Counsel for the Defense

At 76, flamboyant criminal lawyer Racehorse Haynes keeps doing what he does best--winning

The closest he ever came to losing, in fact, was in a Dallas courtroom as he defended a young SMU student who had been arrested while driving home following a fraternity party. "My own vanity got in the way," Haynes admits.

Having had a front tooth knocked out during a motorcycle racing accident just days before the weeklong trial was set to get under way, Haynes was self-conscious about the effect of the temporary tooth a dentist had put in place. As a result, he was far more reserved in his defense than usual. "I didn't say anything unless I had to," he recalls, "and, by the time the trial was drawing to a close, I knew that I hadn't connected with the jury."

When time came for closing arguments, Haynes knew that desperate measures were in order. "I walked up to the jury box, explained about the tooth and asked if they minded if I took it out so I would feel more comfortable talking." With that he removed the temporary tooth, set it on the railing, flashed a gaping smile, then gave an impassioned argument on behalf of his client.

Pinstriped suits and custom-made boots are among the flamboyant Haynes trademarks.
Mark Graham
Pinstriped suits and custom-made boots are among the flamboyant Haynes trademarks.

It took the jury 12 minutes to return with an acquittal.

Then there was the aforementioned Outlaws gang "crucifixion case" in Titusville, Florida. It is the one, many say, that served as the true genesis of the Racehorse Haynes legend. Inasmuch as the clients he agreed to defend had nicknames like Fat Frank, Crazy John, Super Squirrel and Mangy and at least one had a dead rat pinned to his jacket while a couple of others had a habit of French-kissing whenever a cameraman was in range, Haynes saw the case as a definite challenge. The charges weren't pretty: After learning that one of the gang's female groupies had violated a rule that stated all profits earned from what Racehorse delicately refers to as "the world's oldest profession" were to go into the gang's treasury, they had decided to punish her by nailing her to a tree.

"Actually, it sounds a little worse than it really was," Haynes insists. "They just nailed her hands to the tree. She wasn't killed, wasn't even hurt real bad. But the whole state of Florida was up in arms. Truth is, it probably wouldn't have been that big a deal if the victim's daddy hadn't been a rather prominent citizen who was calling in all kinds of law enforcement favors in an effort to get the whole gang strung up."

Haynes put the father's "unreasonable persecution" of the gang on trial and offered pretty compelling evidence that the victim had actually "volunteered" for her punishment. At one point during the trial, however, he began to feel his case needed a dramatic boost and went in search of a medical expert. What Racehorse wanted to know was how painful having a nail driven into one's hand might actually be.

When the doctor explained that there were places on the hand, particularly the webbing between the fingers, where there was very little feeling, Haynes, the story goes, became almost giddy, fantasizing about a scene where just before delivering his closing argument he would have the doctor inject his hand with a local anesthetic and mark a spot where no serious damage could be done. Then, as he passionately argued that little serious damage had been done to the victim, he would grab a hammer from his briefcase, place a hand on the jury box rail and drive the nail into it.

"To be perfectly honest about it," he says, "that wasn't my first idea." His wife had accompanied him to Florida. "I first asked her if she wanted to be famous," Haynes remembers, "then explained how she could come up and stand by the jury box and I would hammer the nail into her hand. As I recall, Naomi said something like, 'Not only no, but hell no,' and stormed out of the room."

Suffice it to say the longtime Mrs. Richard Haynes is a lady of great patience and understanding.

Ultimately, Haynes judged his case strong enough and reluctantly dismissed the theatrical notion. Fat Frank, Mangy and the gang were acquitted. And the victim? "My understanding," says Haynes, "is that she became quite the celebrity in the bars down in Florida, telling her story and showing off her stigmata."

It is getting late, but now the gifted storyteller is on a roll. There was the client accused of killing his girlfriend by having her ingest a potent insecticide he'd allegedly dissolved in her drink. Haynes contacted the manufacturer of the poison and learned that despite any amount of shaking or stirring, the poison would not dissolve in liquid, and it would be impossible to swallow since it would immediately stick to the roof of the mouth. "So, I began thinking I might demonstrate that to the jury," he admits. Ultimately, however, there was no need since he succeeded in having the case dismissed.

He did, however, do that show-and-tell with the electric cattle prod in a Kerrville courtroom in an effort to prove to a jury that the means by which his client had allegedly killed a drifter he was holding on his "slave ranch" wasn't as lethal as the prosecution would have them believe. "It was pretty damn painful, though," Haynes admits. But, he reflects, worth it. His client received five years' probation.

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