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Car Dealer Is Given Life Sentence for Hired Murder : Punishment: William Wayne Nix Jr. is out of the fast track, without possibility of parole, for having salesman who instigated lawsuit slain.

August 22, 1992|LEN HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

William Wayne Nix Jr., a brash automobile dealer who fancied speedy Italian sports cars and an equally fast lifestyle, was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole Friday for the gangland-style slaying of a former employee in Leucadia.

Nix, 38, remained impassive as Vista Superior Court Judge J. Morgan Lester called the killing "a cold-blooded assassination." Nix, a burly man with gray hair and a mustache whose own personal nickname is The Bull, "gored" himself this time, Lester said.

"Your last Christmas (will be spent) in prison, your last meal, your last night you will spend in a prison cell," Lester said.

Lester said Nix received "an incredible gift from the district attorney's office" when it chose not to pursue the death penalty. Nix was convicted of murder for financial gain, a special circumstance that could have led to the gas chamber.

Nix, who continues to maintain his innocence, announced through his attorney he would appeal.

Nix was found guilty July 28 of having orchestrated the murder-for-hire shooting of car salesman Salvatore T. Ruscitti. Ruscitti, 58, a father of four, grandfather of five and a longtime salesman who had riled Nix by accusing him of cheating salespeople out of commissions, was gunned down in front of his family at the doorway of his Leucadia home on the night of Sept. 17, 1988.

In emotional testimony in open court before the sentencing, Ruscitti's wife, daughter and son looked Nix in the eye and spoke of the pain he had inflicted on their family. Gina Ruscitti, 27, of Carlsbad, the sight-impaired daughter of the victim, read a statement prepared in Braille.

"In so many ways you changed my life forever when you took away someone who is very special and very important to me," Ruscitti said softly. "My daddy would still be here if you hadn't murdered him."

Nix did not actually do the shooting but instead paid another employee, a mechanic named Paul Gonzalez, $10,000, to arrange it for him. He then was forced to shell out another $4,000 when the alleged shooter, Jose (Tonto) Miranda demanded it, the prosecution successfully argued.

Among the co-conspirators in the case, Miranda is still at large but Gonzalez, his son Paul Gonzalez Jr., and Gonzalez's son-in-law, Albert Vargas, all testified for the prosecution and remain in jail awaiting sentencing. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to murder for hire and Gonzalez Jr. and Vargas pleaded guilty to crimes related to the murder conspiracy.

Ruscitti's wife, Barbara, remembers Vargas and Miranda arriving at the door of the family home the night her husband was shot. They had been watching the Olympics on television with Gina Ruscitti and two grandchildren when they heard a knock on the door.

"Two guys were standing there who I had never seen before. . . . They asked for Sal," Barbara Ruscitti said. "Gina and I walked back to the kitchen, and then we heard the shots. Sal's body was in the house, and his feet were outside. I guess he had taken one step out the door."

Ruscitti had been shot four times with a Browning 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol and one stray bullet nearly hit Gina Ruscitti as she stood in the kitchen.

Barbara Ruscitti said she knew instantly who was responsible. Because her husband had stood up to Nix over the commission problems and had organized a class-action, multimillion-dollar lawsuit with many other similarly victimized salespeople, there had been hints of trouble in the air, she said.

"We knew right away who it was, everybody knew. But knowing it and proving it was two different things," she said.

They immediately thought of Nix, who lived a dramatically different lifestyle than the family-oriented Ruscittis, but who had been a friend for 20 years through their mutual interests in the car business. Nix and his family have been involved with car dealerships in Southern California for decades.

His mother, Lula Mae Osborne, and his stepfather, Ralph Osborne, owned the now-defunct Center City Ford in Kearny Mesa in the early 1980s, the dealership that allegedly bilked salespeople out of commissions. By 1985, Nix had left San Diego to open Will Nix Ford with his father, Bill Nix, in Pomona in 1985.

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