SANTA ANA — A 36-year-old former member of a motorcycle gang testified Wednesday that he was so frightened after watching Thomas F. Maniscalco and a small band of killers leave three people dead in a Westminster home in 1980 that he hid for a year for fear he would be next.
Robert Robbins, a bearded former member of The Family motorcycle gang in Michigan, was the leadoff witness at Maniscalco's murder trial in the Memorial Day triple slaying.
Cross-examination is to begin today and could keep Robbins on the witness stand at least two more days.
Robbins--who has changed his name and relocated with government help--told jurors that another motorcyclist named "Little Phil" Warren was the actual killer of two young men and a young woman. But it was Maniscalco, a founder of the Hessian motorcycle gang and a defense lawyer, who was in charge, Robbins said.
Since his arrest nearly six years ago, Maniscalco, 44, has gained notoriety as a lawyer for other inmates and a leading protester of conditions in Orange County Jail. He contends that he has been a target of prosecutors for years because of his defense work for other Hessian bikers in their court cases.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard M. King contends that Maniscalco spent more time dealing in drugs and counterfeit money out of his Westminster home than he did practicing law.
King told jurors that Maniscalco masterminded the murders because of a dispute with one of the victims. But also, King says, Maniscalco hatched a plan to have Robbins, one of several bikers living with him, killed and then blamed for the Westminster murders.
Robbins testified that Maniscalco ordered him to take the motorcycle of one of the victims with him when Robbins and Warren left for Michigan the day after the killing. The motorcycle was later found in Michigan, registered to Robbins.
Prosecutors theorize that if Maniscalco's plan had worked, Robbins would have been dead by the time the police discovered he had "stolen" the victim's motorcycle and was probably the killer.
King asked Robbins why he didn't run when the killings began. It was the only time the subdued witness showed any emotion.
"I was standing there in a dead man's house with his motorcycle in my name. Where was I supposed to go?" Robbins said.
The victims were Richard (Rabbit) Rizzone, 36, and his girlfriend, Rena Miley, 19, who were living in the house where the killings occurred, and Thomas Monahan, 28, a occasional bodyguard for Rizzone.
Prosecutors say Maniscalco wanted Rizzone, his former best friend, killed because Rizzone had "ripped him off" in both drugs and counterfeit money.
Also charged with murder is Daniel Duffy, 45, another former Hessian. Warren, the purported triggerman, was killed in a shoot-out with police in Moore, Okla., six years ago.
Robbins calmly led jurors through events on the night of the killings. He went to the Rizzone house with Maniscalco on the lawyer's orders, Robbins said. Duffy and Warren were already inside and Rizzone was already dead, he said.
Robbins said he passed Monahan coming up the driveway when he went outside to move one of the cars. When he got back inside, Monahan had been shot and was dying. Robbins said the leaders sent him to the garage to check the gas tanks of Rizzone's vehicles. When he came back, Monahan was finally dead, he said.
Miley was still alive, Robbins said, when he was told to drive back to Maniscalco's house on Rizzone's motorcycle.
When the three bodies were discovered more than a week later, Miley was found nude in one of the bedrooms. She had been raped.
Sitting in the back of the courtroom taking careful notes on Robbins' testimony was Charles Margines, one of Duffy's attorneys. Duffy's trial is scheduled to follow Maniscalco's.
"We think he is lying," Margines said of the witness. Margines speculated that much of Robbins' version would cave in under cross-examination today by Maniscalco's lawyers.
Questions on Band-Aid
One fact not lost on any of the lawyers involved is that Robbins claims that he was always out of the house when any the shootings took place.
Also, a Band-Aid wrapper found near Miley's body is expected to play a part in the trial.
Robbins said he had been ordered to put Band-Aids on all his fingers, presumably to keep from leaving prints in the house. The others wore gloves, Robbins said, except for Maniscalco, who searched the house with his hand wrapped in a rag.
"He claims he didn't go into the bedroom where the girl was raped, yet there's the wrapper and he is the only one wearing Band-Aids," Maniscalco attorney Joanne Harrold had said earlier during one of the pretrial hearings.
Robbins told jurors that after he and Warren drove back to Lansing, Mich., where they lived, Warren told him that Maniscalco had ordered him killed. Robbins said he lived in the woods for a year out of fear. King asked him why he finally came out.
"I figured I either had to face up to what I was involved in or spend the rest of my life running," Robbins said.