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Many decades ago, when I was in high school, I came up with the idea that you should generally trust jury decisions to be right. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But, then I met Racehorse Haynes

When I was in college, I once had a part time job working for the top defense attorney in Houston, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes. (A reader writes to say he saw Racehorse, now in his mid-80s appearing in court yesterday.) He and a professor at Rice, Bill Martin, were planning on writing a book together, so my job was to synopsize all the newspapers articles in Racehorse’s scrapbook. There was a lot of good material. For example, from a 2009 article by Mark Curriden in the ABA Journal:

There was a time when Richard “Race­horse” Haynes had his clients thank judges and juries at the end of their trials. But back-to-back cases in the 1970s changed his mind about that. 

First, a Texas jury had just found his client not guilty on all counts, when Haynes told the court his client had something to say. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank each and every one of you,” the client stated. “And I promise you that I will never, ever do it again.” 

A few weeks later, another Haynes client was acquitted. Again, the defendant thanked the judge and jury, only to be interrupted by the judge. 

“Don’t thank me, you little turd,” the judge said. “You and I both know you’re guilty.”

His specialty was defending people who shot their cheating spouses or their spouses’ lovers.

For instance, he’s represented three doz­en women in what he refers to as “Smith & Wesson divorces,” which are cases where the husband had been abusive, leading the wife to kill in self-defense. 

“I won all but two of those cases,” he says. “And I would have won them if my clients hadn’t kept reloading their gun and firing.”

The law in Texas didn’t exactly have an exception that said you could shoot somebody if he had it coming, but most jurors in Texas in the 1950s-1970s felt that some people just deserved some shooting. And Racehorse was the grandmaster at coming up with technical rationales for jurors to use to acquit people who’d shot people whom the jurors felt had it coming.

Haynes has lived by the advice of his mentor, legendary Texas trial lawyer Percy Foreman: “If you can prove the victim abused a dog or a horse, you can convince the jury that the guy deserved to be killed.”  

“For some reason,” Haynes continues, “cats don’t apply.”

Racehorse’s most famous advice for defense attorneys was that they don’t need to prove anything, so they should keep their options open:

“Say you sue me because you say my dog bit you,” he told the audience. “Well, now this is my defense: My dog doesn’t bite. And second, in the alternative, my dog was tied up that night. And third, I don’t believe you really got bit.” 

His final defense, he said, would be: “I don’t have a dog.”

Speaking of jury selection, I read through many pages of notes Racehorse had made for himself during jury selections. Something I was struck by was that he often wrote down the number of pens and pencils a potential juror had in his shirt pocket. Racehorse explained that men who were ashamed of their blue collar jobs sometimes carried around a lot of pens and pencils in their pockets so that people would think they had white collar jobs, like engineers. Guys with too many pencils for their jobs were phonies and he didn’t want phonies on his juries.

That struck me strongly at the time. I was surprised. Since Racehorse’s fame rested on his getting obviously guilty people off, I had assumed that he would have, all else being equal, wanted phonies on his jury, so I was surprised by his phony juror aversion. Was I more cynical at 20 than Racehorse Haynes, the most notorious cynic in Texas, at 50? As Cecily says to Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest: “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.” Perhaps the point is that to be really good at something, as Racehorse definitely was, you have to be a little bit earnest.

Racehorse could teach himself any field of science useful in the law. For example, he won 163 consecutive drunk driving cases from 1956-1968 because he knew more about the biochemistry of intoxication than anybody working for Harris County and could thus tie technicians in knots. Eventually, the government upped its game.

I once asked him about his victory in a lurid murder case that, according to the Houston newspapers, was the first time ever that DNA evidence was introduced in a murder trial. This was a pro bono case where Racehorse defended the guiltiest looking loser you ever saw. It wasn’t clear to me from the scrapbook accounts that the cops ever had much probable cause for arresting this guy in this case or whether he was just brought in on a round-up-the-usual-perverts trawl of people who were likely guilty of something.

However, the prosecutors had a surprise: DNA evidence from hairs and so forth found at the scene of the crime were shown by geneticists at Texas A&M to belong to the witness.

So, Racehorse read up on DNA and reduced the expert witnesses to blithering wrecks. I said to Racehorse in 1979, “Gee, you really pointed out some weaknesses in DNA evidence.”

