How Cullen Davis Beat the Rap

On August 20, Racehorse Haynes, the noted criminal defense attorney, was enjoying a quiet Sunday on his sailboat and perhaps wondering what his most lucrative client, T. Cullen Davis, was up to these days. When the ship-to-shore radio crackled, he found out: Cullen was being arrested and charged with hiring a hit man to kill his divorce judge, Joe Eidson.   

“I don’t have the foggiest notion what’s going on,” Haynes told the reporter who had called with the news. The reporter gave him the sketchy details: David McCrory had gone to the FBI with a story that Cullen planned to hire the killing of fifteen people; the FBI staged the judge’s murder and took photographs of Eidson’s body curled up in the trunk of a car, then made a videotape as Cullen allegedly paid McCrory $25,000. “Is this the same McCrory who was involved in Amarillo?” Haynes asked. It was. “It’s curious,” Haynes said.  

And it got curiouser and curiouser. The state’s evidence included four tapes of McCrory and Cullen talking about murders and hit men, $25,000 in cash, the faked photo of the judge’s body, and a .22 pistol equipped with an illegal silencer. By Sunday night Haynes and the other members of Cullen Davis’ blue-ribbon defense team were reassembled in Fort Worth, where they had started on Davis’ legal odyssey almost exactly two years before. 

Haynes was never much inclined to float on his laurels, but since winning Cullen Davis’ acquittal in Amarillo, where Cullen was on trial for the murder of his wife’s boyfriend and her daughter by another marriage, some of Haynes’ old fire seemed to be missing. It had been a brilliant victory, adding to his fortune and assuring his fame: Haynes was now being mentioned in the company of Percy Foreman, F. Lee Bailey, and Edward Bennett Williams. But fame had certain drawbacks. It was harder now to pick a jury. Too many people knew his reputation and were suspicious; there is something about lawyers with high-blown reputations that conjures up images of warlocks. Nor did the constant demands on his time help his concentration. Only a few weeks earlier, as he was working on Cullen’s divorce case and at the same time defending another client accused of murder, Haynes caught himself in an uncharacteristic lapse. During the voir dire of the murder case, Racehorse asked a potential juror if he believed in community property. My God , he thought as soon as he’d asked the question, wrong trial! Haynes’ client was convicted. Haynes had been beaten by a young Tarrant County prosecutor. He must have wondered if he were slipping. 

News of Cullen’s latest plight may have shocked Haynes back to reality, because Race arrived in Fort Worth like Eddie Stanky sliding cleats-high into second base. At the heart of the prosecution’s case were the four highly incriminating tapes, including the segment in which McCrory said, “I got Judge Eidson dead for you,” to which Cullen Davis replied in a clear, calm voice: “Good.” Haynes knew that recorded conversations were not automatic proof of guilt, but as physical evidence went, these tapes were pretty formidable. 

 

The state’s fatal weakness in the Amarillo murder trial had been the lack of physical evidence. No fingerprints, no murder weapon, only the testimony of three eyewitnesses. Haynes ate eyewitnesses for breakfast. In any case where there were eyewitnesses, Haynes’ first line of defense was to discredit them. If the tactic failed, and it seldom did, Haynes’ second line was an alibi. If this failed, he attacked the physical evidence, bombarding the jury with a mind-boggling amount of expertise on ballistics, pathology, internal medicine, psychology, crime-scene investigative techniques — not to mention law. Finally, if all else failed, Haynes resorted to the technique used by all great criminal attorneys. Skeptics call it the Ultimate Lie technique. Warren Burnett, the celebrated Odessa lawyer, was once called on to defend a fellow who drove his car through the front door of a tavern where he had drunk every night for forty years; he won acquittal when his client testified that he’d never been in that tavern in his life. 

In Amarillo, Haynes had defended Cullen Davis by prosecuting the eyewitnesses, especially Priscilla Davis. By the second week of the thirteen-week trial, the jury was ready to stone her. For the next eleven weeks Haynes unraveled a number of simultaneous scenarios designed to take the jurors’ minds off the fact that Cullen Davis was accused of the murders of Andrea Wilborn and Stan Farr and to get them to focus instead on the theory that any number of “phantoms” could have committed the crime. But most observers agreed later that the case was won as soon as Haynes completed his cross-examination of Priscilla, “the queen bee…the other-worlder…the Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde…the lady in the la-di-da pinafore.” Race and his associates, Phil Burleson, Mike Gibson, and Steve Sumner, formulated the “second-worlder” scenario early in the trial. It explained how Priscilla’s addiction to the painkiller Percodan enabled her both to rub elbows with the elite of Fort Worth and to hobnob with its drug dealers and low-life criminals; it explained how she could easily have been confused when she identified Cullen Davis as the killer. Haynes had called in an expert on drug addiction, Dr. Robert Miller, who told the jury that, yes, indeed, “second-worlders” frequently got their facts confused. 

Though Haynes usually disavows the value of showboating in front of  a jury, he didn’t resist many opportunities in Amarillo. Sometimes he did it with a glance at the jury box. Did you hear what she said? When he caught a witness in an inconsistency, Haynes dug out some previous transcript, approached the witness stand like a missionary accustomed to dealing with pygmies, pointed to the conflicting statement, and said very softly: “Now, don’t you remember saying that way back there?” Sometimes he did it with props, like the famous photograph of Priscilla and W.T. Rufner, the one

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