Service station operator Melvin Dummar, who said he once gave an old man a ride and for his kindness became a multimillion-dollar beneficiary in Howard Hughes' "Mormon will," was called a liar by a judge today.
Dummar, 32, told a packed court-room here that he had lied in two earlier versions of how the purported will was discovered but insisted that a third version, which he gave today, was true.
"Mr. Dummar," said Clark County District Court Judge Keith C. Hayes, "I have no way of knowing. I am simply going on my opinion and my impression that I do not believe you.
"I think you are lying now. If I were to ask for a raise of hands in this room, you would be astonished at how many people here think you are lying.
"If you are lying, your soul may be in jeopardy, but I'm not concerned about your soul, I'm concerned about your hide."
The judge then angrily told Dummar, "If I find you are lying I will have a piece of your hide."
Hayes said he would recommend that Dummar be sent to prison if convicted of perjury.
Hayes' confrontation with Dummar brought silence to the small courtroom. "Brother Dummar," he said, "I want the truth. Where did that will come from?"
Dummar repeated his account and told the judge he did not write the will and did not know who did.
Dummar appeared here voluntarily to explain his role in the April 27 discovery of the "Mormon will" on the 25th floor of the Mormon church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Under questioning this morning by Harold Phoden, a Los Angeles attorney representing former Hughes aide Noah Dietrich, the executor named in the purported will Dummar admited that he had lied during a sworn deposition and in public statements about how the document got to the church headquarters.
After admitting that two stories he gave attorneys about the documents discovery were untrue, Dummar sat straight in his chair and softly gave a new account of its discovery to a courtroom filled to overflowing with reporters, bystanders and four tables of attorneys representing various claimants and others involved in settling Hughes' fortune.
According to Dummar's account, a man arrived April 27 at Dummar's service station in Willard, Utah, about 50 miles north fo Salt Lake City. The man did not give his name, but talked for several minutes about Hughes' death April 5, asked if he was Melvin Dummar and then left, Dummar said.
The stranger mentioned that a will of Hughes' had been found in Salt Lake City and repeated several times that it would be nice if Dummar was mentioned in it. "I thought he was off his rocker," Dummar said today.
After the man left, Dummar said, he walked back into the station and noticed a sealed envelope which contained the document. "It was lying on a bench at the back of the station of my schoolbooks," Dummar recalled. "I picked it up and read it and from then on it's beena nightmare."
Dummar said he steamd open the envelope and read the document several times "because I couldn't believe what it was saying." Nevertheless, he said, he waited until his wife, Bonnie, returned and then drove alone to Salt Lake City, where he left the document at the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
Dummar said he placed the envelope inside another envelope and "wrote a note as best as I could remember what the man had said to me. I put it on a desk and left."
"Are you absolutely sure that is the truth?" Rhoden asked Dummar at the end of his account. Dummar at the end of his account. Dummar noded, smiled slightly and said, "Yes."
Dummar, whose thumbprint was earlier found on the inside envelope, has been granted immunity from arrest while here to testify, but not immunity from prosecution later.
Attorneys for Hughes' relatives and for Summa Corp., a holding company for much of his approximately $2 billion estate, contend the "Mormon will" is a fake. According to Clark County authorities, 34 other Hughes "wills" have been filed but none is thought to be authentic.
In earlier accounts, Dummar said he was given the "Mormon will" by a man at his service station and was told attorneys that he was given the will at a Las Vegas casino after being instructed to go there in a note found on his car.
During today's hearing, Rhoden recalled that during eight hours of questioning in his office Jan. 11, Dummar had not mentioned that a mysterious stranger had told him that a will had been found in Salt Lake City.
"I didn't think you'd believe me," Dummar said quietly, looking at his hands.
"Well do you think I believe you now?" Rhoden asked.
"It doesn't matter," Dummar replied so softly that the court began buzzing with questions about what he had answered.
Dummar's wife was not in court today but his mother, father, sister and several other relatives were. They sat together in the rear of the oval courtroom as Dummar described the document's discovery. He occasionally smiled toward them from the witness seat.
When the document surfaced last April, Dummar said he was not involved in its discovery. It named Dummar to inherit one-sixteeth of the Hughes fortune. Dummar said at the time that he thought his share came because in 1968 he had stopped on a road near Las Vegas to give an elderly, injured man a ride. The man said he was Hughes and borrowed 25 cents, according to Dummar, who said he did not believe the man at the time.
An Ogden realtor said Dummar and his family have moved from Willard and are living in Ogden in a large but worn house Dummar bought several years ago and which he is trying to sell for $28,000.
Dummar's appearance here today was officially part of a pretrial prolegality of the "Mormon will."
Hayes and the court appeared startled this morning when attorneys produced a transcript of last month's deposition given by Dummar.
At the bottom of the six-inch stack of pages from the deposition, Dummar had inserted a statement that read in part: "I, Melvin Dummar, hereby state that I cannot declare under oath that this deposition is accurate."