Federal trial to begin for Hells Angels in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Videotape images showed rival motorcycle gang members wielding guns, knives, wrenches and chairs in a bloody brawl that killed three and injured at least a dozen in a southern Nevada casino in 2002.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors are expected to tell a jury that 11 Hells Angels were among the members of the biker gang who plotted to attack rival Mongols at the Harrah’s Laughlin hotel-casino after years of friction were sparked to violence by minor disagreements at a crowded motorcycle rally.
They are the first of 42 men – from California, Washington, Arizona, Alaska and Nevada, and ranging in age from 28 to 63 – to face trial for the deadly casino brawl. All face the possibility of life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, racketeering attempted murder.
Each has pleaded not guilty, and defense lawyers say the men will argue they were attacked first.
“The tapes are going to reveal clearly that the Hells Angels were threatened and were engaged in lawful self-defense,” said lawyer David Chesnoff, who represents defendant Calvin Schaefer of Chandler, Ariz.
Chesnoff has argued previously that police knew trouble was brewing and federal agents missed a chance to prevent violence at the 2002 Laughlin rally, an annual event that draws tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the Colorado River resort town about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas.
Two Hells Angels – Jeramie Dean Bell, 27, of Hughson, Calif., and Robert Emmet Tumelty, 50, of Stockton, Calif. – were shot to death. Mongols member Anthony Salvador Barrera, 43, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., died of stab wounds.
Another Hells Angels member, Christian Tate, 28, of San Diego, was later found shot to death near his wrecked Harley-Davidson motorcycle on Interstate 40 in California, about 100 miles from Laughlin.
Court officials say the trial could take three months or more, with jurors viewing hundreds of hours of videotape and 11 defense lawyers questioning witnesses. Trying the men in groups creates pressure on prosecutors to gain convictions.
“If the first 11 are acquitted and the jury does not find that it’s a racketeering enterprise as the government alleges, I would hope the government would consider dismissing the rest of the case, given that everyone is charged with the same thing,” said defense lawyer Daniel Albregts, who represents Charles Acosta, who is not one of the first 11 to be tried.
Federal prosecutors Eric Johnson and Andrew Duncan declined comment Monday through a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Las Vegas.
Forty-four Hells Angels originally were charged in the federal case, which is separate from criminal charges pending against eight Hells Angels in Nevada state court. That trial is due to begin March 12.
One defendant in the federal case remains a fugitive. One died.
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