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New Trial Coming for 2011 Street Vibrations Killing

Published: Jan. 13, 2016 at 5:14 PM PST
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A decision by the Nevada State Supreme Court could prove as stunning as the crime itself. Ernesto Gonzalez had his conviction overturned by the court. Back in 2013 he was found guilty of killing the president of a rival motorcycle club on the gaming floor of the Sparks Nugget. It all happened during Street Vibrations 2011.

Prosecutors say Gonzalez was part of a conspiracy by the Vagos biker club against the Hells Angels. They say Gonzalez was the designated trigger man and assigned to kill the president of the San Jose Hells Angels, Jeffrey Pettigrew.

For his part Gonzalez says he was simply protecting his fellow Vago from getting kicked in the head by Pettigrew during the melee inside the casino.

“And then all of a sudden, I see him starting kicking him and I thought, F*** that, and I started with the gun, and that's when I shot and I shot at both of them. Tried to get both because I didn't know,” testified Gonzalez.

The crime shocked the area for its brazen display.

Prosecutors claimed there was a hit on the San Jose Hells Angel President Jeffrey Pettigrew by the Vagos biker club...with Gonzalez the trigger man.

Gonzalez testified he knew of no conspiracy.

During deliberations, the jury asked the judge in the case, "If a person has no knowledge of a conspiracy but their actions contribute to someone else's plan, are they guilty of conspiracy?"

The Nevada Supreme Court found that such a question showed the jury was having difficulty with the case, and that the judge, Connie Steinheimer, should have intervened to explain further. But she did not.

That was one reason, in a unanimous decision, Nevada’s Supreme Court overturned the Gonzalez conviction.

“One jury question that clearly indicated the jury did not believe he was involved as a co-conspirator. Unfortunately that question was not answered satisfactorily to clear it up and that resulted in the jury coming back with a verdict shortly after that,” says David Houston, who represents Gonzalez.

Houston also points to another aspect of the decision. That is, Gonzalez should have been tried for the crime first, then if found guilty, the enhancement--in this case gang affiliation--should have come at the time of sentencing.

“No one wants to be convicted based upon simple association,” says Houston.

Houston says his client will be released from prison and put back into Washoe County Jail. But because the conviction was overturned, his client is not guilty of anything, and could be released on bail. Trial will begin no sooner than next summer, says Houston.

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