Naming of New Judge Revives Murder Case Against Maniscalco

Times Staff Writer

A new judge has been named in the triple murder case against Thomas Frank Maniscalco, reviving criminal proceedings that had been suspended for more than a year in a fight over the previous judge’s qualifications.

In a hearing Wednesday, Superior Court Judge James R. Franks II was tentatively accepted by attorneys on both sides of the case, pending consultation with a key defense witness whom Franks represented about 20 years ago as a public defender.

A final decision is expected at a second hearing set for next Wednesday. But neither the judge nor the attorneys predicted any problem with the appointment because the judge indicated that he could barely recall the witness, Thomas Pugh, or the old case.

Pugh also figured in a criminal case prosecuted by the previous judge, Theodore E. Millard, when Millard worked as a deputy district attorney. For that reason, defense attorneys moved to disqualify Millard from the Maniscalco case in April, 1987, arguing that Millard could not objectively consider Pugh’s testimony.


Judge Refused Initially

Millard initially refused to disqualify himself. But after months of appeals, the California Supreme Court in March ordered the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana to review the case.

Although prosecutors said they were confident the appellate court would uphold the judge, Millard on April 20 said he was stepping down to expedite the case, which has been in the court system for four years.

Maniscalco, 43, of Westminster, an attorney and Hessian motorcycle gang member, was charged in 1984 with masterminding the 1980 Memorial Day slayings of longtime Hessian gang member Richard (Rabbit) Rizzone, 35; Thomas Monahan, 28, and Rena Arlene Miley, a 19-year-old police officer’s daughter who became Rizzone’s girlfriend shortly before the slayings.


The victims’ bodies were found more than a week after the shootings at a Westminster house Rizzone rented from a doctor. Prosecutors claim Rizzone was the target and that the killings resulted from a dispute over drugs and counterfeit money.

Prosecutors also claim that Maniscalco opened his Westminster home to an assortment of admitted drug dealers and counterfeiters.

Second Hessian Charged

Also charged with the slayings is fellow Hessian member Daniel M. Duffy, 44, who faces separate trial in Orange County Superior Court. Duffy’s trial is pending. The district attorney’s office is seeking the death penalty against both Maniscalco and Duffy.


Pugh, whose conviction for a 1978 double murder was reversed on appeal, figures in the Maniscalco case because police searched for buried bodies in the 1978 murder case at Maniscalco’s Westminster home, where police thought Pugh was living.

During their search, police discovered a cache of weapons and stolen property in Maniscalco’s home. Defense lawyers for Maniscalco want Pugh to testify that he did not live with Maniscalco in order to toss the search warrant out of court.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Brent Romney said Wednesday that, with a new judge, he expects that Maniscalco could stand trial by late summer.

Maniscalco has been held in the Orange County Jail for more than three years without bail. In an interview after the hearing, he expressed frustration at having to wait so long for the issue concerning the judge to be resolved.


“I’ve been forced to languish in the jail,” Maniscalco said. "(But) I feel better that I may get a square judge.”