RENO, Nev. — A judge has set an October trial date for three California men charged in a Nevada casino shootout that killed a Hells Angels boss, wounded two members of a rival gang and led the mayor of Sparks to declare a state of emergency.
All three men appeared with their lawyers Friday in a heavily guarded courtroom before Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer. One Hells Angel member was in a gray, pinstripe suit and two members of the rival Vagos motorcycle gang wore jail jumpsuits, handcuffs, shackles and bulletproof vests.
Gary "Jabbers" Rudnick, 45, the vice president of the Vagos' Los Angeles chapter, pleaded not guilty to two charges tied to the September killing of the president of the Hells Angels' San Jose chapter, Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew.
The other Vagos member, Ernesto Gonzalez, 53, of San Francisco, is accused of firing the shots that killed Pettigrew. Steinheimer entered a not guilty plea on Gonzalez's behalf last month.
Both were indicted Nov. 9 along with Hells Angels member Cesar Villagrana, of Gilroy, on charges of conspiracy to engage in an affray and challenge to fight resulting in death. Under Nevada law, the challenge to fight charge is equivalent to first-degree murder and carries the same maximum penalty of life in prison.
Villagrana, 36, who earlier entered a not guilty plea, is free on $300,000 bail. He's represented by Richard Schonfeld and David Chesnoff, whose clients have included celebrities like Paris Hilton, Vince Neil and David Copperfield, as well as Darren Mack, a former Reno pawn shop owner convicted in 2008 of murdering his wife and shooting a judge handling their divorce.
Gonzalez and Rudnick are being held in the Washoe County Jail without bail.
Steinheimer on Friday also set a Dec. 21 hearing to determine whether bail should be set for Rudnick, who prosecutors say was responsible for initiating the brawl that turned the casino floor of John Ascuaga's Nugget into a shooting gallery late Sept. 23.
A longtime Vagos leader testifying on condition of confidentiality told the grand jury that Rudnick was a loudmouthed, loose cannon who was drunk that night and kept trying to provoke Pettigrew into fighting.
"Jabbers has a big mouth. He's always had a big mouth," the witness said. Finally, he said Pettigrew had enough and punched Rudnick in the face, touching off a series of fights that led to the gunfire.
In court Friday, Rudnick's public defender, Jennifer Lunt, told him at least twice to stop talking.
The violence at the casino led to a retaliatory shooting, prompting the state of emergency and cancellation of an annual motorcycle festival amid fears of further gang hostility.
Steinheimer set aside three weeks for the trial beginning Oct. 29 and also scheduled a Jan. 17 hearing for all three men to hear various motions from their lawyers.
The three are scheduled to be tried together, but Schonfeld already has indicated he will ask that Villagrana be tried separately.