STARKE, Fla. – A former police officer who murdered nine people during a 1986 crime spree was executed Tuesday after his attorneys' last-minute appeals were rejected.
Manuel Pardo, 56, was pronounced dead at Florida State Prison at 7:47 p.m., about 16 minutes after the lethal injection process began. His attorneys had tried to block the execution by arguing that he was mentally ill, but federal courts declined to intercede.
Reporters could not hear his final statement because of an apparent malfunction in the death chamber's sound system. A white sheet had been pulled up to his chin and IV lines ran into his left arm. He blinked several times, his eyes moved back and forth and he took several deep breaths. Over the next several minutes the color drained from his face before he was pronounced dead.
Prison officials said his final words were, "Airborne forever. I love you, Michi baby," referring to his daughter.
Pardo also wrote a final statement that was distributed to the media, in which he claimed that he never killed any women, but "accepted full responsibility for killing six men.
"I never harmed those 3 women or any female. I took the blame as I knew I was doomed and it made no difference to me, at this time, having 6 or 9 death sentences," he wrote on Dec. 11, hours before his execution. "I don't want this hanging over my head, especially these last few minutes of life, because my war was against men who were trafficing (sic) in narcotics and no one else!"
Officials said most of Pardo's victims were involved with drugs. Pardo contended that he was doing the world a favor by killing them over three-month period in early 1986.
"I am a soldier, I accomplished my mission and I humbly ask you to give me the glory of ending my life and not send me to spend the rest of my days in state prison," Pardo told jurors at his 1988 trial.
Frank Judd, the nephew of victim Fara Quintero read a statement following the execution, which was witnessed by fewer than 10 family members of the victims.
Judd thanked the state of Florida for bringing closure to his family and said the pain he and his relatives feel about the murder of Quintero "continues to this day."
"Personally, I don't feel that what happened today was enough justice," he said, adding that Pardo was a "disturbed soul."
Pardo's final letter apologized to his family for the "pain and grief" he caused.
"You all are so loving and wonderful, not deserving of this nightmare," he wrote. He asked his family to please not suffer and to "be strong." He mentioned his daughter Michi in the written statement.
"Remember Michi you are Airborne and hardcore...No tears!" he wrote.
Pardo also touched on his love of sports, devoting one of three paragraphs in his letter to baseball, soccer and bullfighting.
"On a lighter note, as a New Yorker and loyal fan, I was happy to see my Yankees and Giants win so many championships during my lifetime," Pardo wrote.
He said it was a lifelong dream to see Spain win the World Cup and urged the Spanish government to never stop bullfights because they are "a part of our culture and heritage."
"And if they do, I'm glad I won't be alive to see such a travesty!"
Ann Howard, a spokeswoman for Florida's Department of Corrections, said that Pardo visited with eight people Tuesday. He also met with the prison chaplain and a Roman Catholic bishop.
Pardo ate a last meal of rice, red beans, roasted pork, plantains, avocado, tomatoes and olive oil. For dessert, he ate pumpkin pie and drank egg nog and Cuban Coffee. Under Department of Corrections rules, the meal's ingredients have to cost $40 or less, be available locally and made in the prison kitchen.
Pardo was dubbed the "Death Row Romeo" after he corresponded with dozens of women and persuaded many to send him money.
The former Boy Scout and Navy veteran began his law enforcement career in the 1970s with the Florida Highway Patrol, graduating at the top of his class at the academy. But he was fired from that agency in 1979 for falsifying traffic tickets. He was soon hired by the police department in Sweetwater, a small city in Miami-Dade County.
In 1981, Pardo was one of four Sweetwater officers charged with brutality, but the cases were dismissed.
He was fired four years later after he flew to the Bahamas to testify at the trial of a Sweetwater colleague who was accused of drug smuggling. Pardo lied, telling the court they were international undercover agents.
Then over a 92-day period in early 1986, Pardo committed a series of robberies, killing six men and three women. He took photos of the victims and recounted some details in his diary, which was found along with newspaper clippings about the murders. Pardo was linked to the killings after using credit cards stolen from the victims.