A Prosecutor Looks Back on a Florida Serial Killer

Biblical literature suggests God rebuked the angels who started singing as Pharaoh and his army were drowning in the Red Sea.  They were celebrating the liberation of the Israelites who had just crossed into the Sinai.

 “Those are my children drowning in the sea. Do not be so happy.”

Even the lawful execution of a vicious serial killer is not a happy event.  But at times, it is something our justice system needs.

Manny Pardo served in the Navy for four years, was honorably discharged, and then joined the Florida Highway Patrol.  While a police officer, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves.  He later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  Manny could have gone far and made a great contribution to our profession.  So why was he executed on Florida’s Death Row on December 11, 2012?

He served with the state police less than two years, before resigning, while under investigation for falsifying traffic tickets.  Soon thereafter, he joined the Sweetwater, Florida Police Department, a small municipality a few miles west of Miami International Airport. A former Sweetwater officer was arrested in the Bahamas during a drug deal.  Manny went there, claiming to be a federal undercover agent and testified on his behalf.  That got him fired in 1985.  The murders began in January, 1986.

His lawyers argued he was insane, but that is not the answer.  While mental health issues are not easily determined, they are based upon the subject’s statements, actions, and history.  Pardo’s history was devoid off all the bizarre behavior traditionally seen in the truly sick.

He had no school problems or anti-personality issues in the community, such as stealing, fighting or difficulty getting along with others.  As a younger man, when these illness first surface, there were no hospital commitments or outpatient mental health treatments.  There was no history of sexual abuse, often claimed (but doubtful) to be a precursor of later socially unacceptable conduct.

By looking to his actions and statements, the law will only excuse criminal behavior on insanity grounds, if:

“The defendant has a mental infirmity, disease, or defect, and because of this condition,

a) Did not know what he was doing, or its consequences,

b) Or if he knew what he was doing, or its consequences, did not know it was wrong.”

That definition comes from an early British case known as M’Naghten’s Rule.  Much of the English speaking world and almost all of the American states follow this rule.

The M’Naghten rules were a reaction to the 1843 acquittal in of Daniel M’Naghten on the charge of murdering Edward Drummond, whom M’Naghten had mistaken for British Prime Minister Robert Peel.

Translating that to simple English, if the defendant cannot distinguish between right and wrong, or understand the nature and consequences of his conduct, and that inability is based upon a major mental illness, usually a psychosis, then he has not committed a crime; there is no intent or mens rea.

The jury is instructed to find him Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (called an NGI).  The court then holds additional hearings.  If it appears that the defendant is a danger to himself or others, he may be committed to a state institution for treatment.

I have often argued to juries that if the defendant truly thought he was squeezing an orange, but in reality it was his wife’s neck, then he was not guilty, as there was no intent to kill.  But rage, poor judgment and loss of temper, even ungovernable anger is no excuse.  Pardo’s reasons for his actions were even worse; he was killing people he determined had no right to live because they had a lifestyle he despised.  And that is only if you believe him!

By looking to the defendant’s actions during the murders, the answer to the above issues becomes clear.  Nine people were shot numerous times with a silenced .22 caliber pistol.  He then stole their drugs, wallets, and money.

More pistols were purchased with the stolen identification.  The victims’ credit cards were used to purchase property, which was later sold. Two of the women killed were not involved in the drug trade.  Their job was to run up the credit cards.  A dispute over the money was the reason they were killed.

The truly sick, who are doing as commanded by the voices they hear in their heads, or by whom they claim is God or the devil, will do their acts in public and announce proudly that they have acted as ordered.  A silencer will not be used.  Fleeing home afterward would not be necessary. There would be no stealing of their property.

“The really insane person, actually believing he is carrying out those commands, who actually hears and believes the voices, would commit the killings on the 50 yard line of the Orange Bowl, and be proud of it,” I have told juries.

But Pardo heard no voices.  There is no evidence he did not know it was wrong to steal and kill.  As a matter of fact, he told his jury that, as a good cop, he knew that murder was the “unlawful killing of a human being.”  So why did he kill them?  ‘They’re not human, so I am not guilty of murder. They are parasites and leaches, they have no right to be alive,” he proudly told the jury.

Another way to determine the defendant’s mental status is to review his words.  “Selling drugs is bad, killing dope dealers is good,” he also told his jury.  Good and bad, right and wrong, Pardo had no trouble understanding the difference.  “If you don’t agree with what I am doing, send me to the electric chair, I don’t care.”

Does that answer the question of knowing the nature and consequences of your actions?  When the original search warrant was served at his apartment, the first thing Manny told the cops was, “I want to call my lawyer.”  Does he know the consequences of his actions?  Does he realize he has done something wrong?

