Baruso Guilty Of One Murder -- Former Union Leader's Term Means He Must Serve Life Without Parole

In an unusual decision, a King County Superior Court jury yesterday convicted former union president Constantine ``Tony'' Baruso of plotting the 1981 murder of a fellow union official but acquitted him in the slaying of another.

After 25 hours of deliberation, the jury found the 63-year-old Tacoma man guilty of aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Gene Viernes. It acquitted him a similar charge in the death of Silme Domingo.

Viernes and Domingo, both of Seattle, were leaders in the Alaska Cannery Workers Union when they were shot in their office in Pioneer Square June 1, 1981.

Baruso was union president and a well-respected leader in Seattle's Filipino-American community.

The jurors rejected the prosecution's contention that Baruso ordered the slayings as part of an international political conspiracy tied to the late Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.

The result is, nonetheless, the same. Even on the one conviction of aggravated first-degree murder, Baruso will serve life in prison without possibility of parole.

``Justice has been done and we're happy with the verdict,'' Cindy Domingo, Silme's sister said. ``We still think the intent was to kill Gene and Silme.''

Baruso displayed no emotion during the verdict. He said nothing as he was led away in handcuffs.

Deputy senior prosecutors Kathy Goater and Rebecca Roe hugged each other. ``We're thrilled that he's finally being held responsible,'' Goater said.

But defense attorney Robert Leen said Baruso plans to appeal. ``It was a very strange verdict,'' he said. ``There were so many extraneous factors and conflicting theories'' from the prosecution.

In the eyes of the jury, Leen said, Baruso was probably tainted - regardless of whether international politics was a factor - because he was a supporter of Marcos, who imposed martial law in the Philippines.

Three members of a Filipino gang called Tulisan were convicted of the slayings within 18 months. But the victims' families and others in the Filipino-American community have spent the past decade contending Baruso was involved.

Police arrested Baruso within a few weeks of the murders, after his .45 caliber gun was discovered in a trash bin and identified as the murder weapon. But not until September of last year - after the victims' families won a civil lawsuit against Baruso, a San Francisco physician and Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in federal court - was he charged.

Prosecutors Roe and Goater argued that Viernes and Domingo became targets when they undercut Baruso's ``iron fist'' power in the union and became formidable opponents of Marcos' dictatorial rule in the Philippines.

Viernes, the union dispatcher, and Domingo, secretary-treasurer, sought to end corruption and favoritism controlled by Baruso, prosecutors said. They contended he was taking bribes for job assignments in Alaska.

What prosecutors - and presumably the jury - focused on was the most solid piece of evidence: the murder weapon. Describing Baruso as a man who would lie to protect himself, Roe said he never reported the gun lost or stolen prior to the shootings.

The prosecution's most solid witness, Goater said yesterday, was Robert San Pablo. During testimony, the former cannery foreman said one of the killers told him Baruso had paid $5,000 for the hit, and that Viernes was the real target. Domingo also was killed because he was a witness.

Viernes had thwarted efforts by gang members to control gambling operations in Alaska by shutting out their influence in union job assignments, prosecutors argued.

Throughout the trial, Leen and co-counsel Anthony Savage sought to show the prosecutors had a case based on two weak and inconsistent theories for the motive. The murders resulted from a local gang's efforts to protect gambling in Alaska and had nothing to do with Baruso, they argued.

Savage, in his closing arguments, contended Domingo and Viernes posed no threat to Marcos.

``This was a down-in-the-dirt . . . ragtag, insignificant, minor- league local,'' Savage said. ``Is it reasonable that the wrath of that man (Marcos) on June 1, 1981, came down on the dispatcher and secretary-treasurer of the local?''

Baruso did not testify.