Sketchy Characters

The drawings of courtroom artist Gary Myrick did more than reveal the faces of some of Texas’s most infamous defendants over the past 35 years. They showed them in all of their arrogance, sadness, and humanity.
Sketchy Characters
Photographs by Scogin Mayo

Gary Myrick will admit, with minor grumbling, that he’s a dinosaur. When his career as a courtroom artist began, in the seventies, cameras weren’t allowed to record the proceedings and America tuned in to the news each night expecting to see sketches of the era’s big trials. For the next twenty years, if those dramas played out in or near Texas, the definitive images belonged to Myrick. He established himself at the two murder-for-hire trials of T. Cullen Davis, the millionaire Fort Worth oilman who’d already been acquitted of killing the daughter and boyfriend of his estranged wife, Priscilla. Myrick, now 58 and still living in his hometown of Fort Worth, remembers the cases vividly. “One judge smoked like a chimney,” he says. “You could smoke in the freaking courtroom then. Talk about nice.”

He went on to cover the Whitewater prosecutions, the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton, and the trial of socialite Pamela Fielder, whose manslaughter conviction for killing her husband helped establish the battered-wife defense in Texas. He drew self-proclaimed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas; pediatric nurse Genene Jones, who was thought to have murdered some fifty infant patients; and suburban housewife Darlie Routier, who killed two of her children. But as state courtrooms around the country started allowing cameras in the nineties, calls for Myrick’s talents dropped off. “I’ve got an unfinished sketch of a gaggle of cameramen shooting a witness on the stand,” he says through a smirk of resignation. “I should call that one ‘Death of My Career.’ ”

His first assignment was a fluke. He was filling in as the art director at KDFW-TV in 1977 when he was sent to cover Dallas’s landmark school desegregation case. But the hundreds of cases he went on to cover were more often of the sensational, movie-of-the-week variety. When he talks about them now, as he does on the following pages, his memories tend to the dark and quirky, like seeing a monument to the Woodmen of the World outside the courthouse where Candy Montgomery stood trial for killing a woman with an ax. Or having Cullen Davis autograph Myrick’s sketch of him. “Genene Jones did that too,” he says. “She acted like she was on the red carpet at a premiere.”

These days his steady work comes as a security guard. The schedule is loose enough that he can break away if a news director needs him. But most of Myrick’s drawing is done for himself. “Being an artist is an orientation, not a preference,” he says. “Even when I’m not drawing, I’m an artist. I got mugged once, so I sketched my assailant. The picture was published in the paper, and though I don’t know if the assailant was ever caught, the robberies stopped. That was pretty neat. If you mug me, I’ll draw you.”

 

T. Cullen Davis

Davis was the Texas O. J. Simpson. In 1977 he was the wealthiest man in American history ever to be tried for capital murder, and he was found not guilty. A year later, he was arrested for solicitation of murder, and my first big assignment was covering the trial in Houston. As naive as it may seem, I was surprised to learn that trials aren’t a search for the truth. They’re a search for who puts on the best show. Prosecutors had a recording of Davis doing exactly what he was accused of: trying to hire a hit man to kill the judge in his divorce case. So his attorney, Richard  “Racehorse” Haynes, brought out all these witnesses, like a linguistics expert who dissected Davis’s conversation and said that his words “do the judge” didn’t mean “kill the judge.” Ultimately the Houston trial ended in a hung jury, and in a second trial, in Fort Worth, he was acquitted. Regardless of how I felt about the case, sketch artists are journalists. When I draw, I usually provide the only visual record of an event, and I have a responsibility to let people judge for themselves. I only convey what’s before my eyes. If you look at my drawing of Davis and think he looks like he’s been caught, that’s his problem, isn’t it? If someone is acting shifty, I’ll draw them shifty.

 

Priscilla Davis

I developed my technique during the Houston trial. At first, I used all these pastels. But I was under such heavy time constraints, I had to make every stroke count. By the end I was much more economical. I was instinctively grabbing pencils, using just a handful of colors. This image of Priscilla is from the early style. She’d toned down her buxom-blonde act for the trial. We got to be friends later, and I remember her being a pretty domesticated creature, a typical doting grandmother. She was also a courageous woman. Years later, Cullen held a press conference to denounce a made-for- TV movie about the cases, and she crashed it and confronted him. He came as close to an admission and an apology as he could get away with without confessing.

 

A ’58 Cadillac”

One of Haynes’ strategies was to try the victim. In the Amarillo murder trial, he’d presented Priscilla as a whore and a pill popper and a partier. The issue of her dead twelve-year-old daughter was completely upstaged. In the murder-for-hire trials, he tried to discredit David McCrory, the go-between for Cullen and the hit man. Haynes produced colorful witnesses who looked as if they were from central casting in Huntsville. He must have deliberately wanted all these trashy-looking people to be associated with McCrory. I remember one witness who was about to serve time for raping his stepmother. And there was this woman, a cocktail waitress from Las Vegas who reminded me of a ’58 Cadillac. She testified that she and McCrory had discussed the witness protection program—the defense’s suggestion being that McCrory had set up Cullen to get into the program.

 

Sleeping Jury

As a defense attorney, Haynes knew that he only needed to raise a reasonable doubt about

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week