He replied to the effect that the DNA analysis in this case was perfect. Yes, his client really had been at the scene of the crime — but that was because the cops took him there when they arrested him. According to Racehorse, this was standard procedure. Sometimes a crime scene visit induced confessions.

It could certainly help make any subsequent false confession more accurate. Lots of people confess to major crimes, but often their confessions are self-evidently the product of someone who wasn’t there. According to Bill James’s new book Popular Crime, cops routinely withhold or even lie to the newspapers about some minor detail that only the Real Killer would know in order to throw out false confessors. On the other hand, if you are trying to pin the rap on some guy who is probably a menace to little girls, but might not have done this particular crime, well, then you want him to know all the details in case he gets into a mood to confess.

The funny thing was that there was no mention of the cops taking the accused to the crime scene in any of the reports on the trial. There were many column inches about Racehorse humiliating the DNA scientists, but, as far as I could tell, the part about the cops walking his defendant through the bushes never came up in court.

Maybe it never happened, maybe it couldn’t be proved without putting the defendant on the stand. Or maybe Racehorse’s view was that you don’t burn the local cops and make them look bad. Making fools of out of town professors was fine, but you’ve got to live and work in Houston, so you don’t burn the cops.

I don’t know. But the general point is that in trials, there is often all sorts of extremely relevant evidence that the jury never hears about for all sorts of reasons. When you read true crime books about big trials, the amount of important facts that the jury never considered can be astonishing.

Other times, the jury hears about the relevant stuff, but then everybody sort of forgets about it.

Racehorse won a number of spectacular murder cases that were made into miniseries or TV movies, like 1981′s Murder in Texas with Farrah Fawcett as the mistress of his client (Sam Elliott), a wealthy plastic surgeon whose horsewoman wife (Katharine Ross) mysteriously died. The dead lady’s superrich dad was sure his no-good son-in-law had injected her with poisonous bacteria. Racehorse got a mistrial, but before a retrial could begin, a hit man killed the doctor at the door of his River Oaks home. The dead woman’s father was implicated but never convicted of hiring the killer.

But Racehorse’s ultimate Great White Defendant was T. Cullen Davis, a possible model for J.R. Ewing of Dallas. Cullen was white, extremely rich (said at the time to be the richest man ever tried for murder in America), and guilty as sin. And Racehorse defended him twice. (Dennis Franz played Racehorse in 1995′s Texas Justice with Heather Locklear as Priscilla Davis and Peter Strauss as T. Cullen Davis.)

In 1976, Cullen snuck into his hilltop mansion on his 180 acre estate where his estranged wife Priscilla was living with her new boyfriend, waited for hours, and then shot both when they came home, killing the boyfriend and badly wounding the wife, who crawled off into the bushes and survived. Two teenage friends of the family were with them. Cullen shot the boy and the girl ran off down the hill in opposite directions. In terror, she told the first car she flagged down that Cullen was shooting everybody up at the mansion. Her boyfriend identified Cullen’s picture when he came out of surgery.

Now, maybe you could say that the estranged wife and her boyfriend had it coming, and therefore be receptive to all of Racehorse’s gyrations, such as his 13-day cross-examination of the wounded wife about her affairs and her Percodan addiction.

But … there was another murder victim that I didn’t mention. You see, Cullen’s 12-year-old stepdaughter was at home. And when she stumbled upon him hiding in the house, the multimillionaire executive murdered his own 12-year-old stepdaughter rather than call off his plan to murder his wife.

That’s about the evilest thing I’ve heard of.

Witness-murdering has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time, at least since the 1993 suburban Chicago Brown’s Chicken massacre of 7 fast food workers because one or more of the workers recognized the robbers, but probably since I read about this case in Gary Cartwright’s Blood Will Tell in 1979.

I think deterring witness murdering is the main justification for the death penalty. Say you carefully plan to shoot your wife, but a stranger sees you doing it, so you shoot him as well to to shut him up about whodunnit.

A general, widely-advertised policy of always going for the death penalty in cases of witness-murdering might deter a few witness-murders. (But I’ve seldom heard anybody else say anything like this, so the deterrent effect is probably minimal. For some reason, Americans don’t really seem to think much about witness-murdering as something that ought to be deterred. It just doesn’t come up much in arguments over the death penalty.)

