Witnesses Tell of Shootings at Convair Plant : Crime: Fired employee who killed one executive and critically injured another is ordered to stand trial. Bail is denied.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A feverish Robert Earl Mack, his eyes bulging and alert for victims, raced the hallways and offices of General Dynamic's Convair Division in January with a .38-caliber revolver, firing from close range at two executives he blamed for his termination, witnesses testified Friday during his preliminary hearing.

Mack, 42, a 23-year company employee charged with murdering labor negotiator Michael Konz, 25, and critically injuring Mack's former supervisor, James English, 52, was ordered to stand trial in Superior Court for the crimes.

While a dozen of Mack's family and friends looked on, Municipal Judge Frank A. Brown also denied bail for the former machinist, who was fired Jan. 15 for being late to work twice and absent once.

Prosecutors took less than three hours to present their case against Mack, calling three eyewitnesses to the murders and an investigator from the district attorney's office.

"This is hardly a whodunit," said Michael Roake, Mack's court-appointed attorney.

Arnold Castro, a union steward assisting Mack at his Jan. 24 grievance hearing to appeal his firing, testified Friday that Mack showed up 40 minutes late for the 1 p.m. meeting.

Already assembled in the meeting room besides Castro were another steward, a union business agent, Konz and English.

Soon after he arrived, Mack was reportedly upset to learn that his regular business agent could not make the hearing and a replacement, Paul Pechter, had been named.

With his eyes "bulging like golf balls," his speech slurred, and sucking furiously on gum and a breath mint, Mack was highly agitated, convinced that he was going to lose his job, Castro said.

"Mack felt like he was being sold out by the union and the company. Both of us," said Castro, a missile assembler and steward who had known Mack for 23 years. "I told him he had a good chance of winning (his job back), but he wasn't hearing it. He had seen what had happened to others."

The hearing ended at 2:30 p.m. without resolution and was rescheduled for the following week because Konz had to leave for a 2:45 p.m. appointment.

This is the way the incident unfolded, according to testimony at the hearing:

Konz and English left the meeting first. Castro, the other steward and the union business agent waited behind to talk among themselves, with Mack staying out of the conversation. The business agent left the room and came back to say the meeting had been adjourned. He informed Mack that Konz would escort him out of the building.

Finally, Mack walked out. The three others kept talking in the conference room. A few minutes later, Mack popped his head in, scanned the room and quickly ran back out.

"Seconds later, I heard a bang," Castro said. "It was loud, like a bomb going off."

Castro said he jumped up, pushed the other steward out of the way and ran down the hallway.

Ronald Johnson, an operations supervisor who worked briefly with Mack, had been speaking outside the conference room with English when the two decided to leave the building. English followed Johnson out the door.

"I had just opened the door, and I had barely taken a step out when I heard this loud bang," he said. "At first I thought it was something from the highway, a tire blown or backfire."

English plowed into Johnson's left shoulder and spun 180 degrees. He and Johnson fell to the ground. English's body stiffened, and his eyes rolled.

The exit door was propped open by English's body, with only his feet visible from inside the building. Johnson knelt over English and a colleague stopped by to ask about English's condition.

"Get that son of a bitch," Johnson recalled saying. "He just shot English."

Mack raced by at that moment and crouched with the gun in his right hand. He looked to his left, then to the right and began running.

"In my mind he was escaping, getting out of the picture," said Johnson, who began to run after Mack but decided he needed to stay with English.

Castro gave chase, and Mack rounded a corner of the building down another hallway, Castro said. Frantic employees who had heard the shots were running back and forth as Mack sped into Konz's office with a gun.

Castro watched as Konz ran past him and headed for the exit, stumbling over English's legs as he ran outside. Joanne Kowalik, the chief of employment for General Dynamics, said Konz was just coming out of another office when Konz spotted Mack coming at him with a gun and yelled: "Oh, my God!"

Kowalik watched Mack race into Konz's office.

"I yelled, 'He's got a gun!' " said Kowalik, who gathered three secretaries into an office, shut the door and got on the floor. "He had a cold, determined look like he had something he had to do. Like he was on a mission."

Meanwhile, Mack ran back down the hall, looked briefly at Castro, lowered his gun and stepped toward the exit.

Castro took off after him but stopped at the exit door when he saw Mack chasing Konz outside toward a chain-link fence near the operation's power plant. Johnson also looked on.

From 3 feet away, Mack fired a single shot into the back of Konz's head. He was pronounced dead 45 minutes after the shooting.

"The moment that (Konz) was hit, his arms opened up and his jacket opened up and his head went back a little bit and then he hit the ground," Johnson said.

Mack swung around, looked straight at Johnson and said nothing. Johnson ran off.

A company security guard drew a gun on Mack and ordered him three or four times to drop his weapon.

" 'They just stole 25 years of my life,' " Castro quoted Mack as saying. " 'What was I supposed to do?' "

Dressed Friday in a gray polyester suit with a bourbon-colored tie and matching handkerchief, Mack occasionally nodded emphatically and affirmatively as some of the witnesses spoke. He wore sandals with white socks and, most times, a blank expression.

In asking that Mack be given a chance for bail, Roake said his client is not a flight risk, has no criminal history and has strong family support. Mack's mother, sister, brother and aunt appeared in the courtroom Friday, as did several family friends.

But Judge Frank A. Brown, in denying bail, agreed with prosecutor Robert W. Sickels that Mack is a threat to the public, particularly to English, who is at home recovering from a gunshot wound to the head while undergoing rehabilitation five times a week.

Sickels said he may seek to prove that Mack was "lying in wait," a legal definition that, if proven, can lead to death in the gas chamber or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Roake asked that Brown rule on "lying in wait" so that Mack can "defend himself against this specter of the death penalty. Betty Broderick didn't get it. Gator the skater (Mark Anthony) didn't get it, and the fellow at Elgar (Larry Hansel) didn't get it. Now, what's the difference?"

Brown refused to rule on the motion Friday, but Roake speculated outside the courtroom that Sickels was using the special circumstance of "lying in wait" because Mack is black.

"Nothing justifies the taking of a human life," he said. "But there are many things that occur in a person's life, especially when you are an African-American man working for General Dynamics who has given all his life to that, and it is abruptly terminated . . . and you are staring into the abyss. There are just mitigating and extenuating circumstances."

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