Car Dealer Found Guilty of Murder : Crime: Jury decides Will Nix orchestrated the gangland-style killing of a former salesman.
A Vista Superior Court jury found the owner of a Pomona car dealership guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy Tuesday in the gangland-style killing of a former salesman.
The jury of eight women and four men took less than 3 1/2 hours to decide that William Wayne Nix had orchestrated a murder-for-hire conspiracy in 1988 to kill Salvatore T. Ruscitti at his Leucadia home.
Ruscitti had filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Nix’s parents, who owned the now-defunct Center City Ford in Kearny Mesa.
“Happiness has been in short supply the last four years. . . . This is as happy as it gets,” a tearful Barbara Ruscitti, the victim’s wife, said after the verdict was read.
During the two-week trial, which included only six days of testimony, Assistant U.S. Atty. Larry Burns depicted an arrogant Nix as vindictively plotting Ruscitti’s murder and later bragging about it to others.
Witnesses testified that Nix gave Paul Gonzalez $10,000 to orchestrate the killing and that Nix had arranged an alibi for himself while the gunman shot down Ruscitti at the doorway of his home on Sept. 17, 1988.
Defense attorney William Fletcher argued that Gonzalez, a mechanic at Nix’s Pomona dealership, arranged the murder on his own to ingratiate himself to Nix, whose extravagant lifestyle included a Lamborghini Countach and expensive gifts he lavished on those close to him.
But jurors felt that Gonzalez, who testified for the prosecution and was battered during the defense’s cross-examination, did not appear to be capable of masterminding the murder.
“The defense basically was that Gonzalez acted alone . . . and there were too many ifs about that,” said one juror, who asked not to be named.
Fletcher, speaking outside the courtroom after the verdict, said the jury came back faster than expected and that he will appeal the decision.
Fletcher also said he would not have changed the defense strategy.
“We were able to elicit the information from the prosecution witnesses that we wanted to, and we felt that the trial, in terms of the evidence that we wanted to get out, went as planned,” Fletcher said.
Nix, whom one juror described as likable, had “felt very strongly about testifying. He believed in his innocence and he wanted to be able to express that to a jury,” Fletcher said.
Gonzalez, who has already pleaded guilty to murder for hire and is awaiting sentencing in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego, recruited his then-18-year-old son, Paul Gonzalez Jr., and Albert Vargas, his son-in-law, to help in the murder.
Also recruited was Jose (Tonto) Miranda, who is accused of being the man who actually fired the Browning 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol with which was shot Ruscitti four times.
Gonzalez Jr. and Vargas, both of whom testified against Nix during the trial, have pleaded guilty to crimes relating to the murder conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing.
While the conviction of Nix, who will be sentenced next month to life in prison without possibility of parole, climaxed the four-year investigation, Miranda is still at large.
“There’s a shooter out there somewhere, and we now turn our attention to him,” Burns said.
Ruscitti’s family members said they, too, feel the case is not over.
“This chapter is over, but the book is still open. Until we get all of them behind bars, we won’t rest,” said Frank Ruscitti, the slain man’s son.
Jurors said no single witness or piece of evidence proved most persuasive but that the preponderance of proof against Nix led to a quick verdict.
“We all wanted him to be innocent. We really wanted to say not guilty,” said another juror, who declined to be named.
During deliberations, the jury voted by secret ballot twice on every issue in the trial, and the first votes on each count were 10 to 2 in favor of finding Nix guilty, although the dissenters never held firm opinions about his innocence, a juror said.
“Because of the severity of the case, everyone maybe felt that they might have overlooked something that would prove Will Nix innocent, and (the two dissenters) just wanted to make sure that they had heard everything,” the juror said.
Nix’s mother, Lula Mae Osborne, and his stepfather, Ralph Osborne, owned Center City Ford during the early 1980s, with Nix as the general manager and Ruscitti working as a salesman.
Nix left San Diego to open his own car dealership in Pomona in 1985, with his natural father, Bill Nix, as a partner. Nix took several salespeople with him when he opened Will Nix Ford, including Ruscitti.
In 1987, Ruscitti filed a lawsuit against Center City Ford for allegedly systematically bilking salespeople out of their commissions. Although the Osbornes had sold the dealership by that time, they would still have been financially liable if the suit had succeeded.
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