But what Cullen did was far worse than that example. When his stepdaughter found him, he hadn’t shot his wife yet. He could have bluffed his way out of the situation by claiming he was just there to get some of his things or whatever, and walked away. His breaking-and-entering would have hurt his position in the divorce trial. But he chose to pre-emptively murder his own stepdaughter.

But, the killing of the little girl, while it came up early in the trial, kind of got lost in all the hoopla about the wandering wife. The prosecutors got worked up over going mano-a-mano with the great Racehorse Haynes in defending the honor of the party girl wife and the whole trial became about the wife rather than about the dead little girl.

The jury acquitted Cullen.

The next year, Cullen was back in jail, this time on attempted murder charges. He had offered a man $25,000 to murder the judge in the Davis’s still ongoing divorce trial. The man immediately went to the FBI, and the Feds talked the judge into climbing into the trunk of a car, closing his eyes, and getting ketchup poured all over him. The would-be hit man handed a photo of the ketchup-covered judge to Cullen in return for an envelope with $25,000 in it. The FBI recorded both video and audio of the exchange.

Racehorse spent about a full month of the trial raising technical quibbles about synchronization of video and audio. Then, however, he put Cullen on the stand, and Cullen admitted the videotape was completely accurate. See, Cullen said, somebody purporting to be from the FBI called me and asked me to put a sting over on the prosecution’s chief witness by trying to entrap him by offering him $25,000 to kill my wife.

Now, many people assume that defense attorneys make up the crazy stories that their clients tell in court. But, my impression is that that doesn’t happen much. Trust me, Racehorse Haynes, one of the great storytellers in Texas, could have come up with a better story than that.

After a hung jury in the first trial, on retrial, the jury acquitted Cullen again. 

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Crime, LA 
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In the new July-August Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz reviews the latest volume of Kevin Starr’s history of California: Golden Dreams: California in the Age of Abundance: 1950-1963. It makes me nostalgic for what once was. Schwarz is a half-decade younger than me and, I would guess from this, had a similar San Fernando Valley upbringing:

It was a magnificent run. From the end of the Second World War to the mid-1960s, California consolidated its position as an economic and technological colossus and emerged as the country’s dominant political, social, and cultural trendsetter. … In 1959, wages paid in Los Angeles’s working-class and solidly middle-class San Fernando Valley alone were higher than the total wages of 18 states.

It was a sweet, vivacious time: California’s children, swarming on all those new playgrounds, seemed healthier, happier, taller, and — thanks to that brilliantly clean sunshine — were blonder and more tan than kids in the rest of the country. For better and mostly for worse, it’s a time irretrievably lost. …

Starr consistently returns to his leitmotif: the California dream. By this he means something quite specific — and prosaic. California, as he’s argued in earlier volumes, promised “the highest possible life for the middle classes.” It wasn’t a paradise for world-beaters; rather, it offered “a better place for ordinary people.” That place always meant “an improved and more affordable domestic life”: a small but stylish and airy house marked by a fluidity of indoor and outdoor space … and a lush backyard — the stage, that is, for “family life in a sunny climate.” It also meant some public goods: decent roads, plentiful facilities for outdoor recreation, and the libraries and schools that helped produce the Los Angeles “common man” who, as that jaundiced easterner James M. Cain described him in 1933,” addresses you in easy grammar, completes his sentences, shows familiarity with good manners, and in addition gives you a pleasant smile.”

Until the Second World War, California had proffered this Good Life only to people already in the middle class — the small proprietors, farmers, and professionals, largely transplanted midwesterners … But the war and the decades-long boom that followed extended the California dream to a previously unimaginable number of Americans of modest means. Here Starr records how that dream possessed the national imagination … and how the Golden State — fleetingly, as it turns out — accomodated Americans’ “conviction that California was the best place in the nation to seek and attain a better life.” …

This dolce vita was, as Starr makes clear, a democratic one: the ranch houses with their sliding glass doors and orange trees in the backyard might have been more sprawling in La Canada and Orinda than they were in the working-class suburbs of Lakewood and Hayward, but family and social life in nearly all of them centered on the patio, the barbecue, and the swimming pool. The beaches were publicly owned and hence available to all — as were such glorious parks as Yosemite, Chico’s Bidwell, the East Bay’s Tilden, and San Diego’s Balboa. Golf and tennis, year-round California pursuits, had once been limited to the upper class, but thanks to proliferating publicly supported courses and courts (thousands of public tennis courts had already been built in L.A. in the 1930s), they became fully middle-class. This shared outdoor-oriented, informal California way of life democratized — some would say homogenized — a society made up of people of varying attainments and income levels. These people were overwhelmingly white and native-born, and their common culture revolved around nurturing and (publicly educating) their children. Until the 1980s, a California preppy was all but oxymoronic. True, the comprehensive high schools had commercial, vocational, and college-prep tracks (good grades in the last guaranteed admission to Berkeley or UCLA — times have definitely changed). But, as Starr concludes from his survey of yearbooks and other school records, “there remained a common experience, especially in athletics, and a mutual respect among young people heading in different directions.”

