SOLEDAD, Calif. -- A prison inmate testifying for Sirhan Sirhan today denounced as an 'opportunist' a fellow convict who said Sirhan once threatened to assassinate Sen. Edward M. Kennedy if he were elected president.
Inmate William Kogan, a repeat robber, testified on the fourth day of a state hearing behind prison walls to determine whether to revoke the planned 1984 parole for the assassin of Sen. Robert Kennedy.
Kogan told the board he was the first prisoner to meet Sirhan after the assassin was transferred to the California Training Facility at Soledad from death row at San Quentin.
'I'll always remember that day when I told him to be extremenly careful,' Kogan said. 'I knew instinctively that people were going to try and climb over his body from the day he got there. I never met a man who could be more described as a gentleman.'
On Wednesday, inmate Lawrence Wilson, a murderer who lived on Sirhan's cellblock for three years, testified Sirhan threatened to kill Edward Kennedy.
'I'm sure that Sirhan never more than said 'hello' if he was spoken to,' Kogan testified. 'Larry Wilson was an opportunist... I dislike him, I have very good reason for it.'
Kogan said Wilson told fellow inmates he had strong connections with the prison staff and that living in the same housing unit with him was 'very tense.'
Wilson was the only one of three key witnesses to show up to testify against Sirhan on Wednesday, and on cross-examination, he could not recall the year Sirhan made the alleged threat.
Wilson also refused to answer questions on a current accusation that he forged the signature of author Joseph Wambaugh in a letter to the parole board recommending Wilson for release.
Wilson's testimony came on the third day of the parole hearing called because of demands for cancellation of Sirhan's 1984 parole date. It was fixed in 1975.
The eight-day hearing is taking place at California Training Facility, a prison 120 miles south of San Francisco.
The campaign to keep Sirhan locked up is led by District Attorney John Van de Kamp of Los Angeles County, where Sirhan gunned down Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968. Van de Kamp now is a candidate for state attorney general.
Sirhan sat calmly through six hours of testimony Wednesday, grinning when a prison psychiatrist stood by a 1975 evaluation and said Sirhan no longer had more violent tendencies than most people.
But his face darkened when Wilson entered the cramped hearing room.
Sirhan, 38, smiled once during Wilson's testimony when Wilson said Sirhan had a well-known habit of grinding his teeth when angry or frustrated.
Wilson said he got to know Sirhan when they were members of a prison weight-lifting team. He said he asked Sirhan one day if Edward Kennedy would be assassinated in the event Kennedy became president.
''If I am released, I know he would be,'' Wilson quoted Sirhan as replying.
Two ex-convicts who made sensational charges against Sirhan didn't show up Wednesday because the state couldn't find them.
One was Carmen Falzone, who said in an interview with Playboy Magazine that Sirhan was plotting to steal plutonium -- a key ingredient of nuclear weapons -- from the United States for Libya.
Falzone, who spent eight months in Sirhan's cell block, is a fugitive from the FBI in a Salt Lake City bank theft case.
Paul Foster, a senior investigator for the prison terms board, said Falzone served time for burglary and has 'a lengthy record as a police informant.'
The other no-show was Phillip Clark of Cameron Park, Calif., who was serving rape and burglary sentences in San Quentin when Sirhan was on death row from 1969-72.
Clark told investigators last year that a friendly guard regularly let him into Death Row to chat with condemned men.
Investigator William Burnett quoted Clark as saying that on one of these visits, Sirhan told him he wanted to kill both Edward Kennedy and possibly Henry Kissinger.
James Park, who supervised death row as a San Quentin official from 1964-73, said Clark's story was 'extremely improbable.' He said all regular prisoners were barred from Death Row.