, Albert Benjamin Perez, James Patrick Gillespie, Bradley Michael Campos, Cesar Vaquera Morales and Diego Chavez Garcia.
The men face up to life in prison if they are found guilty of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, murder and using a firearm to commit murder during and in retaliation to a crime. The charges stem from a 2017 indictment accusing Vagos members of a slew of crimes spanning more than a decade, including murder, robbery, extortion, kidnapping and possession of narcotics with the intent to sell.
Closing arguments in the case were expected to wrap up this week.