ABERDEEN — Constantine Baruso, a former union president who was serving a life sentence for murder, was found dead this morning at Stafford Creek prison near Aberdeen.
ABERDEEN — A former union president who was serving a life sentence for plotting the murder of one of two slain cannery union officials was found dead today at Stafford Creek prison near Aberdeen.
Constantine “Tony” Baruso, 80, was discovered about 6:30 a.m. on the floor of his cell during an inmate count, prison spokeswoman Sheri Izatt told The Aberdeen Daily World.
Attempts to revive him failed and the death appears to be from natural causes, Izatt said.
Baruso once served as president of the Local 37 chapter of the Alaska Cannery Workers Union in Seattle. He was convicted of aggravated murder in March 1991 for ordering the killing 10 years earlier of one of two fellow union officers. They opposed the regime of Philippines President Ferdinand E. Marcos, whom Baruso supported.
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Baruso, of Tacoma, was convicted in King County Superior Court of aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Gene Viernes. He was acquitted of a similar charge in the death of Silme Domingo.
Viernes and Domingo 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.
Even on the one conviction of aggravated first-degree murder, Baruso was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of release.
Following the 1991 trial, Silme Domingo’s sister Cindy said, “Justice has been done, and we’re happy with the verdict. We still think the intent was to kill Gene and Silme.”
Three members of a Filipino gang called Tulisan were convicted of the actual slayings within 18 months. But the victims’ families and others in the Filipino-American community spent years 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 1990 — 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.
Before they were killed, Viernes, the union dispatcher, and Domingo, secretary-treasurer, had sought to end corruption and favoritism in the union, which was controlled by Baruso, prosecutors said at Baruso’s trial. They contended he was taking bribes for job assignments in Alaska.
Baruso did not testify at his trial.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.