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10th Circuit Court of Appeals rules against Melvin Dummar and the 'Mormon Will'

Published September 13, 2008 1:27 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For years, Melvin Dummar has unsuccessfully argued that he was named as a beneficiary in Howard Hughes' will after saving the billionaire's life and is owed one-sixteenth of the estate.

On Friday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver handed the Utahn another defeat by upholding the dismissal of his latest lawsuit.

Dummar, a former gas station operator from Willard, in Box Elder County, has been labeled a scammer but has stuck to his story: While driving on U.S. Highway 95 on Dec. 29, 1967, he pulled onto a dirt road to relieve himself and saw a man lying face down.

Worried that the stranger would die from exposure, Dummar put him in his Chevy and, at the man's request, drove him 160 miles to Las Vegas. He left him at the back door of the Dunes Hotel after giving him some pocket change.

Before departing, the man said he would be forever indebted, according to Dummar, who said he disbelieved him when he said he was Howard Hughes.

A handwritten will that surfaced after Hughes' death in 1976 left assets to medical institutes, charities, the Boy Scouts of America, relatives, personal aides, scholarships and executives of Hughes' companies - plus one-sixteenth of the estate each to Dummar and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The document became known as the Mormon Will.

Dummar, 62, has never collected a dime. A probate trial in Las Vegas ended with a jury returning a verdict in 1978 that said the document was bogus.

In 2006, Dummar filed suit in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City claiming that a Hughes relative and an executive in Summa Corp., the holding company that took control of the billionaire's wealth after his death, coordinated false testimony to ensure that the handwritten will was rejected by the courts. Dummar alleged that recently discovered evidence revealed the conspiracy.

Stuart Stein, a New Mexico lawyer representing Dummar, said Friday that a cover-up has kept his client from proving he has a right to the estate.

"Perhaps it comes down to the rich and the powerful always win and the poor and powerless always lose," Stein said.

The defendants - Texans William Rice Lummis, whose mother was Hughes' aunt, and the now-deceased Frank William Gay, described as the "effective" chief operating officer of Summa - adamantly denied there was a conspiracy or false testimony.

Judge Bruce Jenkins threw out the suit in January 2007, ruling that the matter was "fully and fairly litigated" in the Las Vegas probate trial. Dummar appealed that decision to the 10th Circuit, which sided with Jenkins.

pmanson@sltrib.com