Local lawyers watching fabled Texan in action For the defense: Racehorse Haynes

September 29, 1993|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Staff Writer

The trial is almost routine. The lawyer is anything but.

That's why Baltimore attorneys are making their way to Courtroom 7B at the federal courthouse, where fabled Texas defense lawyer Richard "Racehorse" Haynes is at work.

Mr. Haynes, who became famous for his defense work in several of Texas' most bizarre murder cases, is in town to defend a Texas man charged here with marijuana trafficking. He is known as a shrewd defense lawyer who can charm juries and skewer prosecutors.

When the trial opened last week, Mr. Haynes drew a crowd. His client is Richard Boyd, a 35-year-old Houston man with no prior criminal convictions. He is charged with trafficking in slightly more than a ton of marijuana that was routed to Maryland.

"I would have acquitted the defendant after the opening statement," said Carmen Hernandez, an assistant federal public defender, who was among the lawyers who came to watch. "If you were going to name the five top defense attorneys in the country, you would certainly name him."

Mr. Haynes' first fame came in defending Houston plastic surgeon John Hill, accused in 1970 of poisoning his socialite wife.

Dr. Hill himself was murdered before the trial, and the story became the best seller "Blood and Money."

The Racehorse trotted back into the limelight to defend multimillionaire Fort Worth businessman T. Cullen Davis, whom police accused in the 1976 killing of his wife's lover and her daughter from a previous marriage. The jury acquitted Mr. Davis even after two witnesses identified him as the gunman.

And when prosecutors struck a second time, with photos and tape-recorded evidence that seemed to place Mr. Davis at the heart of a scheme to kill the judge in his divorce case, Mr. Haynes again persuaded jurors to acquit his client.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jefferson M. Gray and James G. Warwick, who are prosecuting the Baltimore case, are prepared for a lengthy trial, possibly lasting a month.

"There is no doubt, this is going to be a very well-tried case," said Mr. Gray. Senior U.S. District Judge Herbert N. Maletz is hearing the case.

Local lawyers say they hope to pick up a few pointers from watching Mr. Haynes.

"Move over, Billy Murphy [a flamboyant local lawyer], the Racehorse is here," said Baltimore defense lawyer Bill Purpura, who came to the opening and said he will be back as the trial continues. "He has a great grasp of the facts, he speaks eloquently and slowly, has great eye contact. He carries himself like a gentleman throughout. It's a good lesson."

"His style is that he's very human in his approach in explaining a person's problems to the jury," said Robert Durkin, another local defense lawyer who showed up.

"But everyone thinks winning is in the opening and closing," he added. "It's what goes on in between that makes the difference."

Ms. Hernandez said she was impressed with Mr. Haynes' quiet Texas drawl and low-key manner.

"It seems more and more the really great trial attorneys exude a much softer persona that you might otherwise expect," she said. "I would think a jury over a period of time would get to trust him and like him."

Mr. Haynes said he does not presume that local attorneys need his advice. But, when pressed, he shares these tips.

"Be candid and courageous," he said. "The biggest mistake is not listening carefully. And never assume anything. You can never assume that the niceties of the law have been followed, or that the government's duties have been faithfully discharged."

"Racehorse" -- who got his nickname either from a junior high football coach or from his own imagination depending on who's telling the story -- says he just turned 66 years old and is slowing his pace.

"I've started teaching. And I want to spend time with my grandchildren."

He says he and a fellow lawyer took the Baltimore case at the request of an elderly in-law of the defendant who "wanted two country lawyers to come help the boy.

"I couldn't resist," he added.

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