Gary Stuart Rudnick, 45, is accused of instigating the Sept. 23 fight at a Sparks casino that resulted in the murder of Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew, president of the Hells Angels’ San Jose chapter, police said. Rudnick is the vice president of the Los Angeles chapter of the rival Vagos motorcycle gang.
Another Vagos member jailed in Reno on murder charges, Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez, is accused of firing the fatal shots in the melee that turned the crowded Nugget casino floor into a shooting gallery late on the Friday night of a weekend-long biker rally.
Rudnick is scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. Friday in Washoe District Court on felony charges of conspiracy to engage in an affray and challenge of a fight with a deadly weapon causing death. The latter is considered a form of first-degree murder under Nevada law, punishable by up to life in prison.
The third suspect charged in connection with the killing, Cesar Villagrana, is a Hells Angel who was with Pettigrew that night and is accused of shooting and wounding two Vagos members, who survived.
Villagrana, 36, of Gilroy, Calif., is free on $300,000 bail after pleading not guilty last week to a number of charges, including second-degree murder and challenge of a fight with a deadly weapon causing death.
Because a grand jury indicted each of the three men Nov. 9 on the charge of challenge of a fight with a deadly weapon causing death, Washoe County Assistant District Attorney Karl Hall told Judge Connie Steinheimer at the close of those proceedings “all are charged with murder in the first degree.”
A transcript of the grand jury proceedings shows the witnesses included a confidential informant who testified he’d been a high-ranking Vagos member for more than 25 years and had helped broker a temporary peace with rival Hells Angels at the Sparks casino about an hour before the fight broke out.
That witness said Rudnick went against Vagos leaders’ wishes when he provoked the fight by repeatedly taunting Pettigrew through the night. Pettigrew finally had enough and punched Rudnick in the face, touching off a series of fights that led to gunfire, said the witness, whose name was not provided.
Rudnick was arrested last month in the Los Angeles area. The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported in Wednesday’s editions that he had been extradited to Nevada on Tuesday. Court records filed Wednesday indicated Rudnick did not have his own lawyer and that a public defender would represent him at Friday’s arraignment.
Steinheimer earlier set a Jan. 17 trial for both Villagrana and Gonzalez, whose public defender entered not guilty pleas on his behalf last month. But the judge indicated that will be postponed and neither is likely to go to trial until late next year.