Witness testifies about Mecham response to death threat

March 3, 1988

By LINDA DEUTSCH
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Arizona Senate on Thursday rejected an attempt by Gov. Evan Mecham’s lawyers to introduce evidence at his impeachment trial about a key witness’ sex life.

“This is neither a circus nor another episode of Peyton Place,” said Democratic Sen. Jesus “Chuy” Higuera, arguing against admission of the affidavit offered by the first-term Republican governor’s lawyers.

The Senate voted 21-8 against hearing the evidence but decided 26-3 to ask the Maricopa County attorney to investigate the conduct of the witness, Department of Public Safety Director Ralph Milstead.

Milstead is expected to testify about an allegation that Mecham ordered him not to cooperate with a probe of an alleged death threat against a former Mecham aide who was testifying before a grand jury investigating the governor.

“Clearly, the introduction of this evidence would make these proceedings more sensational and titillating,” said Republican Sen. Greg Lunn.

But he added: “I don’t believe the entire life of Director Milstead is on trial. The character and actions of Governor Mecham are on trial.”

Lunn said evidence of an alleged 1982 sexual affair between Milstead and a former DPS employee would be clearly irrelevant and unfair.

“We’ve already done more for Ralph Milstead’s sex life than a centerfold in Cosmopolitan,” said an exasperated Republican Sen. John Mawhinney.

Republican Sen. Peter Kay had spurred debate on the issue when he moved for admission of the affidavit. He said Milstead’s sex life was relevant to his character.

The former DPS employee had reportedly claimed that Milstead had sex with her while he was married and once threatened her if she revealed their affair.

Moments after debate ended on the sex matter, an unidentified man in the spectator’s gallery screamed out: “You make me sick. I have to get out of here.”

The trial was recessed while the man was ushered out and taken to a room for questioning. He did not resist.

Earlier, the Senate heard testimony that Mecham tried to block the state attorney general’s investigation of the alleged death threat because he believed the prosecutor was “out to get him.”

James Chilcoat, DPS assistant deputy director, testified he was told by Milstead that Mecham instructed Milstead not to cooperate with the attorney general’s office.

Meanwhile, Mecham took his case to the public, appearing on three national television shows Thursday morning a few hours after he addressed a cheering crowd of 4,000 supporters at a rally Wednesday night.

Mecham, who has stayed away from his impeachment trial since it began Monday, also is accused of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan and of misusing $80,000 in state money by loaning it to his auto dealership.

Mecham, 63, is the first U.S. governor to face an impeachment trial in 60 years. He also faces a May 17 recall election and a March 22 trial on felony charges accusing him of concealing the loan.

Chilcoat, a DPS lieutenant colonel, gave details of the alleged threat similar to those related by two other DPS officers who testified earlier.

He said he was told that Lee Watkins, then Mecham’s prison construction chief, threatened in November that a Mecham staffer then testifying before a grand jury about the campaign loan might “go on a long boat ride” or “wind up at the bottom of a river” if she continued talking.

“The department could see some embarrassment coming to the governor’s office and obviously we were going to get blamed for that,” Chilcoat said. “We had told the governor (about the threat) to reduce his risk and we were at a loss as to why he hadn’t done anything.”

Chilcoat said Milstead personally gave Mecham the information and came back dismayed.

“He (Milstead) said the governor had instructed him not to go to the attorney general’s office, not to help those people out there, that they were out to get him,” Chilcoat said.

A two-thirds vote of the Senate would be required to convict Mecham on any count of the 23 articles of impeachment and remove him from office. The Senate could, by another two-thirds vote, then bar Mecham for life from holding any state office.

Mecham has remained highly visible since his trial began. On the network TV morning shows he said, “I haven’t broken any laws,” and blamed Arizona newspapers for his problems.

Mecham was asked on ABC about the impact of former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater’s view that Mecham should resign. “Barry doesn’t know what’s going on,” Mecham said. “He’s sort of past history.”