STARKE, Fla.

Ex-police officer executed for 1986 murders of nine

A former police officer who murdered nine people during a 1986 crime spree was executed Tuesday after his attorneys’ last-minute appeals were rejected.

Manuel Pardo, 56, was pronounced dead at Florida State Prison at 7:47 p.m., about 16 minutes after the lethal injection process began. His attorneys had tried to block the execution by arguing that he was mentally ill, but federal courts declined to intercede.

Reporters could not hear his final statement because of an apparent malfunction in the death chamber’s sound system. A white sheet had been pulled up to his chin and IV lines ran into his left arm. He blinked several times, his eyes moved back and forth and he took several deep breaths. Over the next several minutes the color drained from his face before he was pronounced dead.

Officials said most of Pardo’s victims were involved with drugs. Pardo contended that he was doing the world a favor by killing them over three-month period in early 1986.

“I am a soldier, I accomplished my mission and I humbly ask you to give me the glory of ending my life and not send me to spend the rest of my days in state prison,” Pardo told jurors at his 1988 trial.

Ann Howard, a spokeswoman for Florida’s Department of Corrections, said that Pardo visited with eight people Tuesday. He also met with the prison chaplain and a Roman Catholic bishop.

Pardo ate a last meal of rice, red beans, roasted pork, plantains, avocado, tomatoes and olive oil. For dessert, he ate pumpkin pie and drank egg nog and Cuban Coffee. Under Department of Corrections rules, the meal’s ingredients have to cost $40 or less, be available locally and made in the prison kitchen.

Pardo was dubbed the “Death Row Romeo” after he corresponded with dozens of women and persuaded many to send him money.

Pardo, a former Boy Scout and Navy veteran, began his law enforcement career in the 1970s with the Florida Highway Patrol, graduating at the top of his class at the academy. But he was fired from that agency in 1979 for falsifying traffic tickets. He was soon hired by the police department in Sweetwater, a small city in Miami-Dade County. In 1981, Pardo was one of four Sweetwater officers charged with brutality, but the cases were dismissed.

MARJAH, Afghanistan

Marauding band of thieves keeping residents in fear

Nearly three years after U.S.-led forces launched the biggest operation of the war to clear insurgents, foster economic growth and set a model for the rest of Afghanistan, angry residents of Helmand province say they are too afraid to go out after dark because of marauding bands of thieves.

And during the day, they say corrupt police and government officials bully them into paying bribes. After 11 years of war, many here long for a return of the Taliban. They say that under the Taliban, who routinely punished thieves by cutting off a hand, they were at least safe from crime and corruption.

“If you had a box of cash on your head, you could go to the farthest part of Marjah and no one would take it from you, even at night,” said Maulvi Daoud, who runs a cubbyhole sized-shop in the town of Marjah. “Today you bring your motorcycle in front of your shop and it will be gone. Now the situation is that you go on the road and they are standing in police and army uniform with weapons and they can take your money.”

It was in the town of Marjah in early 2010 that some 15,000 NATO and Afghan forces waged the war’s biggest battle.

SEOUL, South Korea

Despite U.N. warnings, 2nd long-range rocket launched

North Korea fired a long-range rocket Wednesday in its second launch under its new leader, South Korean officials said, defying warnings from the U.N. and Washington only days before South Korean presidential elections.

South Korean defense officials said the rocket was fired from a west coast launch pad but there was no immediate word if the rocket was successful. North Korea had indicated technical problems with the rocket and extended its launch window. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un took power after his father Kim Jong Il died on Dec. 17 last year.