The Reno Gazette-Journal, Marilyn Newton / AP
Published Monday, July 22, 2013 | 11:04 a.m.
Updated Monday, July 22, 2013 | 12:28 p.m.
RENO — A member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang accepted a plea deal Monday, just as he and a member of a rival gang were about to go on trial for murder charges stemming from a 2011 shootout at a northern Nevada casino.
Cesar Villagrana pleaded guilty in Washoe District Court to one count of battery with a deadly weapon and one count of challenge to fight with a deadly weapon.
He faces up to 15 years in prison at sentencing, which Judge Connie Steinheimer set for Sept. 4.
Villagrana originally faced up to life in prison on second-degree murder and other charges for shooting a Vagos member in the leg. The incident happened Sept. 23, 2011, the same night the president of the Hells Angels' San Jose chapter, Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew, was shot dead at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Sparks.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall declined to comment in detail after the judge accepted the plea bargain. But he told The Associated Press, "I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think it was fair."
Jury selection was set to begin later Monday for Pettigrew's accused killer, Vagos leader Ernesto Gonzalez of San Francisco.
"We're not pleading, because our client is innocent," said Gonzalez's lead attorney, David Houston.
Another Vagos member who police blamed for starting the fight that led to the killing pleaded guilty in March to second-degree murder.