God bless lawyer Haynes
Sunday, May 7, 2017
The Houston Chronicle
Somebody once asked Richard “Racehorse” Haynes to single out his biggest victory in a lifetime of victories in Texas courtrooms.
Was it the T. Cullen Davis case, when he got the richest American ever tried for murder off the hook — not once, but twice? Or was it the trial of Vickie Daniel, the former Dairy Queen waitress from Liberty accused of executing what Haynes called a “Smith and Wesson divorce” from her husband, who happened to be the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives?
Nope, Haynes said. The best case he ever won was when he represented a poor black man unjustly taking the rap for a white guy who stole some tools from a construction site. After a jury found the defendant not guilty, his client’s impoverished family threw a party for Haynes at their Third Ward house, and his children hung up a sign saying, “God bless lawyer Haynes.” He was one of the most famous lawyers ever to set foot in a Houston courtroom, but he never forgot that sign.
Stories like that endeared Haynes to a generation of criminal defense lawyers in Houston, who are now mourning the April 28 death of a legendary figure in their profession. Haynes mastery of speaking to juries was matched only by his command of courtroom theatrics. In his first trial, he discovered jurors apparently felt sorry for him after he stumbled over a spittoon, so he repeated the same stunt in trial after trial.
He once famously used a cattle prod to shock himself in a courtroom; only later did he reveal that he’d pulled a sneaky trick to reduce the voltage. He came close to driving a nail through his hand in front of a jury, but he changed his mind when he concluded it could backfire against his client if he cried in court.
It didn’t take long for him to become a cultural phenomenon. One of his highest-profile cases, the byzantine story behind the murder of River Oaks plastic surgeon John Hill, became the subject of the best-selling true crime classic “Blood and Money.” Over the decades, he’s been caricatured on film as the stereotypical flamboyant Texas lawyer, and composers have memorialized him in songs with titles like “Whips, Chains and Racehorse Haynes.”
But attorneys who worked with him mourn more than just the passing of a colorful character. They’ll tell you Haynes was a throwback to a golden age of trial law, a time when it seemed most attorneys considered the law a calling, a passionate commitment to justice. It bothered him, they say, that so many of the best young minds of our time now devote their careers not to law, but to finance or other professions simply because they pay better.