Gov. Evan Mecham's supporters sang an optimistic "When Evan Comes Marching Home Again" outside the Arizona Capitol while the governor, fighting for his political life, was drawing mixed reviews as star witness at his impeachment trial.
"I think he hurt himself quite a bit," said Democratic Sen. Jesus "Chuey" Higuera after Mecham concluded three days of testimony by taking back an accusation that his former security chief stole documents."I did not have the proof, and I do not have the proof now," Mecham conceded when pressed by senators for the basis of his accusations against Department of Public Safety Lt. Beau Johnson.
"It looks bad," Higuera said of Mecham's performance. "It looks bad any time anyone gets up there and doesn't tell the truth."
But the Republican governor's lawyer, Jerris Leonard, had a different view.
"I think he did a very good job. He came out direct and sincere," said Leonard. "The thrust is you've got a man who simply wasn't being told what the story was, assuming the story is true."
The allegation of document theft came up Thursday, when Mecham testified that he had "had complete confirmation that he (Johnson) was the one" who took a report on the DPS from an aide's desk and turned it over to the DPS. Mecham testified that he had an "informer" within DPS.
Johnson denied taking the report, and the DPS deputy director, Lt. Col. Gary Phelps, told senators Friday it actually was taken by Mecham aide Lee Watkins, the former state prison construction chief.
Mecham, the first U.S. governor to be impeached in six decades, is charged with obstruction of justice, concealing a $350,000 campaign loan and misusing $80,000 from a state fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.
Testimony so far has involved only the first charge. The trial is expected to turn to the second allegation this week.
The obstruction charge centers on an alleged death threat within Mecham's administration and an allegation that Mecham tried to thwart an investigation of the threat.
Mecham, 63, gave this account of the crucial events of Nov. 12, 1987: "Two somewhat excitable people had a verbal exchange, and somewhere along the line there were those who determined they should make something out of it. It's a total manufactured thing."
Many other witnesses' memories were significantly different.
Peggy Griffith, the Mecham loyalist who first reported the alleged threat, said Watkins made derogatory comments to her about Mecham's former close adviser, Donna Carlson, who was about to testify before a grand jury investigating Mecham's campaign finances.
"He said, `A lot of the governor's friends are angry with her (Carlson), and if she doesn't shut her . . . mouth, she is going to take a long boat ride," Griffith recalled.
Griffith said she became "extremely alarmed," tried to see the governor, alerted his security force and eventually called Mecham at home. She knew, she said, that Watkins had a prison record and a history of violent incidents, and she took his words seriously. He was convicted at the age of 19 of a post office robbery and was convicted of assault in 1966.