Nevada Sparks Casino Hells Angel Slaying Star Witness Recants Testimony, Puts New Trial in Chaos

Posted on: April 28, 2017, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: April 28, 2017, 12:42h.

The prosecution’s star witness in the murder of a Hells Angels boss at the Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nevada now claims his testimony was a fabrication, the Associated Press reported this week.

Gary Rudnick recants testimony
Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick, a former Vagos biker gang member, now claims he lied about a conspiracy to kill the head of the Los Angeles chapter of the Hells Angels at the Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nevada, in 2011. (Image: The Aging Rebel)

Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick’s account of the events of September 23, 2011, when a mass brawl broke out on the casino floor between rival Hells Angels and Vagos biker gangs, helped to convict Vagos gang member Ernesto Gonzalez for the murder of Jeffrey Pettigrew.

Pettrigrew, president of the Hells Angels San Jose, California, chapter, was shot dead in the melee, which also left two Vagos members wounded. Hours later, a member of the Vagos gang was shot dead in apparent retaliation, leading the mayor of Sparks to declare a state of emergency.

Walking Back His Words

Gonzalez was caught a week later, when he told police his arrest came as a relief, because he believed the Hells Angels wanted to kill him. He was convicted of the Nugget murder in 2013, largely on the basis of Rudnick’s testimony, and sentenced to life in prison.

Rudnick, who was vice president of the Los Angeles chapter, said that Pettigrew had been murdered by Gonzalez on the orders of the Vagos international president over a turf war in San Jose. But Gonzalez is now scheduled to be retried, after the Nevada Supreme Court threw out his conviction based on improper jury instructions in the original trial. And now Rudnick says he made the whole story up.

Let’s Make a Deal

According to new court filings seen by the AP, Rudnick says there was actually no such assassination plot. Rather, Rudnick insisted he lied in order to obtain a plea deal that would give him a reduced sentence and a place on the federal witness protection program. He was accused of starting the fight in the casino that led to the killing, and served two years for conspiracy to commit murder.

Rudnick is now a free man.

“He states that he lied and there was never any conspiracy or meeting to ‘green light’ a hit,” Gonzalez’s lawyer, David Houston, told the AP . “He says he was told he’d get probation if he testified the way the state wanted him to.”

Gonzalez has always insisted there was no pre-planned murder conspiracy, claiming he shot Pettigrew because the San Jose chapter leader, along with another Hells Angel, was kicking Rudnick so hard Gonzalez thought they would kill him.

The prosecution, meanwhile, believes that Rudnick’s recantation is itself a lie, and should be treated with skepticism. But historically, such change of testimony can make it more difficult to secure a second conviction.

Gonzalez’ retrial is slated for August. There is no official word on whether Ruddnick could be brought up on perjury charges now.