Nevada justices overturn murder conviction of Vagos gang member

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday reversed the murder conviction of a motorcycle gang member in a 2011 brawl at a Sparks hotel-casino because the trial judge failed to clear up confusion on the part of the jury during deliberations.

Cumulative errors by Washoe District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer denied Ernesto Gonzalez, a member of the Vagos motorcycle gang, a fair trial, the court said in a unanimous decision. The court, in an opinion written by Justice Nancy Saitta, ordered a new trial for Gonzalez.

Gonzalez had been sentenced to life with a chance for parole after 20 years.

“The district court abused its discretion when it refused to answer the jury’s question that suggested the jury was confused or lacked understanding of a significant element of conspiracy to commit murder,” the court said.

Other errors were also noted by the court.

The fight was instigated by Stuart Rudnick, a member of the Vagos. During the fight, Gonzalez shot and killed Jethro Pettigrew, a member of the Hell’s Angels. Pettiggrew was known as the “godfather” of the Hells Angels in San Jose, Calif.

He was killed when a fight broke out in September 2011 on the casino floor of John Ascuaga’s Nugget.

Contact Sean Whaley at or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801

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