HERE 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 gentle-
men, 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
Living and learning, says Haynes,
is the key to being a good trial lawyer. If you don’t try something, you
will never know if it would have
worked. And Haynes admits he’s
tried a lot of things.
“If you go in for heart surgery,” he
says, “you want a surgeon who has
done it a few times before.”
Indeed, Haynes is the master of
courtroom theatrics. He once shocked
himself with a cattle prod in open
court to show the jury that, while it
“hurts like hell, it’s not deadly.” Another time, he threatened to drive a
nail through his hand to prove to the
jury that it wasn’t really that painful.
And he once cross-examined an
empty witness chair in an effort to
mock opposing counsel.
But these courtroom demonstrations are not the reason that Racehorse Haynes is a legend. The reason
is his extraordinary success.
During his five decades of practice, he’s represented 40 clients facing capital punishment; not one has
been sentenced to death.
Between 1956 and 1968, Haynes
had one of the longest winning
streaks in legal history. He defended
163 individuals charged with driving
under the influence of alcohol. All
163 were found not guilty.
Comedian, musician and former
Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky
Friedman described Haynes as “one
of the most successful and most colorful silver-tongued devils to grace
Texas since God made trial lawyers.”
Haynes, who turns 82 in April, has
been the defense attorney in some
of the most prominent Texas murder
cases ever tried. He’s been memorialized in three books, two movies, a
Broadway play, and even in popular
music. In 2003, singer Tom Russell
released a single called Racehorse
Show me the phone, lend me a dime
I ain’t rollin’ over, I ain’t doing no time
I ain’t coppin’ no plea, I’m hip to
I ain’t talkin’ to no one, except Racehorse Haynes
Somebody better call Racehorse
EARLY SHTICK GROWS OLD
RICHARD HAYNES SPLIT HIS CHILD
hood growing up in Houston and
San Antonio. His grandmother read
Shakespeare and the Bible to him at
He got the nickname “Racehorse”
from his high school football coach,
who complained that Haynes always
darted for the sideline instead of
gaining yards downfield.
After a stint with the Marines,
Haynes used the GI Bill to pay his
way through college and law school.
He graduated from the Bates College
of Law in 1956.
Haynes became a lawyer on a Friday afternoon and was in court trying a criminal case the next Monday
“My first time to address the jury,
I stepped right in the [chewing to-bacco] spittoon,” he says. “I felt stupid, but the jury apparently felt
sorry for me, and probably felt sorry
for my client that he had such a stupid and clumsy lawyer. They acquitted him on all charges.”
If that works, Haynes thought,
maybe he should try it again. So he
started his second trial by stepping
in the spittoon again, making it look
like an accident. Again, the jury declared his client not guilty. Noting
this seemed an effective ice-breaker
with the jury, the Houston lawyer
did it a third, a fourth—and continued nearly a dozen times. With each
pratfall, the result was the same.
Finally, Haynes began another
case by heading straight for the
courtroom spittoon when the judge
called him over to the bench.
“You’re not going to kick over that
spittoon again, are ya?” the judge
“I guess not, your honor.” Haynes
knew the gag had run its course.
The Dallas Observer described
Haynes as a “flamboyant ex-welter-weight boxer, South Pacific war
hero, motorcyclist, sailor and millionaire with a reputation that has
grown to 9 feet tall and weighs in at
a junkyard-dog-mean 500 pounds.”
He told the weekly that he wanted
to practice for another four years and
then hang it up. That was in 2003.
But Haynes has no plans to step
“I have to work through 2009 because I have a half-dozen cases set
for trial,” he says.
Haynes is famous both for the variety and quantity of his cases. For