WHEN A SNITCH TAKES THE STAND

There was not a sound in the courtroom as the witness identified himself.
"My name is Ron Kermit Frazier."
The prosecution has two star witnesses, one an undercover FBI agent, the other this man, a paid informant. Both infiltrated Earth First! and gathered the evidence that led to the arrests of the five defendants on sabotage charges.

Beginning in 1988, Ron Frazier was paid almost $53,000 by the FBI to wear a body bug and secretly tape-record conversations with his friends in Earth First!. "He looks like he's scared shitless," whispered Ilse Asplund, one of the indicted. Indeed, Ron Frazier did look a trifle nervous as the courtroom hung on his every word. From the start of the trial, everyone has wondered when Frazier would make his appearance.

People have a fatal curiosity about snitches in the way that cobras are transfixed by mongooses.

Ilse Asplund trusted Ron Frazier. He baby-sat her two children, Julia and Adam.

He is a handsome man with deep-set eyes. His beige hair is cut at a medium length, and the lapels on his brown corduroy sport coat are very wide. He grips the railing in front of him, as if steadying himself.

The prosecutor asks Frazier to pick out the various defendants in the courtroom.

When Frazier identifies Dave Foreman as balding, the defendant's attorney, Gerry Spence, makes a small joke.

Not until after the courtroom is settled again, and all eyes have returned to the witness stand, does Frazier react. He cuts up and mugs, and in a disturbing bit of vaudeville appears to be laughing at Spence's joke without making a sound.

Then Frazier snaps straight ahead and waits for the prosecutor's next question.

In an interview months before the trial, defendant Mark Davis had described Ron Frazier, his former associate, as a very different sort of guy.

Now, there was this inappropriate and oddly menacing behavior in the courtroom that had only been hinted at in the pre-trial conversation with Davis. "He was Ilse and Peg's [both defendants'] friend. He imagined women falling in love with him," Davis had said last spring. "He believes women are sending vibes to him and that they want him. So, he approaches. When he discovers that they don't know what he's talking about, he becomes scary."

In the fall of 1988, Davis interceded with Frazier on behalf of a woman, Jody Skjei, who was frightened. Skjei runs an upholstery shop in Prescott, and for six months in 1988 Ron Frazier worked for her. Last week, she discussed her former employee and the memories that still make her shiver.

Skjei said that even with the simplest tasks Frazier would turn her directions on their head and go off on his own tangent: "I had to fire him. He was neurotic."

After mulling his situation over for several hours, Frazier returned and confronted Skjei. "He came back into my shop after being fired. He was screaming at me that I shorted him on his last check. I had made a mistake and offered to fix it. I was just shaking. He can be very intimidating. He always wore combat gear, camouflage pants. "Although he had very piercing eyes, there were times when he just checked out." Skjei said part of that appearance could have been due to drug use and that before dismissing Frazier, she had to ask him to stop coming to work stoned.

After she fired Frazier, Skjei said she began getting strange telephone calls from the man. Then an anonymous caller contacted the city asking the authorities to investigate zoning violations by Skjei.

Although Frazier made an issue out of paperwork Skjei had neglected to supply for his taxes, it wasn't long before his hostile communication took another tack.

"He had one letter that was threatening," said Skjei, "and that was followed by a five-page love letter." Although it's been nearly three years, Skjei has never shaken the creepy feeling the letter caused.

Off the top of her head, Skjei can still recite sections of Frazier's valentine: "I always knew you wanted to be with me" and "If you only knew how much you meant to me."

At one point during his employment, Skjei said Frazier mentioned an Indian woman in Prescott he wanted to ask out. Skjei claimed she encouraged Frazier to talk to the lady. This, too, was recounted in the love letter.

"He talked about how I supported him with the Indian woman and how hard that must have been for me, feeling as I did about him. He had dates down. It was like he kept some kind of diary of the entire time he was here . . . He had no business writing those things. Yes, we did talk when he worked here. We were in the same room. He took that amount of attention and turned it into unrequited love. The thing I felt scared about was that Ron could take a little piece of information, work it and work it and turn it inside out and come back with something, and you'd wonder where that came from."

