Vickie Daniel got custody of her kids, was later acquitted of the murder, and Law & Order's Fred Thompson played the role of Racehorse in the movie that soon followed, getting Haynes' good ol' boy mannerisms down far better than NYPD Blue's Dennis Franz had when he played the defense attorney in the film based on the Davis case.
The Daniel case, legal experts say, broke new ground in the defense of battered spouses driven to retaliate against abusive husbands. Once an automatic murder conviction, a guilty verdict in such circumstances is now far more difficult to achieve. "There's no question about that," says longtime Dallas civil attorney and jurisprudence historian John Collins.
"What he's done throughout his career," says Collins, who worked with Haynes on a bribery case back in the early days of their careers, "is prove time and time again that the keys to success are thoroughness in preparation and being articulate in the courtroom. He is a prime example of all the positive things the advocacy system of justice is supposed to be."
Entering the courtroom without a bulging briefcase, a stack of law books or even notes on a legal pad has long been one of Haynes' disarming tactics, Collins points out. "But, as history shows, he comes to work with a keen awareness of the smallest weakness there might be in the government's case, completely prepared to give the prosecution a run for its money."
Even before the headlines and the fees that now start in the $500-per-hour range, before courtroom stardom and no last name was necessary, Haynes had long been serving up proof that he was on his way to becoming Texas' new litigation giant, the heir apparent to the title so long held by his mentor and first boss, Percy Foreman. During a 10-year period that began in the late '50s, Racehorse represented 163 clients charged with DWI and never lost. "That," he boasts, "is still a record."
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.
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.