Published 9:39 pm, Friday, April 28, 2017
HOUSTON — In a city famous for flamboyant trial lawyers, only one had a reputation so widespread as to be known by a single nickname, which by coincidence perfectly described both his courthouse record and his courtroom command.
Richard “Racehorse” Haynes spent the bulk of his 90 years embarrassing prosecutors who confidently squared off against him and impressing jurors who could not help but be swayed by his occasional theatrics and his masterful ability to introduce a ribbon of doubt into most every case. Haynes died early Friday morning while in hospice care in Livingston, leaving behind a string of successes unlikely to be matched and a legacy as the go-to lawyer for criminal defendants in the toughest bind.
From his early days handling small misdemeanors to the celebrated murder trials that made him famous — he gained national recognition representing local plastic surgeon John Hill of Blood and Money fame and Fort Worth multi-millionaire T. Cullen Davis — Haynes was more workhorse than racehorse. He practiced law well into his 80s until his health began to fail.
Like so many famous Houston lawyers, Haynes came from a working-class world, the son of a plasterer whose family was so poor that the five children had to be split up for a time, with Richard sent to live with a grandmother in San Antonio. She instilled in him a passion for academic achievement and a love for language. His name even made the San Antonio papers when she pushed for him to skip several grades and enter school well above his age level. Even as a child, he later admitted, he loved the attention.
Haynes boot-strapped his way to success via the law school at the University of Houston, at the time a small, practically oriented place whose students often came from the wrong side of the tracks and were hungry for a way to make a living and move up the social ladder. He achieved both not by gimmickry or sleight of tongue, as casual accounts seem to imply, but by a studied appreciation of the art of trial defense.
His victories were numerous and often notable. Haynes reportedly tried 163 DWI cases without a defeat in the 1950s and ‘60s. Likewise, he specialized in what he called “Smith & Wesson” divorces, in which wives were charged with killing their husbands. He claimed to have won all but two of the three dozen such cases he handled, with the two losses not his fault.
“I would have won them if my clients hadn’t kept reloading their gun and firing,” Haynes famously said.
As colorful as he was, ever ready to entertain reporters with biting or humorous comments, Haynes knew his cases well and had a strategy in hand long before beginning a trial. He was known for thorough research into prospective jurors and trial witnesses. His lengthy cross-examinations were the stuff of legend.
“The technique, which I…