Skjei eventually contacted the police about Frazier. "I just think Ron's a scary guy. He goes silent on you. He's one of those guys you're going to find down in Texas and he's a sniper."

Skjei was shocked when she learned that her former employee was the one who'd triggered the indictments against Mark Davis and the others. "I actually cried when I learned that Ron Frazier was the start of all this," said Skjei. "Mark is the guy who tried to help me with Ron."

According to prosecutor Roslyn Moore-Silver, defendant Mark Davis threatened Frazier.

In his interview, Davis admitted talking to Frazier. "I tried to get him to deal with the dark forces confronting him," said Davis. "I suggested he try yoga, meditating."

Whatever Davis thought he was accomplishing, Frazier promptly went to the FBI, told the bureau that he knew who sabotaged the Snow Bowl ski resort, and quickly went on the government's payroll. For more than a year and a half, he wore a body bug and secretly tape-recorded the conversations of the people he knew in Earth First!.

The jury is going to hear many of those conversations, and what they hear will not help defendant Mark Davis. Again and again the jury will hear Davis discuss his dream of striking a blow against nuclear power by toppling power lines at nuke plants around the West. The jury will hear how Frazier gulled Davis and led him to believe that thermite grenades were available from a soldier willing to smuggle them out of a military base. Frazier even got Davis to turn over money to finance this made-up scheme to purchase thermite.

In the middle of the Earth First! investigation, March 9, 1988, the government flew Ron Frazier to San Antonio to have him hypnotized by clinical psychologist Dr. Richard B. Gawer. The FBI wanted to know if it could glean more data on the radical environmentalists from Frazier if he was in a deep trance.

Defense attorney Mike Black had filed a motion seeking to preclude the "hypnotically refreshed recollection of government witness Ronald Frazier."

In addition to citing the dubious record of hypnosis in the courtroom, Black raised the issue of Frazier's stability, writing: " . . . it's anticipated that Mr. Frazier used LSD, peyote, and marijuana both before and during his activity as a government agent."

Black's motion was denied the same morning that Frazier took the stand.
Although Black failed to make Frazier's stability a part of the record, the witness raised the issue himself with conduct that was a non sequitur. If he remains out of touch with what is going on around him--laughing when there are no longer jokes up for review--the jury can make up its own collective mind about the government's star witness.

Having said this, you must give the man his moment in the sun.
He is not a big man, nowhere near the size of Mark Davis, who regularly practices martial arts, both punching and kicking a heavy bag.

Whatever boil of humiliation Frazier felt when Davis suggested he forget about Jody Skjei and concentrate instead on meditation is about to be lanced from the witness stand.

The tables have turned.
It is now Ron Frazier who is offering Mark Davis many years of unfettered contemplation in a federal prison cell.

The witness must relish his position. All those people who dismissed Ron Frazier now see that he is the star of this drama. Those who underestimated Ron Frazier will learn a valuable lesson.

A couple of days before his testimony, I received a letter from Ron Frazier:

"Dear Mr. Lacey:
"I would like to comment favorably on your delightful series of articles covering the Earth First! conspiracy/criminal damage trial currently in session in Prescott. It is always refreshing as well as useful to have a controversy presented in a new light, from another point of view.

"I am looking forward to seeing my own testimony covered in a similar thorough fashion, in your own indomitable style. In my opinion, anyone who would take offense at being slammed in the New Times has never before read it." Mr. Frazier concluded his letter on an ambiguous note, choosing at once to be both charming and ominous: "See you in court." To be continued

People have a fatal curiosity about snitches in the way that cobras are transfixed by mongooses.

"Although he had very piercing eyes, there were times when he just checked out."

It is now Ron Frazier who is offering Mark Davis many years of unfettered contemplation in a federal prison cell.

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