Hughes' behavior became erratic. He ignited a homemade explosive beneath his house, court records show. In a recent interview, he said he believed at the time that Viet Cong were living in tunnels under the house.
Police arrested him for being in possession of a Ruger semiautomatic rifle, an illegal act for a convicted felon. Later, people who lost money in his construction business accused him of fraud.
One investor, a retiree named Clifford Swires, told an investigator that Hughes left him a check for $60,000 shortly before Christmas 1994, along with a note of apology signed "Robert the robber."
When Swires tried to cash the check, he said, he learned that the account had been closed for two years.
Hughes fled to Boise, Idaho, with a girlfriend. There, he sought help at a Veterans Affairs hospital in March 1995. He said he was hearing voices and having "peculiar thoughts," records show. Doctors prescribed Risperdal and Depakote, powerful antipsychotic drugs.
A few months later, Hughes stopped taking the medications and heard a voice commanding him to go to Canada. He set out on foot, walking 35 miles without water, records show.
In July, he was back at the VA hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. They put him back on his medications and released him after a week.
Soon after, California authorities learned that Hughes was hiding in Idaho and arranged to bring him back to stand trial on the weapons charge.
Michael E. Kania, a court-appointed psychologist in San Bernardino, found Hughes to be delusional and recounted his long history of mental problems.
"He reports being bothered by .... intrusive thoughts that he has experienced over a number of years, in addition to auditory hallucinations which he experienced following his stay in Vietnam, first experiencing them when incarcerated in 1977," Kania wrote.
Hughes believed that people could read his mind and that unknown forces were trying to communicate with him through radio broadcasts and coded messages on license plates, the psychologist wrote.
Hughes' girlfriend told Kania that Hughes had hallucinations that "Jedi knights" were trying to contact him.
Hughes pleaded guilty to the weapons offense, diversion of construction funds and fleeing prosecution. He served six years in prison and was freed on parole in 2001.
San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Abacherli, who prosecuted Hughes, remembers him as "a personable guy" who told the truth when it was convenient.
"I would not call him a pathological liar. I would call him a con man," he said. "If he wanted to accomplish something that couldn't be accomplished by telling the truth, he would lie."
Told of Hughes' role in the Lisker case, he said: "I would be highly skeptical. That sounds exactly like a scenario that Mr. Hughes would try to take advantage of."
'I Heard What He Said'
Aside from the prison tattoos that cover both his arms, Hughes bears little resemblance to the wilder man of decades past. At 51, he appears to have outgrown the criminal life.
He lives with his third wife, Sharon, in a comfortable home on a hillside in Cedar City, Utah, in the high desert near the spectacular cliffs and canyons of Zion National Park.
Living on a VA disability pension, he spends his days doing chores around the house and working in the yard. He rides a mountain bike and fishes for brown trout.
In May, two reporters knocked on his door and asked to talk to him about new findings in the Lisker case.
Among other developments, recent police and FBI analysis of a bloody footprint from the crime scene had showed that it was not made by Lisker's shoes, contrary to what the prosecution said at the trial.
In addition, a police review of old autopsy photos had found an impression on the back of Dorka Lisker's head that appeared to match the mystery footprint.
The discoveries suggested the presence of an assailant other than Bruce Lisker. Rabichow, the prosecutor, said he now had "reasonable doubt" about Lisker's guilt.
Hearing this, Hughes grew agitated and told the reporters he had nothing to say. Then, sharing sodas with his guests on his front porch, he slowly relaxed and opened up. Over six hours of conversation that day and the next, he was by turns regretful, defiant, elusive and contradictory.
At first, he was adamant that Lisker had confessed. "You can show me all the footprints you want," he said, chain-smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. "But I'm beyond a shadow of a doubt. I looked in his eyes. I heard what he said."
Later, Hughes retreated slightly. He said he was certain about what Lisker had told him, but not certain that it was true. He said Lisker might have been playing the "tough guy" to impress fellow prisoners.
He went on to say: "If Rabichow has doubts, then so do I."
And later: "I've said some deep prayers about this. If the guy's innocent, get him out."