Crime

25 years ago there was a bloody bat. Police say only the killer would know that

Danny Manoi in a photo distributed by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in 1995.
Danny Manoi in a photo distributed by the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in 1995. Courtesy

A Tacoma man serving 46 years for murdering somebody with a knife and gun soon may stand trial for killing somebody with a bat in 1992.

The Pierce County prosecutors office filed murder charges Wednesday against Danny Manoi, 48, after reviewing evidence from Tacoma Police’s cold case department. Manoi is detained at the Monroe Correctional Complex for a 1995 murder.

New evidence cites witnesses who claim Manoi spoke of details of the case that were never made public, said deputy prosecutor Jared Ausserer. Prosecutors are also waiting for results of additional DNA testing.

According to charging documents filed Wednesday in Pierce County Superior Court, Tacoma Police were investigating the death of Tacoma man Bertil Luther on July 9, 1992, when they found a bloodied baseball bat in the backyard of the Tacoma home.

Luther’s body, with several large lacerations on the head, was found in a chair, according to the documents. Authorities noted signs of a struggle and that Luther’s truck, wallet and a jewelry box were missing.

Luther’s wife gave police the names of two people, including Manoi, who did work on their property. Manoi was already in the Pierce County Jail, arrested on unrelated assault charges, when police questioned him about Luther’s death. Manoi confirmed that he lived across the street from the K Street apartments where Luther’s stolen truck was found. Jail records showed Manoi was not in custody at the time of Luther’s murder.

Detectives located Manoi’s roommate who told them on the night of the murder Manoi had a jewelry box he claimed he took from an old man for whom he was doing yard work. The roommate also claimed that Manoi asked whether police could get fingerprints off of a baseball bat. Information about the bat and jewelry box had not been made public, according to charging documents.

Detectives then contacted another person who was reportedly present at the time Manoi had the jewelry box. The person told police that Manoi came to his apartment with the jewelry box and wallet and Luther’s truck was parked around the corner, documents state. The men took a taxi to the Hilltop neighborhood to give the jewelry box to a woman who agreed to sell the contents, documents state. The witness saw Manoi throw an identification card from the wallet into some bushes. The next day when the witness saw a news story of Luther’s murder, he realized Manoi killed the man, documents state.

The witness told police that several days later Manoi told him that he didn’t realize he killed Luther. “He said he only hit him a couple times, but beat him until he was unconscious because he kept moving,” the documents state.

Three other witnesses told police they heard Manoi talking about the crime or saw him with the jewelry box.

The bat was submitted for DNA testing in 2003. It was resubmitted on Sept. 27 in hopes that modern testing would produce a DNA profile.

If convicted, time would be added to Manoi’s current sentence.

In 1996, at the age of 27, Manoi was sentenced to 46 years, 1 month after pleading guilty to murdering Tacoma auto repairman Clarence Pestana.

During the hearing, prosecutors said Manoi and an acquaintance, Russell Lee Bedford, plotted to harm Pestana and his partner, Darrell Bright, after Bright took a car from an acquaintance in payment for an overdue $2,500 repair bill.

The prosecutors said Bedford had taken Pestana and his partner outside to look at a vehicle when Manoi came into the yard, shouting he was the police and telling everyone to get on the ground.

The three men flopped on the ground, but Pestana, apparently realizing Manoi was not a police officer, got up and began to struggle with him, prosecutors said.

Manoi pulled out a steak knife and stabbed Pestana several times and then gave the knife to his acquaintance, who attacked Pestana’s partner. The other man was cut across the throat and stabbed.

Manoi then shot Pestana twice in the head with a small-caliber handgun.

The partner was able to run away while Manoi and Bedford fled. Pestana crawled to a phone and called police, but died before help arrived.

Pestana’s partner was treated at St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood and later released.

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