A 12-member King County Superior Court jury deliberated 10 ½ hours before returning to the courtroom to pronounce Fortunado “Tony” Dictado, the man accused of ordering the execution-style shooting of two local cannery union reformers, guilty on both counts of aggravated first degree murder.
John Henry Browne, Dictado’s attorney, commented as he left the courtroom, “I’m disappointed.” The short amount of time the jury took to reach a verdict, Browne said, “seems to me that it wasn’t thought out.” Asked if he plans to appeal the decision, he responded, “Sure.”
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Joanne Maida contended that Dictado was the leader of the Filipino gang, Tulisan, and that he ordered two of his “soldiers,” Pompeyo Benito Guloy, Jr. and Jimmy Bulosan Ramil, to execute cannery union reformers Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo last June.
Maida said Viernes, who refused to dispatch Tulisan members to an Alaska cannery for the 1981 season, prevented the gang from setting up profitable high stakes gambling in Alaska, angering Dictado.
The Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes, lauding the jury’s decision, called Dictato’s conviction “an important step toward justice,” but also called for the prosecution of ousted cannery union president Constantine “Tony” Baruso for his alleged role in the murders.
Baruso is the owner of the murder weapon, but he claims the gun was stolen from him. Baruso was toppled from power in a recall election last December.
Last September Guloy and Ramil were convicted of aggravated first degree murder in the shootings and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Viernes and Domingo were elected union officers in 1980, campaigning on a pledge to rid the cannery union—Local 37 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union—of corrupt practices such as bribery in the dispatch procedures.
Viernes and Domingo were also prominent International District community activists and outspoken critics of the martial law regime in the Philippines.
The Dictado trial, which featured over 40 witnesses, lasted almost three weeks, ending last Thursday when the jury returned the relatively swift verdict against the 29-year-old Dictado. The jury, ordered sequestered by Presiding Judge Terrence Carroll, found Dictado guilty the day after closing arguments by Maida and Browne.
Earlier in the trial, Robert San Pablo, a foreman at a Dillingham, Alaska cannery and a key prosecution witness, said Dictado had told him on several occasions that he was going to kill Viernes. San Pablo testified that, last May 26, he witnessed an argument between Dictado and Union Dispatcher Viernes. Viernes angered Dictado by refusing to dispatch Tulisan members to Alaska, San Pablo testified. “Mother, I’m going to get rid of you,” San Pablo quoted Dictado as saying to Viernes in Illocano, a dialect the American-born Viernes did not understand.
San Pablo also said that, on May 31, the day before the shootings, Ramil told him at the Hong Kong Restaurant in the International District that Dictado was going to kill Viernes the next day.
Norman Van Bactor, San Pablo’s immediate supervisor at Dillingam, testified that when the cannery crew was informed of the shootings the day after they occurred, San Pablo, trembling, took Van Bactor aside and said, “My God, my God, it’s true! They told me they would do it, but I didn’t think they would do it.” San Pablo looked like “he had seen a ghost,” Van Bactor said.
Later that same day, Van Bactor testified, he and San Pablo looked over a crew list. Van Bactor said he circled the names of Ramil and Dictado after San Pablo told him, “They did it.” Van Bactor said he put an asterisk by Dictado’s name when San Pablo told him Dictado was the “mastermind.”
However, Browne questioned whether Dictado had a motive for the killings. Under cross-examination by Browne, San Pablo conceded that Dictado and some of his friends believe they were going to Alaska in the second crew.
Brown called defense witness Goven Roy, who worked with San Pablo in Dillingham. Roy charged that San Pablo pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot him because Roy wanted to withdraw from the gambling at the cannery. Roy’s credibility was damaged, however, under cross-examination. Roy denied visiting Dictado in jail, but when Maida confronted him with a jail slip bearing his name he said he couldn’t remember whether he had visited Dictado. Then he finally conceded that he had visited Dictado.
The most prominent defense witness was Dictado himself, taking the stand on May 11 to testify that he did not order or help in any way in the shootings of Domingo and Viernes. He admitted that he had lied at the earlier trail of Ramil and Guloy when he had testified that the two were with him at an International District gambling club when the shootings took place. He lied to protect his family who have been threatened, Dictado said. Dictado said he knows who ordered the killings, but can’t reveal that information because of what might happen to his family.
Dictado, who denied that he was the leader of Tulisan and denied that Tulisan controls gambling in Seattle’s International District, broke into tears near the beginning of his testimony when he told of his three children in the Philippines. He denied threatening Viernes and said he first learned he wasn’t going to be dispatched to Alaska after the shootings had happened.
Interestingly, both Maida and Browne during the trial implicated Baruso in the killings, although Baruso has not yet been charged with any crime. When Baruso was called to the stand by the prosecution, he invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 31 times and refused to answer questions about the murders, similar to what he did in the trail of Ramil and Guloy.
In her final arguments to the jury, Maida said Dictado ordered the killings “at the behest of Baruso,” and that Dictado and Baruso “stood to acquire profits” from the gambling in Alaska. Tulisan shares common “selfish interest” with Baruso, Maida said.
Browne, in an emotional closing arguments, reiterated that his client fears for his family’s safety if he tells what he knows about the killings. The prosecution, Browne charged, had no proof of motive on the part of Dictado. If a motive was proved, it was a motive for Baruso, Browne argued. Brown said he believes Dictado genuinely fears that his family might be killed if he talks. “There is no question that Mr. Baruso is very dangerous,” Browne said.
San Pablo also testified that a Tulisan member told him Baruso was to pay Dictado $5,000 for killing Viernes.