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Ex-convict exonerated of 1937 gangland slayings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Peter Pianezzi spent 13 years in prison for two 1937 gangland-style murders he said he never committed. After four decades of campaigning to have himself cleared of the crimes, he has been pardoned.

Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued the pardon Tuesday to the 79-year-old retired newspaper distributor.

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Quentin Kopp, an attorney who represented Pianezzi before the state parole board this year, said the pardon was 'long overdue but certainly welcome vindication for a 79-year-old man who suffered for going on 45 years unjustifiably for a crime he did not commit.'

Pianezzi was convicted in 1940 of the murders of a Los Angeles gambling kingpin and a witness to the crime and was sent to the Folsom Prison. He was released in 1953.

'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.

'No one alive today can say with certainty what took place on that night of Oct. 25, 1937,' Brown said. '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.'

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Under law, Pianezzi could sue the state for wrongful imprisonment, but Kopp said, 'He's not interested in that.'

Some of the new evidence was from admitted mob executioner Jimmy 'The Weasel' Fratianno, who told investigators the real killers were now-dead Mafia hitmen.

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.

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.

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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.

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