SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. Tuesday pardoned Peter Pianezzi, 79, who spent from 1940 to 1953 in state prison for the mob war murders of a Los Angeles gambling kingpin and a witness to the shooting.
The pardon was 44 years and two days after the killing for which Pianezzi, now a retired newspaper distributor from Mill Valley, Calif., was convicted.
'Based upon the the cummulative history of this case Peter Pianezzi should be pardoned,' Brown said in three-page pardon. It was the first he had ever issued based on innocence rather than rehabilitation.
Pianezzi said he was 'elated' with the pardon. 'My only regret is that my wife isn't alive to enjoy this moment with me,' he said.
For Pianezzi, it was the end of a quest that spanned four decades. Under law, he could sue the state for wrongful imprisonment, but his lawyer, Quentin Kopp, said, 'He's not interested in that.'
Pianezzi was convicted April 19, 1940 in Los Angeles County on two counts of first degree murder. He went to state prison on May 29 of that year and was paroled on May 29, 1953.
'No one alive today can say with certainty what took place on that night of Oct. 25, 1937. However, based upon the totality of the evidence as we now know it, I do not believe that any jury today would convict Peter Pianezzi,' Brown said.
Some of that new evidence was from admitted mob executioner Jimmy 'The Weasel' Fratianno, who told investiators the real killers were Mafia hitmen, who have since died.
Brown's father, Gov. Edmund G. 'Pat' Brown, offered Pianezzi a pardon based on rehabilitation on Dec. 29, 1966, on a 'take-it-or-leave-it basis.'
Pianezzi told the state Board of Prison Terms in July that he sought exoneration because he didn't commit the double murder.
The board voted 5-3 against recommending pardon to the governor. But a month earlier, Justice Rose Bird had advised Brown that a majority of the California Supreme Court recommended a pardon.
The state Constitution requires such a recommendation for people twice convicted of felonies. Pianezzi had been convicted of some robberies.
Quentin Kopp, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said in representing Pianezzi before the state that there was a 'profound and compelling weakness of identification of Mr. Pianezzi' in the 1937 slayings.
In Pianezzi's favor was other hearsay from Mafia songbird Fratianno and Robert L. Garcia, a former professional gambler, that the real killers were hitmen Frank Bompensiero and Leo Moceri.
George L. 'Les' Bruneman, who had survived one assassination attempt, was shot 14 times at about 1 a.m. on Oct. 25, 1937, in a Los Angeles cafe by two gunmen. A busboy who tried to get a license number was killed, and Bruneman's nurse was wounded.
Fratianno and Garcia said that, on the basis of conversations with Bompensiero and Los Angeles Mafia leader Jack Dragna, Bruneman was killed by Bompensiero and Moceri because he refused to split the gambling action with Dragna. Bruneman's surviving relatives and the detective who worked on the case have expressed belief in Pianezzi's innocence.