Pardo portrayed himself as a vigilante, cleaning up the community, something that the criminal justice system failed at.  Referring the federal prisons as places where dopers go “to play racquetball, that is not punishment.”  He told of things he saw as a LEO that sickened him.  People dying of overdoses, “and what happened?  The people responsible were just let go?  Someone had to do something and I did.  I wish I were up here for 99, but 9 is a substantial number.”

After the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts, Pardo took the witness stand at the Penalty Phase and asked for a favor. “Do not condemn me to a state institution, that is for criminals.  .I am a soldier, I have accomplished my mission,  Give me the glory to end my days in a proper fashion.  I want the death penalty, that is what I am asking for.”

While I have tried almost 200 jury trials, in only 3 or 4 has the defense raised the issue of insanity.  Why?  It is a high burden for a defendant to prove.  If the defendant did not know what he was doing, or that it was wrong, why did he point the gun at the convenience store clerk and demand money?  Why did he shoot him in the chest?  Those are difficult facts to get around.

One of my defendants raped two young girls at gunpoint in the backyard of a church.  Even though he was found to be “incompetent for trial,” a different concept focusing in on one’s present ability to understand and participate in trial procedures, I couldn’t wait for his return from the state hospital (which took over 4 years).  His claim of insanity (at the time of the offense–as opposed to current disabilities–possibly based on street drug usage or the stress of the arrest) would never fly.

He told one girl, before he shot her in the leg, he was afraid she would recognize him in court due to his gold tooth.  Why was he going to court?  He then tossed the gun under a hedge and ran, when a passing patrol car drove by.  The shrinks will dance around the running, but the juries love it.  I forgot his name, but not that he is doing 6 99-year sentences, one after the other.

I looked forward to asking the defense expert, and later the jury, “If the defendant did not know what he was doing, why didn’t he point the gun at himself, and order the clerk to eat a banana?  Why were there bullets in the gun, as opposed to cherry pits?”  And finally the biggie, “Why did he run when the cops came?  Did you folks run from the courtroom when Officer Jones came in the other day?”

Many defendants, later trying to claim an insanity defense, were tripped up by asking the investigating detective,

“Do you think I’ll get the chair for this?” or “Maybe I should talk to a lawyer first.”

The most important question you can ask a subject who is talking trash, is where does he think he is going after the interview.  If he says “Disneyland,” we may have a problem, but most tell us they are going to jail and ask for another hamburger and fries.

One killer told us he wanted another pizza, as where he was going that was something he would never see again!  If you can get from him the fact that he understands the consequences of his actions (jail, as he has done something wrong), his later babblings to the courthouse shrinks are meaningless.

Assuming Pardo was telling the truth when he explained his reasons, and there was considerable evidence to refute his vigilante theory, why were there no bananas?  What there was were spent .22 caliber projectiles in a phone book in his closet that came from the same guns used in the murders.

Another projectile, removed from Pardo’s foot at a New York hospital also came from those guns.  Our informant told us Pardo used to practice the silencer’s usage at home.  His armorer was victim number three. Not the salt of the earth but not a doper. Even Manny, and his very experienced attorney, were running out of defenses.   When all else fails, “OK, I did it, but…”

Police found a black calendar during the search of his apartment.  Live witnesses can forget things, or speculate, be mistaken or even outright lie.  They may be biased, but physical evidence has no such imperfections.  On the date of each homicide (there were 5 murders– 4 doubles and a single) a newspaper article announcing the finding of one or more dead bodies at a certain location, was taped on that date’s page, along with Manny’s appointment with that person at a set time.  Also on that page was a running money and body count.

The last page listed the serial numbers of all the .22s he used. A great detective called all the gun manufacturers until he found one that used that numbering system.  The guns were sold in a shop near Pardo’s home.  They were paid for with a dead man’s credit cards and identification.

His co-defendant’s fingerprints were found on all the gun store’s paperwork for those guns. Scheduled for a week later, in that same calendar book, was Pardo’s appointment with small Broward County police agency for an oral interview.  Guess who wanted to be a cop again?

David M. Waksman, J.D., is a nationally known former homicide prosecutor with vast experience in trying violent offenders and a former sergeant with the NYPD. He served for 35 years with of the Miami-Dade (Fla.) State Attorney’s Office, primarily in the Major Crimes Division. He teaches Case Preparation and Courtroom Presentation, Police Involved Shootings, Injury and Death Investigation and Criminal Law at the Miami Dade College School of Justice, In-Service Training Unit and at various police departments in South Florida.  His specialty is Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues. He has tried almost 200 jury trials, including 79 for first-degree murder. He is the author of the Search and Seizure Handbook, 3/ed.  It was cited by the United States Supreme Court in Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586 (2006), available from Prentice Hall. He can be reached at [email protected] or thru LET.