Richard "Racehorse" Haynes, the famed Houston criminal defense attorney who could charm a jury like nobody else and cross-examine a witness so thoroughly it was just short of physical evisceration, died on Friday at age 90.
Now, we're taking a look back at the quick-witted lawyer who could and would do just about anything — whether that meant using a cattle prod on himself to show a jury that while it "hurts like hell, it’s not deadly,” threatening to put a nail through his hand to show that crucifixion wasn't actually that painful, or cross-examining an empty chair when the prosecution refused to produce a witness — in defense of his clients.
Haynes, born in San Antonio, got his nickname in junior high school over in Houston's Sunset Heights neighborhood either because he was the fastest runner in his class or because a football coach noticed that he seemed more interested in carrying the ball from sideline to sideline rather than advancing it on the field. But it seems like the moniker stuck because of, well, everything that came after.
He was definitely fast. Haynes served in World War II when he was still just a kid himself. In fact, he was only 17 years old when he helped storm a beach during the Battle of Iwo Jima. During the battle, he raced under enemy fire to save a Marine.
After the war, Haynes briefly considered becoming a doctor, but changed course after a week working in a hospital. Instead, he opted for the law, a profession where you could always appeal if you made a mistake. So he went to law school at the University of Houston and then went on to become one of the most skilled criminal defense attorneys ever seen in Texas.
Haynes had been practicing for more than a decade when he agreed to defend big-time Houston plastic surgeon Dr. John Hill, who was accused of murdering his River Oaks socialite wife, Joan Robinson Hill. After her death in 1969, her father, oilman Ash Robinson, contended that Hill had poisoned his wife, and petitioned the district attorney to charge Hill with murder. Hill was charged for causing her death by withholding medical attention and went to trial in 1971 with Haynes at his side.
After Hill's second wife testified that Hill had confessed to killing Joan via a dessert laced with bacteria that caused the infection that killed her, Haynes saw an opening and asked for a mistrial.
It was Haynes's most flashy case to date at that point, but he never got to see it through — even though he'd told numerous friends around Houston that he thought the doctor would beat the rap because he was actually innocent of the crime. He hoped to tackle it the second time around, but Ash Robinson opted not to wait for another trial to see Hill punished. Hill was shot at the front door of his River Oaks mansion in a contract killing before the second trial could get underway.
But that same year, Haynes took on another case, the one that made him famous. He agreed to defend Fort Worth oilman T. Cullen Davis, who was accused of murdering his stepdaughter and his wife's lover.
The 1971 case drew incredible media attention, partly because of the case itself and partly because Davis was at that time the wealthiest man ever tried in the United States. And despite the evidence, Racehorse's representation helped guarantee that Davis never saw the inside of a prison. The first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked, and Davis was acquitted in the second trial.
Later on Davis was once again arrested, this time for plotting to kill his wife and the judge overseeing the divorce. (Apparently Davis liked to do things in a big, thorough way.) Haynes once again defended him and once again, even though there was video and audio proof, Davis went free. Haynes said in interviews over the years this made it more difficult to work his magic in the courtroom in the following years because his name and tactics were so well known, but that didn't stop him from taking on more flashy cases that garnered plenty of media attention.
In 1981, Haynes followed up by taking on another seemingly unwinnable case when he defended Vickie Daniel. Vickie Daniel was a former Dairy Queen waitress accused of murdering her husband, Price Daniel Jr., who was not only the descendant of a political dynasty in Texas that traced its roots directly back to Sam Houston, but also the former speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
Price and his wife had a fraught relationship and he had cut her out of his will a few months before she had him served with divorce papers in January 1981. And then, a few days later, he came home and was shot to death, allegedly by Vickie.
It was the kind of case that most would have thought open and shut, especially since the pair were fighting and she apparently did shoot him, according to the court records. But Haynes dug in, claiming that Price was a "drunken, dope-crazed, wife-beating bisexual and pederast, a man whose smiling public face concealed perverse desires" who had come after Vickie when she shot him, according to D Magazine. The jury acquitted her.
Then there was Morganna, an entertainer who became known as the "kissing bandit" because, starting in 1969, she would rush onto baseball fields and kiss unsuspecting players. Morganna finally got caught and charged when she went after the Astros in Houston. Of course, Haynes represented her and came up with what could have been the most entertaining defense of his entire career.
In April 1985, the Astros were playing on their home turf in the Astrodome against the L.A. Dodgers when a buxom woman ran onto the field and planted two quick kisses on famed pitcher Nolan Ryan. Security was waiting for her, though — she'd done this many times before, ticking off the baseball top brass — so she darted for another player, shortstop Dickie Thon. She tried to make it to the Dodgers dugout, but was caught.
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Morganna was charged with trespassing, and she came at the charge armed for bear with Haynes as her attorney. Haynes had a great defense planned out. He was going to argue, as he told papers at the time, the "gravity defense." In his view, Morganna had simply leaned over the stadium railing and then fallen, pulled down inexorably — and completely against her own will — by her enormous breasts.
Sadly, Haynes never got to argue this defense in court or demonstrate it — which is truly a pity since you just know that would have been one hell of a show and he was clear that he was going to demonstrate the effects of gravity by having someone, possibly the defendant herself, lean over and show that "seven of ten times," gravity won out. Instead, Houston Sports Association officials thought better of pursuing the whole thing and convinced city officials to drop the charges.
Through it all, Haynes had a flare about him that kept people watching. He also made a point of not carrying any enmity out of the courtroom, or acting like a jerk if he won. "You don't have to spit on the face of your enemy. Once you've conquest-ed your enemy, once you've won, you can shake hands and be a gentleman," he said in an interview a few years back.
Meanwhile, Haynes stayed married to the same woman for 60 years — his wife died before him — and had kids, lots of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and was more normal-sounding in real life, outside the courtroom, than most of his famously infamous clients.