Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, the celebrated Houston lawyer well known for getting Fort Worth’s Cullen Davis acquitted in multiple murder trials, died early Friday morning.
The Houston Chronicle reported he died at 12:58 a.m. Friday, according to a statement from family spokesman and criminal defense lawyer Chris Tritico.
Davis, at the time the richest man to stand trial for murder in the U.S., had been charged in the 1976 slayings of stepdaughter Andrea Wilborn, 12, and Stan Farr, 30, the boyfriend of his estranged wife, Priscilla.
He had a total of four trials — two in the murders and two in solicitation of murder cases in which he was accused of hiring a hit man to kill his ex-wife and their divorce judge.
The first trial, in Fort Worth, ended in a mistrial for juror misconduct. The second in Amarillo ended in acquittal, the third in Houston ended in a hung jury, and the fourth, back in Fort Worth, also ended in acquittal.
Reached by telephone Friday, Davis, 83, said he had been concerned about Haynes’ health.
“I was thinking about him yesterday,” said Davis, who lives in Colleyville. “He did a marvelous job representing me, but I haven’t kept in touch with him. We just never stayed in touch.”
Davis said he was continually impressed by Haynes’ performance in the courtroom.
“He just had this certain way about him that I would hardly expect from anybody in court,” Davis said. “He was just sort of surprising.”
Haynes was known for his bulldog tenacity and Davis remembers he was not satisfied with responses from witnesses or with the judge’s rulings.
“He wouldn’t give up even when the judge tried to get him to quit asking the question and he finally would get the answer he wanted,” Davis said.
Former Star-Telegram reporter Mike Cochran, who covered the the trial for The Associated Press and wrote the book Texas vs. Davis about the millionaire’s legal battles, remembered that Haynes was getting information leaked to him about the prosecution’s case.
During the 1977 capital murder trial, prosecutors sensed that the defense team knew their every move. In 2001, Cochran got Davis to admit that he had been paying Morris Howeth, an investigator for the prosecution team. Howeth always denied the allegations. He died in 2015.
Cochran said he sometimes had a rocky relationship with Haynes while covering the trials but described him as “excellent attorney and colorful character.”
Haynes used his florid language to describe Cochran in an Oct. 4, 1987, Star-Telegram article.
“He defecates in your bonnet and you want to give him a sock in the soup-sucker, and then the next time you see him, he has such an effervescent nature, you forget about it,” Haynes said of Cochran. “I figure I owe him about two dozen punches in the nose.”
Cochran said, “We clashed from time to time, but we ended up being friends.”
“I remember how aggravated I was at him for two years running,” Strickland said. “He was a very formidable adversary. He was a showman. Those were the days when lawyers had a little more latitude to mouth off and try their cases in the press. I think I held my own.”
Former U.S. Attorney Marvin Collins, who was a prosecutor on the Amarillo trial, said he learned plenty from watching Haynes in the courtroom. He remembers when Haynes painfully cross-examined Priscilla on the stand for two long weeks.
“He was never anything but exceedingly polite to her but yet when he had finished, she was in ruins,” Collins said. “I don’t know any other way to put it.”
After the trial, Strickland struck up a grudging friendship with Haynes that became more cordial as the years passed.
When Haynes visited Fort Worth, Strickland would pick him up at the airport and they would have dinner. Haynes was the only one ever allowed to smoke his “damned stinky pipe” in Strickland’s Porsche. They referred clients to one another and even worked on some cases together.
“I think he admired the fact that I never took the loss personally,” Strickland said. “It was a mutually respectful friendship.”
Earlier this month, Strickland and his wife, Fort Worth journalist Carolyn Poirot, attended Haynes’ 90th birthday party in Houston. It was a lighthearted affair, with guests telling colorful stories and a live band playing.
Haynes had briefly visited with the crowd before they arrived. By the time they went upstairs to see him, he was only “semi-conscious,” Strickland said.
Strickland, who plans to attend the funeral, is worried that Haynes is being forgotten.
“I want to tell you something,” Strickland said. “I mention Richard ‘Racehorse’ Haynes to young lawyers and they don’t know who I’m talking about.
“He was a real giant. They don’t have superstars like that anymore.”
This story contains information from the Star-Telegram archives.