3 to Face Death Penalty in Murder-for-Hire Trial


Federal charges were dismissed Monday against three Upland men allegedly allegedly involved in a Leucadia murder-for-hire scheme, so that prosecutors can seek the death penalty against them in state court.

William Wayne Nix Jr., Rock (Rocky) Timothy Holton and Steven Vernon Gates were indicted Friday by the San Diego County Grand Jury, which charged them with conspiracy and murder.

Prosecutors in the case said in court Monday that they will seek the death penalty.


Assistant U.S. Atty. Larry Burns, who will act as a special deputy district attorney in the state court case, said the federal indictment was dismissed because it is a state murder case, but the death penalty “was the overriding factor.”

Nix allegedly arranged for the execution-style murder of Salvatore Ruscitti, a Leucadia car salesman who was shot four times in the face and chest Sept. 17, 1988, after he answered the door at his house.

Ruscitti, 58, had filed a multimillion-dollar class-action lawsuit against Nix’s mother and stepfather, the former owners of Kearny Mesa Ford. The suit, which is still pending, charges Empire Motors Inc., the former corporate owner of the Ford dealership, with cheating salespeople out of commissions.

The three will be arraigned Nov. 26, at which time Burns said he will move to shift the proceedings to the San Diego County Courthouse in Vista. The three are now in federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego.

Three other defendants in the case--Paul A. Gonzalez, his son, Paul Jr., and Albert Vargas--are expected to plead guilty to undisclosed charges in federal court Monday.

A seventh defendant named in the county indictment--Jose Miranda, who prosecutors say was the triggerman, remains at large.