- Associated Press - Thursday, June 23, 2016

RENO, Nev. (AP) - A lawyer for an ex-motorcycle gang leader who has been granted a retrial on murder charges in a 2011 shootout with a rival gang at a Nevada casino wants to revisit the original plea deal prosecutors cut with a co-defendant who was the lone witness to testify the killing was an orchestrated hit.

Ernesto Gonzalez, 58, appeared in court in Reno on Thursday for the second time since the state Supreme Court reversed his conviction in December in the fatal shooting of Jeffrey Pettigrew, the head of the Hells Angels chapter in San Jose, California.

Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer said Thursday she’s not ready to set a retrial date or schedule a formal arraignment because she hasn’t decided whether Gonzalez, the ex-president of the Vagos’ chapter in Nicaragua, should be represented by a public defender now that he qualifies as indigent.

The state Supreme Court overturned Gonzalez’s conviction on murder and conspiracy charges based partly on faulty instructions to jurors who had a question about what constituted a conspiracy under Nevada law.

Steinheimer had sentenced Gonzalez to life in prison. He’s being held in the Washoe County Jail on $2 million bail pending the retrial.

Gonzalez insisted at the original trial that he shot Pettigrew only because Pettigrew was kicking a fellow Vagos in the head so hard he thought it would kill him.

Prosecutors argued it was all part of an assassination plot.

Their star witness was another Vagos, Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick of Los Angeles, who testified that he and Gonzalez met with the Vagos international president, who authorized the killing of Pettigrew in a running feud between the two gangs in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The prosecution and defense agreed the melee that turned the Sparks casino floor into a shooting gallery began when Rudnick repeatedly taunted Pettigrew and Pettigrew punched him in the face. But Gonzalez denied a conspiracy was formed in the hours before that confrontation.

The alleged conspiracy will be central to the pending retrial.

Rudnick, who originally faced the equivalent of a first-degree murder charge as an indicted co-conspirator, was sentenced in August 2013 to two to seven years in prison after he plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder. He was paroled from prison in November 2015.

David Houston, a prominent Reno defense attorney who represented Gonzalez at the original trial and currently is handling his retrial, said in court papers filed earlier this week he intends to call as a witness Rudnick’s then-public defender, Jennifer Lunt. He wants her to explain contradictory statements he says she made regarding whether Rudnick was “supposed to receive a benefit from the state in the form of a negotiated sentence if, in fact, Mr. Rudnick supported the theory of the state’s case against Mr. Gonzalez.”

Houston argued at the original trial that jailhouse telephone recordings showed Rudnick lied to appease investigators who suggested he could be spared jail time by testifying. “No other witnesses testified to the conspiracy to kill Pettigrew,” he wrote in the new filing on Tuesday.

Houston said Lunt filed an affidavit during the original trial that indicated “there were absolutely no ‘covert’ deals made between the state and Mr. Rudnick.”

“Yet, at the sentencing proceeding, Ms. Lunt completely changed her position, indicating not only were there covert deals but at the same point in time, the state was engaged in a level of high treachery in failing to honor their wink and nod deal with Mr. Rudnick to provide him with probation in the event he did what he was supposed to do,” Houston wrote.

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