Counsel for the Defense

Page 3 of 9

And head-shaking members of the legal community began referring to the high-dollar Haynes as a miracle worker. Others less charitable acknowledge him as a legal gunslinger. Several years ago, one judge split the difference, calling Haynes a "charming little jerk."

Retired Associated Press reporter Mike Cochran, who covered each of the Davis trials and later wrote the definitive book on the saga, calls Haynes "as good a courtroom lawyer as I've ever seen." No small praise from a man who has seen the likes of the legal icon Melvin Belli in action as he defended Lee Harvey Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby.

"Racehorse has this charisma and showmanship that just takes over the courtroom the minute he walks in," Cochran says. "The guy is spellbinding. And he's tough as a floor safe."

Veteran Fort Worth defense attorney Jack Strickland, who prosecuted the Davis murder-solicitation case, is not so generous. Still, he admits a grudging respect for his old adversary. "I think Haynes is an exceptional lawyer," he says, "but that's not to say I agreed with the tactics he used in the Davis case, trashing the victim [Priscilla Davis] the way he did. There's no question we really went at each other, and there were definitely hard feelings when the case was over."

Time, however, has thawed the relationship. "We've seen each other on social occasions a few times," Strickland says, "and even served as co-counsel on a drug case a few years ago.

"Richard is bright, as fast on his feet as anyone I've ever seen, and has a phenomenal memory. And he's always prepared. Having said that, he's also a man who can stand in front of a jury and say the most outrageous things imaginable, and somehow manage to keep a straight face while doing so."

The historic Davis case, Strickland admits, brought out the worst in a lot of people. "On both sides," he admits. At one point, the former assistant district attorney even publicly suggested that Haynes and his team of attorneys had crossed the line from advocates and become accomplices to the crime with which their client was charged.

Interestingly, it is no longer the personal wars or courtroom tactics or even brilliant examination of witnesses that come to mind as Haynes reflects on the milestone events of the Davis trial. Rather, it is an angry and tearful late-night call that came from his wife, Naomi, to whom he's been married for 53 years and delights in referring to as "the widow Haynes."

"She'd just had the flowerbeds landscaped," he recalls, "and my two Rhodesian ridgebacks had gotten in them and torn them all to hell. I said something like, 'Darlin', I'm up here [in Amarillo] trying the Super Bowl of capital murder cases, and you're calling me about the dogs tearing up the flowerbeds? I don't have time right now to worry about that. If it'll make you feel any better, just get a pistol and shoot the sons-a-bitches.'

"Well, all that did was cause her to cry harder and get even madder. She said, 'That's just like you. I'm here alone. I need somebody to talk to, and you're only interested in your stupid trial.' I could tell she was really steamed. So, I said, 'You're absolutely right. I apologize. I'm dead wrong. Put the dogs on the phone and I'll talk to them.'"

In the early '80s, a former Dairy Queen waitress named Vickie Daniel was charged with killing her husband, Price Daniel Jr. The fact the victim was not only the former speaker of the Texas House but the son of Price Daniel Sr., one of the most popular governors in the state's history, fueled a gossip firestorm in the little East Texas community of Liberty. Racehorse was summoned. Even before the murder trial, he would have to defend Daniel in a lengthy and raunchy battle against her rich and powerful in-laws for custody of her children. When, finally, his case had been laid out and Haynes rose to present his closing argument in the historic Liberty County courthouse, a triumphant marching song suddenly began to filter through the open windows.

"The high school band was practicing nearby," Haynes recalls, "and it was nothing more than happenstance that it struck up the 'William Tell Overture' just as I got ready to address the jury. The prosecutor jumped out of his chair and objected, saying I had orchestrated the whole thing. I explained to the judge that I didn't--but if I hadn't been dumber than a bucket of hair, I'd have certainly given it some thought."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers