Famed defense lawyer Richard 'Racehorse' Haynes dies
Richard “Racehorse” Haynes. ABA Journal file photo by Scott Pasfield.
The storied, colorful, extraordinarily successful Houston criminal defense lawyer Richard “Racehorse” Haynes died early Friday, not long after his 90th birthday, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Haynes’ style and demeanor changed when he entered a courtroom, where he would go from easygoing to taking command of the place, Chris Tritico, the Haynes family spokesman and a criminal defense lawyer, told the Chronicle.
“You saw a guy who went from 5-foot-8-inches to 9 feet tall,” said Tritico, who got his start helping out at Haynes’ law office in 1978, just two days after high school graduation. “He owned it. He took control. And he never let go.”
Indeed, Haynes was “the master of courtroom theatrics,” as shown in a 2009 ABA Journal profile.
For example, the profile offered, Haynes once shocked himself with a cattle prod to show a jury that, while it “hurts like hell, it’s not deadly.” He threatened to drive a nail through his hand to show a jury it wasn’t very painful. (He’d had a doctor inject the area with Xylocaine). And he mocked opposing counsel by cross-examining an empty witness chair. (The prosecutor, fearing Haynes’ cross-examination, had refused to call the key witness.)
On his first case, just a day after being admitted to the bar, Haynes accidentally stepped into a chewing tobacco spittoon as he moved to address the jury. His client was acquitted of all charges and Haynes surmised they’d felt sorry for him for having such a clumsy lawyer.
So Haynes proceeded to reprise that as a deliberate stunt nearly a dozen times, always getting acquittals. It ended when the judge saw him heading for the spittoon, called him to the bench and said, “You’re not going to kick over that spittoon again, are ya?”
Read the ABA Journal’s 2009 story about Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.
His clients included the rich and poor alike and, because of him, his cases sometimes became like no others.
Haynes represented 40 clients charged in capital cases and none got death sentences; he had a 12-year string of DUI cases in which all 163 clients were acquitted; and he won all but two of three dozen women in what he called “Smith & Wesson divorces,” in which they killed abusive husbands in self-defense.
One of them was a former Dairy Queen worker, whose husband, until his death, was speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and the son of a former governor. The woman was acquitted.
Haynes’ most famous case was his defense in 1976 of T. Cullen Davis, believed then to be the wealthiest person ever tried for murder in the United States. Davis was accused of murdering his stepdaughter, his estranged wife’s boyfriend and attempted murder of his wife.
Haynes’ strategy: his client was at the movies and someone else was at the scene at the time of the murders. He also cross-examined the estranged wife for 13 days, going into sexual questions having nothing to do with the matter—which some critics said put her on trial.
Davis was found not guilty.
Haynes was a Houston native and graduate of what now is the University of Houston Law Center.