Two men accused of being the middlemen in a plot to murder Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes were found liable for the killings and ordered to pay $8.04 million to the victims’ families.
In a strongly worded verdict issued earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled that former Alaska Cannery Workers Union president Constantine “Tony” Baruso and San Francisco physician Leonilo Malalbed were key members of a conspiracy that led to the shooting deaths of Domingo and Viernes on June 1, 1981. Both of the victims were cannery union officials and well-known members of the anti-Marcos movement in the United States.
Last month, a jury found Imelda Marcos and the estate of Ferdinand Marcos liable for the crime and awarded damages of more than $15 million. Baruso and Malabed had waived their right to a jury trial.
Plaintiffs in the landmark civil trial hope Rothstein’s decision will bolster their attempts to prosecute Baruso in criminal court, said Cindy Domingo, Silme’s sister. King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng has agreed to review the case and make a decision by early March whether to charge Baruso for the murders, she said.
Rothstein written judgment left little doubt as to Baruso’s role.
‘’Plaintiffs presented overwhelming evidence regarding Baruso’s involvement in the murders’ she wrote. Baruso, however, offered almost nothing to contradict this evidence.”
She characterized his testimony in court as “evasive and wholly unbelievable” and “utterly implausible.”She cited four pieces of evidence that linked Baruso directly to the murders: his promise to pay $5,000 to the killers; his ownership of the murder weapon; his meeting on the day before the murders with Tony Dictado, one of the convicted killers; his conversation soon after the shootings with Ade Domingo, Silme’s mother, in which he asked her whether Silme was alive and talking.
Rothstein was equally scathing in her judgment of Malabed, who allegedly ran an intelligence slush fund under the cover of the Mabuhay Corporation for his friend Ferdinand Marcos. “Malabed vacillated between a total lack of memory and outright fabrication,” Rothstein wrote. “Rather than appearing at trial to clarify these matters [his testimony took the form of several depositions], Malabed presented the testimony of … witnesses whose testimony the court singularly unbelievable.”
Rothstein also concluded that both Baruso and Malabed were part of a Philippines intelligence network set up to harass, intimidate and silence U.S. opponents of the Marcos regime.
‘The court concludes that plaintiffs have provided clear, cogent and convincing evidence that the Marcos created and controlled an intelligence operation which plotted the murders of Domingo and Viernes and that Mabuhay funds were paid to Baruso and used to perpetuate the murders.”
She awarded $6.7 million to the family of Silme Domingo and 1.7 million the Viernes family.
In other trial news, Marcos attorney Richard Hibey has officially filed an appeal to the recent jury decision against his clients. Michael Withey and the Domingo-Viernes legal team are investigating plaintiffs’ chances of recovering damage awards from the Marcos estate.