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Sat, Feb. 22

Hells Angels & Vagos motorcycle gangs: Judge sends shooting case back to Grand Jury

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge William T. Kiger sent the Hells Angels shooting case back to the Grand Jury late Monday afternoon during a pre-trial conference.

But Kiger did not exonerate bail for the seven men with ties to the Hells Angels charged in the case or change the conditions of their release, in part because the Yavapai County Attorney's Office indicated it would send the case back to a Grand Jury soon.

Kiger's decision means that there are no charges filed currently against John Bernard, Kiley Hill, Kevin Christensen, Larry Scott, Michael Koepke, Robert Kittredge and Bruce Schweigert - who had been previously indicted in connection with the shooting between the Vagos and Hells Angels motorcycle gangs in an unincorporated area northwest of Chino Valley on August 21.

When Kiger made his decision, Schweigert and Bernard pumped their fists in the air. Afterwards the defendants and their attorneys talked outside the courthouse.

Ted S. Reed, the defense attorney for Bernard, wrote in his Oct. 1 motion that the state presented false and misleading testimony to the Grand Jury.

"What particularly jumps out and concerns me is the detective's comments to the Grand Jury that the other gang was a family-oriented group and this gang was a criminal enterprise," Kiger said about the Grand Jury testimony. "I'm having a real hard time getting around it."

In a transcript of the Grand Jury that met on Sept. 7, Yavapai County Sheriff's Office Detective David Zavos told the Grand Jury, "Based on GIITEM, which is the state gang task force information that I was given, the Hells Angels and the Vagos have had an oil-water relationship for quite a while and it goes back in their roots in California. The Hells Angels are the dominant motorcycle gang in the world, and they also have a strong presence here in Arizona. The Vagos are newcomers to the outlaw motorcycle gang scene and they are beginning to make (in) roads into Arizona.

"There's a few members here, but the Hells Angels are seeing that their membership is growing. ... The Vagos for the most part, are not a real aggressive gang. They are somewhat family oriented as opposed to the Hells Angels who are more into the criminal enterprise."

Reed included information in his motion that the Department of Justice website in an April 2008 report on the growth of violent street gangs in suburban areas, listed the Vagos as an outlaw motorcycle gang with 300 members among 24 chapters in the U.S. and Mexico and pose a serious criminal threat by producing, transporting, and distributing methamphetamine and marijuana as well as committing assault, extortion, insurance fraud, money laundering, murder, vehicle theft, weapons violations and witness intimidation.

When Kiger asked prosecutor Dana Owens if she had any comment, she said she had recently taken over the case from Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Steven A. Young and had not had a chance to read all of the Grand Jury testimony.

In the state's objection to Reed's motion, Young asked that court to deny the motion and let the matter proceed to trial, writing, "Defendant's allegation that Zavos had an agenda to mislead the Grand Jury that the Vagos was a 'good' outlaw motorcycle gang (OMG), while the Hells Angels were wrongfully portrayed as the 'bad' OMG is unpersuasive. Fact being, OMG's are just that - Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs."

When Kiger asked defense attorneys for comment, James O'Haver, Scott's defense attorney said, "It's always been my position to get in as much as possible when you may rule against me, when you tell me I'm getting what I'm asking for, I'll shut up now."

Kiger told defendants that they are not to physically meet with the other defendants unless their lawyers are present and they were discussing the case, but they were free to call each other, send mail, or e-mail to each other.

Then, O'Haver turned to the defendants and asked them, "Got it?" and they nodded their heads.

All the defense attorneys told Kiger they would represent their clients in any future court proceedings.

Earlier this month, Richard Gaxiola, attorney for Koepke, filed a motion to change the venue of the trial because of local pretrial publicity.

In his motion, Gaxiola cited stories in The Daily Courier, The New Times of Phoenix, and KPHO and in particular, comments made by readers that were added to the stories online.

"After reviewing the above articles and comments correlated therewith, one can reasonably surmise that the media has consistently maintained a significant slant against the Hells Angels that has rubbed off into the Prescott community and potential jury pool," Gaxiola wrote in his motion. "Accordingly, in an effort to allow Mr. Koepke to maintain his constitutional rights ... of an impartial criminal proceeding, this Court must permit Mr. Koepke to change his trial venue."

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