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The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a man convicted of assassinating a Hells Angel leader in a 2011 shootout between rival motorcycle clubs at a Reno-area casino.

The high court issued its ruling Thursday overturning the conviction of Ernesto Gonzalez, 57, saying the district court abused its discretion by not answering a jury question about a conspiracy charge.

Justices also said the lower court failed to split up decisions about guilt and whether Gonzalez should get a harsher penalty for gang involvement.

"The cumulative effect of these errors deprived appellant of his right to a fair trial," Justice Nancy Saitta wrote in the unanimous opinion.

Gonzalez is an ex-president of the Vagos chapter in Nicaragua. He was convicted in 2013 of first-degree murder and other felonies in the killing of Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew, 51, who was known as the "godfather" of the Hells Angels in San Jose, California.

Pettigrew's mother called Gonzalez a coward for shooting her son in the back before Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer sentenced the San Francisco man to life with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

But the judge added a gang enhancement to the penalty, so Gonzalez was unlikely to get out of prison until he was at least 83. He's currently serving time in High Desert State Prison outside of Las Vegas


Gonzalez claimed he was acting in self-defense and defense of others after a brawl broke out on a crowded casino floor in Sparks in September 2011. He said he fired his gun because Pettigrew and another Hells Angel were kicking a fellow Vagos member so hard in the head he thought they would kill him.

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