HOUSTON — Houston lawyer Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, famed for his flamboyant but successful trial defenses of millionaire and billionaire clients in some of Texas’ most notorious murder cases, has died at age 90.
Haynes died early Friday at his home surrounded by family in the East Texas town of Trinity after years of declining health, said family spokesman Chris Tritico, a Houston criminal defense lawyer Haynes once mentored.
Initial fame came when Haynes defended wealthy Houston plastic surgeon John Hill at trial over the 1969 slaying of Hill’s socialite wife, Joan Robinson Hill, whom investigators said died after eating an eclair secretly laced with E. coli bacteria.
The 1971 trial ended in a hung jury — but Hill was gunned down in the driveway of his mansion before he could be retried. The case was the subject of Thomas Thompson’s best-selling book “Blood and Money,” which later was made into the 1981 film “Murder in Texas” starring Sam Elliott and Farrah Fawcett.
Haynes later represented Fort Worth oilman T. Cullen Davis, the first billionaire to be indicted for murder in the United States. Davis was accused of opening fire inside his mansion in 1976, killing his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Andrea Wilborn, and his estranged wife’s boyfriend, Stan Farr. His estranged wife, Priscilla, and family friend Gus Gavrel Jr. were wounded in shootings.
The first trial ended in a mistrial because of juror misconduct. The second ended in an acquittal in 1977.
Davis was later indicted on a capital murder solicitation charge, accused of trying to arrange a hit on his estranged wife and the judge in their divorce case. Haynes won an acquittal of Davis in that case, too.
On Friday, Davis recalled Haynes’ cross-examinations in his trials, how he never let up if dissatisfied with witness responses or a judge’s ruling.
“I was thinking about him yesterday,” Davis, now 83, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “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.”
Former prosecutor Jack Strickland tried the cases against Davis, with Haynes at the defense table.
“I remember how aggravated I was at him for two years running,” the Fort Worth lawyer told the Star-Telegram. “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.”