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Calif. Hells Angels biker arraigned on charges he shot rivals during Nevada casino shootout
RENO, Nev. (AP) ' A California member of the Hells Angels was arraigned Thursday on a charge of second-degree murder for a September brawl at a Nevada casino that erupted into a shootout that claimed the life of his San Jose, Calif., chapter president.
Cesar Villagrana, of Gilroy, Calif., pleaded not guilty to charges that he shot two members of the rival Vagos motorcycle gang the night that his longtime friend Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew was shot to death on the floor of John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks.
Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer on Thursday tentatively assigned him the same Jan. 17 trial date she earlier set for the Vagos accused of killing Pettigrew ' Ernesto Gonzalez, of San Francisco.
But Villagrana's lawyer, Richard Schonfeld of Las Vegas, doesn't expect a trial before the end of 2012, and the judge indicated that likely will be the case.
Washoe County Assistant District Attorney Karl Hall said he had been in talks with the public defenders representing Gonzalez and they do not object to pushing the trial or trials into next November or December.
Hall said he expects a third suspect who has been arrested in Los Angeles in connection with Pettigrew's Sept. 23 killing to be returned to Reno and arraigned before Dec. 7.
Gary Stuart Rudnick, vice president of the Vagos Los Angeles chapter, also was indicted on a second-degree murder charge. Rudnick is not accused of firing any shots but police said he was to blame for starting the fight that turned the casino floor into a shooting gallery on the weekend of an 18th annual biker rally in Reno-Sparks.
"It was a madhouse on that casino floor," Sparks police officer Jean Marie Walsh told the grand jury. Investigators later retrieved dozens of shell casings and bullets ' one lodged in a slot machine, others in bar stools, a card table and a metal poker chip holder.
No lawyers have made a formal request that the three named on the same indictment be tried separately.
But Schonfeld told The Associated Press after Thursday's arraignment he eventually will ask that Villagrana be granted his own trial. He also said he'll make motions to address concerns he has with some "procedural issues" related to the grand jury that indicted the three suspects on Nov. 9, but he declined to provide any details.
Schonfeld took exception in court Thursday to the judge making a reference to a motorcycle "gang" and asked that the Hells Angels be described as a "motorcycle club." He also raised questions about Steinheimer's ban wearing "colors and insignias" in the courtroom. She indicated she likely would set a hearing next week to discuss those ground rules.