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Execution set for ex-cop who became notorious serial killer

In this 1988 photo, former Sweetwater cop Manuel Pardo listens as his sentence is read. He was found guilty on nine counts of murder. His execution is set for Tuesday.
In this 1988 photo, former Sweetwater cop Manuel Pardo listens as his sentence is read. He was found guilty on nine counts of murder. His execution is set for Tuesday.
Published Dec. 10, 2012

For each of the nine people he shot and killed in rip-offs, ex-Sweetwater cop Manuel Pardo did not shy away from the ultimate punishment.

"What I'm begging you to do is let me have a glorious ending and not condemn me to a state institution for the rest of my life," he told jurors in an extraordinary sentencing in 1988.

"I'm not a criminal. I'm a soldier. As a soldier, I ask to be given the death penalty. I accomplished my mission."

Twenty-four years later, Pardo is to get his wish.

On Tuesday, he is set to die by lethal injection at Florida State Prison in Starke, barring any last-minute appeals.

Even among Miami's notorious crime lore, Pardo's case remains an anomaly: He was a military veteran turned cop turned serial killer who meticulously kept news clippings of each of his murders.

"I don't know if it's because he was in law enforcement that made it such a nasty, chilling case, but I spent over 19 years in homicide and this one always sticks out," said retired Hialeah Detective John Allickson, part of the team that investigated Pardo. "In sitting there, talking to him, he was Ted Bundy-esque."

His lawyers have nevertheless fought for decades to keep him alive.

Among their latest claims: The state has refused to give over enough public records relating to the lethal injection method and the manner of execution is "cruel and unusual punishment."

Last week, however, the Florida Supreme Court sided with a Miami-Dade judge, rejecting Pardo's appeals and saying his claim about lethal injection is based on "pure speculation and conjecture."

Lawyers are appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court and another hearing is scheduled Monday in front of a Jacksonville federal judge. Lawyer William McKinley Hennis III said Pardo, 56, has also long suffered from a thyroid disorder that ravaged his mind and body.

"He's never been allowed to put on an expert about hyper thyroidism and the impact it had on his crimes and his competency at trial," Hennis said Friday.

Born and raised in New York, Pardo's outlook looked bright.

He joined the Navy and won honors for good conduct and sharpshooting. He was honorably discharged in February 1978. After a short stint as a bank clerk, he was accepted into the Florida Highway Patrol academy, where he earned class valedictorian. He later earned two college degrees.

But trouble brewed. He resigned in January 1980 from FHP while under investigation for writing bogus traffic tickets. When he joined Sweetwater Police, superiors lauded him for his work, which included resuscitating an infant who had stopped breathing.

Then in January 1985, Pardo flew to the Bahamas to testify on behalf of a former Sweetwater cop on trial for drug smuggling. Pardo claimed, falsely, that he was a drug agent working with the accused. The lie got him fired from the department.

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Soon, Pardo began committing rip-offs with Rolando Garcia, a laborer he met through his brother-in-law.

Prosecutors said Pardo and Garcia's first victims were Mario Amador, 33, a civil engineer who sold dope on the side, and Roberto Alfonso, 28, a parking lot attendant.

During a January 1986 deal in Northwest Miami-Dade to buy several kilos of cocaine, Pardo ordered the men to the ground, then pumped bullets into each of their heads.

Later that month, Pardo fatally shot a Haitian gunsmith, Michael Millot, who was an anti-Duvalier activist. Pardo said he believed Millot, 43, was a federal informant trying to set him up for an arrest.

The hit took place in Pardo's wife's Honda, which police discovered later had been cleaned of blood and reupholstered.

In February 1986, Pardo shot and killed Ulpiano Ledo, 39, a welder and Santeria priest, and Luis Robledo, 37, during a robbery in a West Miami-Dade apartment.

Cops said Garcia used Robledo's credit cards to a buy a videocassette recorder, a car radio and speakers.

Two months later, Pardo shot and killed Sara Musa, 30, and Fara Quintero, 28, who had gotten into an argument with the men about a $50 pawned ring.

Pardo believed Quintero had marked him for death by dialing 8s on a pager, a sign of death in the Santeria religion. So he killed them.

The final victims were Daisy Ricard, 38, a medical lab owner, and boyfriend Ramon Alvero Cruz, 40.

Pardo targeted Cruz for twice failing to show up to a drug deal. Detectives believe Ricard was innocent, killed because she was with Cruz.

Ricard's body was found in a Hialeah field that April. The next day, construction workers found Cruz's body in the trunk of an Oldsmobile — and Pardo's fingerprint was on the corpse's watch.

The physical evidence against Pardo was overwhelming, said retired senior prosecutor David Waksman, who tried the case with Sally Weintraub.

Scared he too was marked for death, a pal of Garcia's came forward to tell police about photos of the murder victims the men showed off to him. And when detectives searched his house, they found disturbing Nazi memorabilia — including Pardo's dog, who had a swastika tattoo on his leg.

They also found a credit card belonging to one victim, and a date book that included news clippings of the murders and references to the victims.

Detectives also discovered that Pardo, during the last two homicides, had accidentally gotten shot by one of the murder weapons. They retraced Pardo's flight to New York City, where he claimed to be an out-of-town cop, who checked into a hospital because he had gotten shot.

Waksman, the prosecutor, and the lead detective flew to New York and recovered the bullet still in police evidence there.

After his arrest, Pardo bragged to a fellow inmate that police missed three more murders in Homestead. He was never charged with additional killings.

At trial, Pardo admitted to the crimes but asked to be acquitted because he was insane and couldn't tell the difference between right and wrong. Jurors rejected the claim quickly, and Circuit Judge Phillip Knight sentenced him to death for each of the nine murders.

Afterward, Pardo held a press conference at the Dade County Jail, likening himself to "martyrs" such as John F. Kennedy Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr. He also appeared on television news show Hard Copy, an interview Waksman used for years while teaching about the insanity defense.

"He was very cold," Waksman said. "He was doing robberies and went home and slept like a baby. He was proud of what he did."