Mecham attorney says witnesses are being intimidated

March 14, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham’s lawyer sought a mistrial today as the governor’s Senate impeachment trial entered its third week, alleging that the state police have been intimidating witnesses and have made the trial “fundamentally unfair.”

Defense lawyer Fred Craft said that if the mistrial is not granted, his motion sought dismissal of the charge that Mecham tried to obstruct an investigation of an alleged death threat.

“Overt or subtle intimidation of witnesses who are to be called to testify in a proceeding is outrageous,” the motion said. “The conduct on the part of the Department of Public Safety is so egregious that it renders this trial fundamentally unfair.”

The DPS has denied attempting to intimidate witnesses, including Terri Fields, who was arrested Friday, a day after she testified on Mecham’s behalf. She was arrested on a warrant that had been outstanding since January.

Mecham is accused of ordering DPS Director Ralph Milstead not to cooperate with an investigation of an alleged death threat by Lee Watkins, former head of state prison construction, against former top Mecham aide Donna Carlson.

At the time of the alleged threat on Nov. 12, she was about to testify before a grand jury investigating an unreported $350,00 campaign loan to Mecham. Watkins has denied Ms. Carlson’s allegations.

The trial’s presiding officer, Frank X. Gordon Jr., said the motion would be heard by the Senate Tuesday morning.

Craft’s motion cited Ms. Fields’ arrest on a warrant for allegedly failing to attend an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting following a driving-while-intox icated conviction. The motion also mentioned published reports of a warrant for the arrest of another prospective witness, Christina Johnston. The Johnston warrant, for allegedly impersonating a state official while repossessing a vehicle, was never served.

And, the motion said another defense witness, security expert Antonio Corio, changed his planned testimony on possible bugs in the governor’s office after being seen getting out of Milstead’s car.

Outside, about 200 sign-carrying Mecham supporters demonstrated outside the Senate building, chanting slogans about the trial and Ms. Fields’ arrest. The crowd cheered as Craft approached the Senate building, and he raised his fists into the air.

Meanwhile, testimony on the alleged threat continued today with former top gubernatorial aide Max Hawkins on the stand.

Hawkins testified that he was not attempting to protect Watkins when he cooperated with Watkins’ attorney in planning a lie-detector test on whether a threat was made.

Watkins’ attorney, Dale Anderson, testified last week that the conversation was taped so he and the polygrapher could have Hawkins’ exact language to use in preparing polygraph test questions for Watkins.

Craft said the governor is expected to be the last defense witness and will take the stand late this week or early next week.

On Friday, Hawkins testified that he considered the alleged threat to be “a little spat, frivolous matter,” and that he told Mecham to forget about it and that the matter would go away.

Hawkins had talked with Watkins and Peggy Griffith, a state official who testified that Watkins threatened Ms. Carlson’s life during a conversation with Mrs. Griffith.

Hawkins testified Friday that Watkins had told him he had said Ms. Carlson should keep her mouth shut about the $350,000 loan because “there are a lot of people out there who are excitable and she could have harm come to her.”

Months ago, Hawkins told reporters he thought Watkins’ statement was “good advice” for Ms. Carlson.

Mecham told the House impeachment committee in January that he may have told Milstead not to cooperate with the investigation, but insisted he was not adequately informed of the seriousness of the situation.

Watkins resigned his prison construction position after a past assault conviction was disclosed.

On Friday, the DPS arrested Fields, Ms. Griffith’s secretary who had testified a day earlier that Ms. Griffith tended to exaggerate. Ms. Fields testified that she thought there had been no death threat.

Ms. Fields was apprehended by DPS officers and Mesa police on a Jan. 18 warrant for alleged failure to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She had been arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated.

The DPS said Friday’s arrest came after one of its officers notified his superiors that she was wanted. Craft termed the arrest an intimidation tactic by Milstead, but DPS spokesman Sgt. Allan Schmidt said Milstead’s only involvement was that he was told by officers that there was a warrant for her arrest.

Mecham, a first-term Republican and perennial political outsider who won the governorship on his fifth try, was impeached by the House on Feb. 5. In addition to the death threat allegation, he is accused of concealing the campaign loan and misusing $80,000 from the governor’s protocol fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.

A two-thirds’ vote of the 30-member Senate is required to convict Mecham. Lawmakers also could decide to bar him from future office.

Some senators have said they want to seek a Senate vote on whether to convict Mecham after completing testimony on the death threat allegation. Others oppose the idea, saying they believe all the evidence should be heard before the Senate votes.

Mecham is the first U.S. governor to be impeached in six decades and the first ever in Arizona.