Guilty, Guilty, Guilty

To the end, Herbert Lee Madison insisted he was no cop killer. Maybe not, but he definitely should learn to look both ways before crossing the street. He'll have plenty of time in jail to consider that lesson.

A Dallas County jury last week didn't buy Madison's story that he neither saw nor heard the car crash that killed highly respected Dallas policeman Harold F. Baird Jr. and seriously injured his rookie partner in August 2000. Jurors convicted Madison, 48, of failing to stop and render aid--in plain English, he left the scene of the accident--after his car collided with the speeding squad car in which Baird was a passenger. Jurors sentenced Madison to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine; he'll likely serve about three and a half months. Madison's lawyer, John Key, says his client had turned down a plea bargain for five years' probation before the trial, insisting he was innocent.

Lesson No. 2 for Madison: There's a big difference--jail time, mostly--between being innocent and not guilty in court. When a decorated cop dies, not guilty verdicts are hard to come by.

Madison, whose case was detailed in a November 2, 2000, Dallas Observer cover story, "Marked Man," claimed that he never saw what happened after his car and the squad car collided on South Lamar Street. The police car went out of control and sped another three blocks before striking a utility pole.

Madison pulled up to a pay phone to call his mother shortly after the collision, and Key introduced as evidence a photograph showing that Madison couldn't have seen the crash site from the pay phone. But Madison later walked out into the street to retrieve his bumper, which had been ripped from his car. He testified that he never looked both ways before stepping into the road and didn't look down the street to see what had happened to the squad car.

Several eyewitnesses, however, testified about how loud the crash was and how difficult it would have been not to watch what happened.

Jurors simply didn't believe Madison, says Key, who represented the Oak Cliff man for free. "We really didn't have a defense except his testimony," Key says. "He to this day denies he saw it."

Madison passed two polygraph tests commissioned by the defense, but the results couldn't be entered as evidence. Key says it was a bad time to go on trial in connection with the death of a police officer. "Hal Baird was just a super guy," Key says. "Under the circumstances, the outcome could have been much worse."

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams

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