Feature Stories

Jailed Richard Haskins Talks About The Tragedy Behind His Downward Spiral

Richard Haskins looks defeated. As his face appears on the screen for a video visit from Denton County Jail, he slouches to the side, leaning toward the camera with the phone up to his ear. His orange fatigues and bushy brown beard are the only offset to the pale wall and floor behind him. Nearly three and a half years after he was arrested for attempted bank robbery, Haskins was arrested on March 11 for a probation violation. But he says what really landed him back in jail was the death of his girlfriend in a drunk driving accident 10 months ago.

"It sucks because I got into this fucking spot. Once you get into the system, it's so hard to get out," Haskins says. His eyes dart back and forth, continually fixating downward. "I just wait for the day, I pray; I've been dealing with this for four years, I almost forgot what it's like not having something like this hanging over my head."

Haskins, the death defying front man for rock band the Wee Beasties, was originally arrested in December 2012 for attempting to rob the Wells Fargo in Denton. Having slipped a note in the tube at the drive through window, only to find there was no one at the counter, Haskins panicked and drove away. A couple days later, he turned himself in. He was granted probation the following August, although he wouldn't get out of jail for good until April 2014. But his troubles were only just beginning.

Haskins was able to get by on the money he made playing gigs and doing some under-the-table work, such as working sound at the now-closed Hailey's Club. Still, he was diligent about reporting for probation, completed his classes and did much of his community service work. But the fees related to probation, particularly the urine tests he was required to take — "Sometimes I was taking up to four a week" — quickly added up. And his probation was for 10 years.

Early last year, Haskins moved in with his girlfriend, Alaina McMillan, who helped add stability to his life, including making sure he had access to the medications he needed. (Haskins was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was in the Navy.) "She was the female version of me. Every bit as wild as I was, had every bit as many crazy ideas, every bit as creative as me," Haskins says. "She had a lot of demons to deal with. She was alcoholic. She had a real major problem with alcohol. But other than that she was just the sweetest person you ever imagined."

On the evening of May 15, 2015, Haskins says McMillan, who had already been drinking, called and asked him to pick her up some food — and also a bottle of vodka. "I'd probably done this 1,000 times for her, because I've known her since high school. But she was so drunk when she called me, honestly, I felt like I was enabling her, for the first time ever." Haskins came up with an excuse for why he couldn't get her the vodka, then headed off to band practice.

A short time later, McMillan died while trying to drive herself to the liquor store.

McMillan's death was devastating for Haskins, who not only lost his girlfriend, place to live and ability to get medications, but also felt responsible for her death. "If I'd bought her that bottle of vodka that night she'd still be alive," he says, taking a deep sigh. "And that's a tough thing to deal with." He pauses, his voice breaking up through the phone. "Her dad has repeatedly told me it wasn't my fault, and it's so hard to hear it from him because that was his only daughter," he adds. "It's one of those things, no matter what I do, I don't think I'll ever get over that."

Haskins, who says he had been sober for two years prior to McMillan's death, threw himself into binge drinking. "He went off the deep end. He just went completely nuts," says Hale Baskin, a member of Denton band the Southpaw Preachers and close friend of Haskins'. "And I didn't know he wasn't telling people his live-in girlfriend had been killed. I always thought people knew that and were taking it into account."

But for months after, he admits he was trying to drink himself to death. "I rented a shed in a lady's back yard," he says. "I crawled in there one day and chased the possum that was living in there out of there. God's honest truth." He breaks out laughing.  

He credits Baskin with helping him through the hardest days following the accident. "It's probably really hard maintaining probation, especially for 10 years," Baskin says.
It was during this time that Haskins stopped reporting for probation. Then, in early October, shortly after his 31st birthday, his friend RJ Avery picked him up from the shed and drove him to stay in Forney, where he helped Haskins get back on his feet and even got him a job. But less than a week after the intervention, a warrant was issued for Haskins' probation violation.

"It was crazy because all these good things started happening all at once," says Haskins, who got sober once again. He got a job working at an acoustics company and, through that and his experience as an audio engineer working with bands like Brave Combo, he also got hired as the chief engineer at Dallas recording studio Valley of the Kings. Then came 35 Denton and the Wee Beasties' planned gig at J&J's Pizza on March 11.

Warrants have left Haskins in a catch-22 ever since he was finally released from jail two years ago. He'd had outstanding warrants that predated the robbery, which he claims were mostly for parking tickets and took place in Hickory Creek. His time served requests were repeatedly denied, however. "If I sat out those tickets, I'd only sit in jail for 16 days and in the same damn county as those warrants," he says. "But they won't take my time served for god knows what reason."

Even before the new warrant for the parole violation, those warrants had been plaguing Haskins. "I didn't have an ID; I couldn't get an ID because I had warrants; I couldn't make money to pay for the fucking warrants because I couldn't get a job because I didn't have an ID," he says. "I can't even get a job at fucking McDonald's. How do they not expect it to go wrong?"

35 Denton, however, was going to be Haskins' "Blue Brothers moment," as Baskin puts it. "I knew they were looking for me but I wasn't going to let anybody down. I was going to play that show come hell or high water," Haskins says. He'd been led to believe that he would be allowed to play his show before the arrest would take place — and even if he hadn't been arrested that night, he says he would've turned himself in afterward. "What was I going to do, run forever? There's no hiding from that."

Haskins had been warned by friends that U.S. marshals were waiting behind J&Js, so did his best to disguise himself, shaving his head, painting a lightning bolt on his head wearing a pair of glasses. As he approached the venue that night, he spotted some friends on the second story stairwell to the apartment of his guitarist, who lives above J&Js. Among his friends he spotted a stranger wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

"I don't know why it didn't even dawn on me that this dude was a cop," Haskins says. "I walk up and I'm like, 'What's up, dude?' I threw my hands up to high-five him and those cocksuckers tackled me. Tackled me and threw me to the ground." Again, though, he's able to see some humor in the situation: "I heard the room [at J&J's] was pretty packed, so I'm happy about that."
A week and a half after the arrest, Haskins is still in jail, and the future is uncertain. "I'm at no bond right now. Even if I had a billion dollars, I couldn't get out right now," he says. The good news is that, thanks to the help of his friends, Haskins has been able to secure an attorney, having always had to rely on public defenders in the past. "As of right now I have a court date on the 31st, and I'm a little worried about it. It's super quick. They're trying to force my hand."

Haskins says he could face anywhere between two and 20 years in prison or, in a best-case scenario, a reinstated probation. "Realistically, it's probably safe to say I'm going to get some years. So that sucks. I'm a dad," he says, referring to the son he has from a previous marriage.

In the meantime, Haskins' friends have continued to rally around him, including with a GoFundMe campaign that had to be abandoned and the release of some old demos, called Denton County Blues, to try to help raise funds. "Apparently someone's making skate board decks, which is hilarious," he says. "I got a lot of friends everywhere. Stick me someplace in Denton and, no matter where it is, I'm going to know half the people in there," he adds. "I'm just thankful I have so many good friends."