Nix: Worker Planned Hit on His Own : Slaying: The former car dealership owner is accused of hiring two men to kill a former employee who was suing his parents.
In his first full day of testimony in his own defense, William Wayne Nix on Thursday denied hiring hit men to kill a former car salesman who worked for him and repeatedly failed to recall or contradicted incriminating conversations testified to by previous witnesses.
Nix stands accused of giving Paul Gonzalez, one of his employees at his Pomona car dealership, $10,000 to pay others to kill Sal Ruscitti in a gangland-style shooting at Ruscitti’s Leucadia home.
Nix allegedly wanted to have Ruscitti killed because he was a leading plaintiff in a 1986 lawsuit claiming that sales staffers of a Kearny Mesa car dealership had been systematically bilked out of commissions by Nix’s parents.
But, in Thursday’s testimony in the Vista Superior Court of Judge J. Morgan Lester, Nix said Paul Gonzalez arranged the killing on his own volition, without any prodding from Nix. When Gonzalez told Nix the day after the murder of Ruscitti on Sept. 17, 1988, Nix testified that he was “dumbfounded.”
“He said, ‘I took care of that salesman, Sal, the one who was bothering you and your folks,’ ” Nix testified.
“I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said ‘Yeah, he’s a dead man,’ ” Nix said.
Two days later, Gonzalez went into Nix’s office to ask for a promotion in exchange for the murder, Nix said.
“He came in and said, ‘Hey, amigo. I took care of your problem for you, when do I get to take over the body shop?’ ” Nix said. At the time, Gonzalez was one of several employees in the Will Nix Ford’s body shop.
When Nix refused to give him the promotion, Gonzalez threatened him, saying, “If I’m ever arrested or picked up in any way, you’ll be alive long enough to bury your father and two children,” Nix testified.
Last November, Gonzalez pleaded guilty to one count of murder for hire and another of using a firearm during a crime of violence. Although federal sentencing guidelines demand that he be put in prison for life without parole, he could receive leniency for his testimony in the Nix case.
But, under cross-examination from Assistant U.S. Atty. Larry Burns, Nix said that, as far as he knew, Gonzalez did not know Ruscitti and did not have access to Ruscitti’s employment records to find his address in Leucadia.
Also under cross-examination, Nix said Gonzalez had never expressed ill will toward Ruscitti and never mentioned his name to Nix before the murder.
He also never talked to Gonzalez about the lawsuit between Ruscitti and his parents or to what degree it bothered his parents, Nix testified.
Even though Gonzalez threatened Nix’s family, Nix did not tell the police, nor did he tell his father, Bill Nix, about the incident when, a month later, Bill Nix fired Gonzalez, Nix said.
Nix continued to stay in touch with Gonzalez and, two years after the murder, he rehired Gonzalez before selling the dealership, Nix testified.
Nix also denied having ever bragged about having arranged Ruscitti’s killing, as two of his most trusted co-workers, Steve Gates and James Walczak, had testified last week.
As part of a plea bargain, Gates agreed to plead guilty to being an accessory to murder after the crime and could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison. Previously, he had been a co-defendant with Nix and could have received a life sentence if convicted.
In a Dec. 12, 1990 telephone conversation between Walczak and Nix, in which the FBI wired Walczak to record the conversation, Nix indicated that he knew the details of the murder.
“I’m sure he’s got his tracks covered, whoever did it,” Nix said, according to the transcript of the conversation.
“OK. But, ah, so that’s, that’s safe over the border, right?” Walczak said.
“Yeah, that’s where he is,” Nix said.
At times during his daylong testimony, Nix appeared confused and rattled by Burns’ questioning, having to be reminded of testimony that he had given earlier in the day.
During one round of questioning, Nix was asked whether a taped conversation between his mother and himself contained reference to $80,000 he had spent in attorney’s fees.
“If you say it’s there, I believe you,” Nix told Burns.
“All right, I say it’s there,” Burns said.
“I believe you,” Nix said.
Nix’s testimony continues and is likely to conclude today.
Nix is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego.
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