Manny Pardo was not insane. Not in the legal sense. No court ever embraced his flimsy not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity ploy.
But he was surely crazed in the way a disgraceful number of South Florida policemen were afflicted in the 1980s, by all the kilos of cocaine, by so many bundles of illicit cash, by the ostentatious lifestyles of traffickers living so well in plain sight.
The temptations sent Pardo on a horrific homicidal spree in 1985 and 1986, ripping off and murdering drug dealers and eliminating the occasional witness. After the Florida Supreme Court denied his last futile appeal of his nine murder convictions last week, Manuel Pardo Jr., 56, has an appointment at the death chamber in Starke on Tuesday morning.
He’ll be remembered as an unrepentant and vain glorious serial killer, the Navy vet, boy scout leader, onetime Florida State trooper of the month and former detective sergeant with the Sweetwater police force who styled himself as a kind of homicidal crusader for justice. “Instead of nine," he testified at his 1988 trial, “I wish I could have been up here for ninety-nine."
He told the jury, “l enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoyed shooting them. They’re parasites and they’re leeches, and they have no right to be alive. Somebody had to kill these people.”
“I sent their souls to the eternal fires of damnation of hell for the misery they caused.”
His was a rather self-serving crusade. Pardo profited nicely from the drugs and money and guns he stole from his victims, back when drug dealer rip-offs by cops were epidemic in South Florida. The year before, a police officer named Richard Caride led a gang of Hialeah cops on a series of home invasions, going after dealers and their stashes of coke and cash and executing at least two of their victims. Caride, at the time of his arrest, owned a Corvette, Jaguar, Lincoln Continental and two Porsches.
(Caride, rather than trying something like Pardo’s vigilante insanity defense, simply flipped on his accomplices, served a short stint in prison and was able to “rehabilitate” himself right back into a nice managerial job at Miami International Airport, where he was implicated in 2004 in a $5 million scheme to steal jet fuel from the airport depot.)
Also in 1985, the notorious Miami River Cops scandal stunned South Florida. About 100 policemen were arrested, fired, suspended, or reprimanded after making millions stealing money and drugs from traffickers and re-selling the cocaine. In July 1985, three men who had been off-loading kilos from a drug boat jumped into the river and drowned after the gang of rogue cops surprised them. Twenty policemen were convicted in the scandal.
None of these other outlaw cops were as ruthless as Pardo.
His ethos was described nicely in a 1989 brief filed by the state attorney general’s office to fend off an appeal. The brief describes how the former Sweetwater cop and a partner went to the residence of Mario Amador, “ostensibly to purchase two kilograms of cocaine from Amador.”
It reads like a crime novel. “Rather than pay good American dollars for the two kilos, the defendant and co-defendant elected to murder Mario Amador and steal the cocaine. They arrived at his residence with the defendant carrying a briefcase containing not cash, but rather a .22 cal. semi-automatic, silencer equipped pistol.
“While Mario Amador was busy with the cocaine, the defendant pulled his pistol and shot both Amador and Amador’s partner, Roberto Alfonso, numerous times in the head and torso.”
Then Pardo and his partner went after an infamous local drug boss, Ramon Alvero Cruz, known as “El Negro.”
“It seems that Alvero had not come through on two big cocaine deals that the defendant had been counting on. Alvero had been avoiding the defendant, a reasonable strategy all things considered, but on April 23rd Alvero’s luck ran out, as did that of his girlfriend Daisy Ricard, who fulfilled the "wrong place at the wrong time" profile to a T.“The defendant and co-defendant managed to find Alvero and Ricard and drove them to an isolated spot. The defendant then shot Alvero numerous times with his .22 Ruger and then shot Daisy Ricard once before his gun jammed again. He unjammed it by smashing it against her skull, and meanwhile managed to shoot himself in the foot.”
The attorney general’s brief might have read like pulp fiction, but real life in 1980s South Florida could seem like pulp fiction.
The insanity ploy, dreamed up two years after his arrest, was hardly credible, though it kept him away from the execution chamber all these years. In interviews after his arrest, Pardo’s parents and sister offered the Herald heart-felt remembrances of the guy, never suggesting that he might have been a lunatic.
His lawyers would later claim that his self-incriminating testimony was evidence of his insanity. The attorney general’s office would have none of it. “The fact that the defendant wanted to press full speed ahead with his "I’m a soldier" Kamikaze routine, despite counsel’s advice that it would damage his case, is not evidence of incompetency. Rather, it is indicative of a strong-willed individual who knows full well his goose is cooked, and who thus has nothing to lose by continuing with his grandstand charade.”
Pardo was just another corrupt cop in a time of rampant police corruption. He had been fired from his job as a state trooper in 1980 for falsifying 100 traffic summons. During his tenure with the Sweetwater Police Department , he fended off police brutality charges. He was fired from the Sweetwater PD in 1985 after flying to the Bahamas and inventing a wild tale on behalf of a fellow Sweetwater policeman held there on drug charges. Pardo claimed he and this fellow cop were working as international undercover law enforcement agents.
Once he was busted for the drug murders, Pardo had no other real legal defense left but insanity. The evidence of his guilt was too overwhelming. Police found the murder weapons at his apartment (along with his collection of Nazi memorabilia.) And he had kept a diary of his murder appointments, along with newspaper clippings describing the killings.
His feigned insanity was further undermined in 1995, when he became known as the “death row Romeo.” Pardo was placing lonely-heart ads in tabloid newspapers and composing torrid letters to women, his “true loves,” who answered them. He conned at least 26 women out of $3,530.08.
On April 20, 1988, at his sentencing hearing, the disgraced cop ranted, “I’m not a criminal. I’m a soldier. As a soldier, I ask to be given the death penalty. . . . I accomplished my mission, and I hope you will give me the glory to at least end my days in a proper fashion.
“Let me have a glorious end,” he demanded.
His inglorious end has been a long time coming. It took the courts nearly a quarter of a century to determine that although this cop-turned-killer may have been swept up in the corrupting madness of South Florida’s drug era, Manuel Pardo wasn’t insane. He was just another cop from those crazy times who had gone bad. Very bad.