To a Californian today, much of what Starr chronicles is unrecognizable. (Astonishing fact: Ricky Nelson and the character he played in that quintessential idealization of suburbia, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, attended Hollywood High, a school that is now 75% Hispanic and that The New York Times accurately described in 2003 as a “typically overcrowded, vandalism-prone urban campuse.”) Granted, a version of the California Good Life can still be had — by those Starr calls the “fiercely competitive.” That’s just the heartbreak: most of us are merely ordinary. For nearly a century, California offered ordinary people better lives than they could lead perhaps anywhere else in the world. Today, reflecting our intensely stratified, increasingly mobile society, California affords the Good Life only to the most gifted and ambitious, regardless of their background. That’s a deeply undemocratic betrayal of California’s dream …

Basically, that was my quite lovely childhood in the San Fernando Valley 1958-1980: ping-pong on the screened-in porch, swimming, backyard barbecues at my relatives’ houses, Yosemite, long hours at the library two blocks away, tennis at the park three blocks away, golf on municipal courses, and UCLA (for my MBA). The only minor differences from the picture Starr and Schwarz paint are that I went to Catholic grade school and high school, and away to Rice for college.

If you want to understand where I’m coming from politically, this is a good start.

That reminds me: Bill James once wrote a book about the politics of getting elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame. He wound up focusing on two statistically marginal members of the HoF: shortstop Phil Rizzuto of the New York Yankees and pitcher Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers. James concluded that Rizzuto is in the Hall of Fame because New York in the late 1940s and early 1950s was seen as a magical place, the newly undisputed capital of the world.

I think the same argument could be made about Drysdale. LA in the early 1960s was something special, and the huge fame of Drysdale, a 6’6″ blond surfer born in the San Fernando Valley in 1936, was because he was the exemplar of this national notion that life in Los Angeles was better. (One of Drysdale’s teammates at Van Nuy High School in the 1950s was Robert Redford.)

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: California, LA 
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I’ve been having a hard time getting across the idea that the Hispanic surge of immigration into Los Angeles is so 20th Century. It’s just too expensive now, so the Mexicans are heading to places like Kentucky. Here in LA, the new guys in town are … well, it’s hard to describe exactly who they are since we don’t have any generic terms for them: they’re East European / West Asian and ready to deal. One way to get an idea is too look at this picture of the two men in Britney Spears’s life these days, boyfriend / papparazi Adnan Ghalib (in white shirt) and vaguely-defined hanger-on Sam Lufti (in blue shirt), riding an outdoor escalator on Ventura Blvd. with Britney, who is wearing what appears to be her wedding dress.

Apparently, Adnan was born in Afghanistan, while Sam was born in LA. I have no idea what each one’s ethnicity is, but they are pretty representative of who you see on Ventura Blvd.

In LA, the New People aren’t generally generic Muslims — I seldom see women in burkhas or similar. Instead, they are often from exotic mercantile minorities in Muslim lands so they are culturally prepared to hit the ground hustling.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: LA, Men with Gold Chains 
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Los Angeles‘ ambitious mayor has one of those feminist names where he and his wife merged their surnames (his Villa, hers Raigosa) into Villaraigosa. As Bill Clinton had previously discovered, however, claiming to be a feminist can be a great way to get chicks. Mrs. Villaraigosa recently kicked him out of the Mayor’s mansion in Hancock Park for having another affair, this time with an anchorette from Telemundo’s Spanish-language news program. Blogger Luke Ford had much of the story back in January, months before the LA Times.

During a previous affair in 1994 while his wife was recovering from cancer surgery, a fax went around in LA Mexican-American political circles proposing about 100 new names for Villaraigosa, including Villapendejo, Villapitosuelto, Villaprimadonna, and Villahomewrecker.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: LA, Politics 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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