A former Hells Angels member today agreed to a plea deal in the 2011 fatal shooting that was captured on a surveillance video at the San Jose funeral of a leader of the motorcycle group, a prosecutor said.
Steven Joseph Ruiz pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a concealed weapon charge in the killing of Steve Tausan, 52, as the two fought at the Oak Hill Cemetery on Curtner Avenue on Oct. 15, 2011, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Charles Gillingham said.
Under an agreement for his guilty plea to the felony charges, Ruiz will receive a sentence of three years and eight months in state prison, Gillingham said.
Ruiz, 39, has been incarcerated in the Santa Clara County Main Jail since his arrest on a murder charge on Feb. 25, 2012, when San Jose police detectives found him residing at a motel in Fremont.
Gillingham said that he was satisfied with the deal, which came on the day of Ruiz’s preliminary hearing in Superior Court in San Jose where the prosecutor had intended to show a judge a surveillance video taken by cemetery employees during the shooting.
In the video, Tausan, a large, burly man, is seen beating up the much-smaller Ruiz within a crowd of people before Ruiz fired three gunshots at Tausan, striking him once in the chest, Gillingham said.
Ruiz and Tausan had been among an estimated 4,000 attendees at Oak Hill at the funeral that day of Jeffrey Pettigrew, the president of the San Jose chapter of the Hells Angels.
Pettigrew was shot to death at John Ascuaga’s Nugget casino resort in Sparks, Nev., on the night of Sept. 23, 2011, following a dispute with members of the rival Mongols biker club during which 14 shots were fired inside the casino, Gillingham said.
Tausan and other Hells Angels members resented that Ruiz had not been at the casino to help defend Pettigrew, whom Tausan regarded as his best friend, according to Gillingham.
Ruiz claimed that was not permitted to be there because the Hells Angels had placed him on “probation” from the club, Gillingham said.
Some members were upset after hearing Ruiz had been seen riding Pettigrew’s motorcycle and an informant told authorities he once overheard Ruiz at a party threaten to shoot Tausan, prosecutors said.
At about 12:47 p.m. after the funeral, Ruiz, who had been one of the people to deliver a eulogy for Pettigrew, joined dozens of attendees in the cemetery parking lot.
Gillingham said that some Hells Angels planned to throw Ruiz out of the club then and there and in the video, Tausan is seen beating and kicking Ruiz.
Finally, Ruiz, who is injured, “is laying on the ground when he shoots him,” Gillingham said.
After the shooting, members of the Hells Angles are seen taking away bullet casings and lifting a beer cooler and dumping water from melted ice on top of the blood on the ground to compromise the crime scene, Gillingham said.
The plea deal came as Ruiz faced a potential life sentence if convicted on the murder charge but might have claimed he had acted in self-defense if the case made it before a jury, Gillingham said.
Gillingham praised the San Jose Police Department for obtaining evidence to bolster the case despite the unwillingness of many witnesses with ties to the Hells Angels or its members to cooperate with investigators.