While Don Bolles, the Arizona Republic reporter, lay dying in the hospital, Mickey Clifton, a lawyer, hurried to see John Harvey Adamson, the man who planted the bomb under Bolles' car.
"John was in terrible shape," Clifton said of Adamson. "He was drinking heavily. He was also on Valium. I'd never seen him so bad before. He thought Bolles was already dead.
"I'd been his lawyer once, helping him and his wife adopt a kid. John told me he'd been paid to do three killings and that Bolles was just the first. He told me he was getting ready to kill King Alfonso Lizanetz next because he'd been writing a bunch of shit to the newspapers and causing trouble. John wanted me to point out King Alfonso for him." Clifton's concern was not what you might expect.
"I always tried to practice keeping my mouth shut. John had been a friend and a client. I'd spent fifteen years as a lawyer protecting lives by being quiet. Lawyers do their work. Police do their work. But I had a problem. In the second murder, I'd either be a co- conspirator or a principal." Clifton told more.
"John told me pretty much the whole story that night. He had asked Bolles to meet him at the hotel. When Don went inside, Adamson hooked the bomb with magnets to the bottom of Bolles' Toyota.
"John went over to the Ivanhoe bar then to have a drink and Jimmy the Plumber, who was with him, flipped the switch on the unit to set off the bomb.
"Jimmy called him on the phone at the Ivanhoe. John asked if it was done. Jimmy told him, `Yes, eyeball to eyeball.' Jimmy said he'd had a little trouble, though. He had to press the switch a couple of times before the bomb went off." Jimmy Robison, 67, sat at the defense table in a blue prison suit with his hands folded. He shook his head from side to side in disappointment as Clifton described the bombing.
Robison faces a first-degree murder charge for the second time in this killing. He's currently serving a prison term in Florence for another crime. It was all so long ago. There was a time when you could visualize the awful sight of Bolles' destroyed and bleeding body on the pavement. You remembered the words he spoke to the first people to arrive on the scene: "Mafia . . . Emprise . . . Adamson." Mickey Clifton is just one of the characters in the Bolles murder who have seemingly oozed out from under rocks to testify in the preliminary hearing now under way before Judge Thomas O'Toole in Maricopa County Superior Court.
They are all so repellent as human beings that they are unforgettable.
In another time, Clifton's ruined face and quirky speech patterns would have assured him a handsome living portraying sleazy pimps and con men in movies adapted from Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett mysteries.
Like many film character actors, Clifton is fireplug short, seemingly pugnacious and a fast talker. He's also a convicted thief. Additionally, Clifton's a disgraced lawyer, barred from practice because of his distorted conception of legal ethics.
You walk through the doors of the big courtroom on the fourth floor of the central court building. You are surprised to find so few spectators in attendance. It is an audience made up apparently of old racetrack characters, sprinkled with reporters, a few who even covered the story when it began in June 1976.
One is Al Sitter, who worked as a reporter for the Republic more than twenty years. Sitter took early retirement a year ago. He was writing such effective stuff in those days that when word came to the newsroom that a Republic reporter had been blown up, everyone assumed it must be Sitter. Even if the testimony and the characters were not so compelling, this is a legal event you wouldn't want to miss if only for the performance of Tom Henze, probably the most underrated defense attorney in the western part of the United States.
Henze is representing Robison. Despite the astounding testimony, no one is betting that Henze, rather than the stiff-shirted martinets from Attorney General Bob Corbin's office, will eventually prevail.
Why did Corbin wait so long? He has had every bit of this information for ten years! What is behind this procrastination?
Can this new attempt at prosecuting the Bolles murder at the ninth hour be nothing more than a cynical move in the last year of his term to bolster Corbin's re-election?
Clifton's portrait of Adamson and the bar life of central Phoenix in those days is fascinating. It is like a visit to another world. Clifton had a law office near Central and Osborn. He first met Adamson because it was Adamson's job to make sure that unauthorized cars didn't park in the lot on the northwest corner.
Adamson was a small-time enforcer. He would attach 100-pound blocks of concrete to the undersides of illegally parked cars. Adamson also worked at the dog tracks and inhabited the bars.
Clifton, Adamson, Robison and a variety of criminal lawyers and, even judges who drank heavily, all frequented bars like the Ivanhoe, the Phone Booth Bar, and Applegate's. It was a cast of characters that also included Howard Woodall, the swindler, and cheap fraud artists like Rex Parsons, Rich Kerekes, and Carl Verive, all subsequently convicted of various crimes.
One of these was Larry Welton, who testified that Jimmy Robison told him how Robison actually threw the switch that killed Bolles.
Amazingly, Welton, now 62, said he told the cops this story in 1980.
Welton, like Clifton, is no taller than five feet five inches. He wore strong prescription glasses, a sports jacket with squared shoulders, two vents in the back, and blue slacks. Despite the fact that Welton's currently serving a prison term for fraud, he still has a whiskey flush in his cheeks.
Welton and Robison knew each other in the state of Washington before both came to Phoenix.
"Have you heard I'm the guy?" Jimmy the Plumber asked Welton two days after the bombing.
"We were at an office I operated in the 1100 block of North Third Street," Welton said.
"Jimmy held up his hand like he was holding something and he said,`I threw the switch.'" Robison told Welton he expected to be paid $5,000 for the job.
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Welton, like everyone else in this case, kept his mouth shut at the time. When you see them one after the other, they are a remarkable group of cheap and incompetent crooks.
It shall ever remain a mystery why the case wasn't wrapped up in two weeks.
"I thought it would be best to keep my mouth shut," Welton said, "and move down the road and keep trouble from my back door."