Richard Haynes, a flamboyant and highly successful Houston defense lawyer who argued some of the most notorious cases in modern Texas history, died on Friday at his home in Trinity, Tex. He was 90.
The death was confirmed by Christopher Tritico, a fellow lawyer and longtime friend.
Mr. Haynes, known as Racehorse — a nickname acquired when he was a high school football player — inherited the mantle of the legendary Texas lawyer Percy Foreman when he began compiling a spectacular record of acquittals in seemingly unwinnable cases, both small and large.
Between 1956, the year he began practicing law, and 1968 he defended 163 clients accused of drunken driving and won every case, establishing one of the longest winning streaks in legal history.
In the nearly 40 capital-punishment cases he handled, none of his clients were given the death penalty.
He made his name with a series of celebrated cases beginning in the 1970s. In 1977 he successfully defended T. Cullen Davis, a Fort Worth businessman accused of murdering his former wife’s boyfriend and her 12-year-old daughter by a previous marriage.
Mr. Haynes then turned around and won an acquittal for Mr. Davis the next year when he was charged with hiring a hit man to murder the judge who had presided over his divorce.
He made something of a specialty of “Smith & Wesson divorces,” as he called them: cases in which wives solved their marital problems by killing their husbands.
“I won all but two of those cases,” he told ABA Journal in 2009. “And I would have won them if my clients hadn’t kept reloading their gun and firing.”
In the early 1980s he defended Vickie Daniel, a former Dairy Queen worker who was accused of murdering her husband, Price Daniel Jr., the popular speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and the son of a former Texas governor.
In a case that helped establish battered-spouse syndrome as a legal defense, Mr. Haynes convinced the jury that Ms. Daniels had been victimized by her husband and that the killing had been justified.
A book about the case, “Deadly Blessing” (1987), by Steve Salerno, was made into the 1992 television movie “Bed of Lies,” with Fred Thompson as Mr. Haynes and Susan Dey as Ms. Daniel.
Mr. Haynes, who favored pinstripe suits and ostrich-skin boots, dominated the courtroom.
Unnerving his opponents, he entered without papers or folders. He did not consult notes.
He was known as a master at jury selection.
After winning an acquittal for two police officers accused of beating a black prisoner to death, he told reporters, “I knew we had that case won when we seated the last bigot on the jury.”
If the courtroom is a theater, he was its Olivier.
He once shocked himself with a cattle prod to make a point. Another time, enraged when the prosecution failed to call a key witness, he cross-examined an empty chair.
Only once did he fail to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance. Defending a gang of Florida bikers who had nailed a woman to a tree, he planned to drive a nail into his own hand to show that the procedure did not hurt all that much. At the last second, he quailed.
“Richard is bright, as fast on his feet as anyone I’ve ever seen, and has a phenomenal memory,” Jack Strickland, a prosecutor in the Davis murder-solicitation case, told The Dallas Observer in 2003. “And he’s always prepared. Having said that, he’s also a man who can stand in front of a jury and say the most outrageous things imaginable, and somehow manage to keep a straight face while doing so.”
Richard Michael Haynes was born on April 3, 1927, in Houston. His father, a construction worker, struggled financially, and Richard was sent to live with his grandmother in San Antonio at age 2. He stayed with her until he was 8.
After graduating from John H. Reagan High School in Houston, he served with the Marines in the South Pacific, winning the Navy and Marine Corps Medal after pulling two wounded and drowning Marines from the water after their landing craft had overturned during the landing at Iwo Jima.
He earned an accounting degree from the University of Houston in 1951. Drafted into the Army, he served for two years as a paratrooper and hand-to-hand combat instructor with the 11th Airborne Division.
In 1950 he married his girlfriend from a rival high school, Naomi Younger. She died in 2013. He is survived by a daughter, Ricki Haynes; two sons, Blake and Slade; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
Mr. Haynes earned a law degree from the Bates College of Law (now the University of Houston Law Center) in 1956.
Two days after passing the bar exam, he walked into a courtroom to try a case and stepped right in the spittoon, a standard feature in Texas courtrooms at the time.
“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,” he told ABA Journal. “They acquitted him on all charges.”
He repeated the stunt several more times, winning acquittals, but had to change tactics when a judge pulled him up short.
Early in his career, he instructed his clients to thank the judge and jury after an acquittal. He dropped the practice after a judge told a client: “Don’t thank me, you little turd. You and I both know you’re guilty.”
Mr. Haynes began to attract press attention when he defended Dr. John Hill, a Houston plastic surgeon who was accused of murdering his wife in 1969 by injecting her French pastry with deadly bacteria.
The case ended in a mistrial. Dr. Hill was murdered by a hit man in the driveway of his River Oaks mansion before he could be retried.
The Davis trials made him a legend. Three witnesses identified the gunman, who wore a shoulder-length black wig, as Mr. Davis, including Mr. Davis’s ex-wife, Priscilla, who was shot in the chest at the couple’s mansion on the night of the murders.
Ms. Davis, however, a flashy dresser who lived a party-girl life, made a poor impression in strait-laced Amarillo, where the case had been moved, during two weeks of withering cross-examination.
Mr. Haynes also produced a last-minute surprise witness: a deliveryman who testified that he had seen a shadowy figure — not Mr. Davis — enter the Davis mansion at the time of the shootings.
At the murder-for-hire trial, Mr. Haynes prevailed even though the jury heard deeply incriminating tapes of Mr. Davis talking to a middleman-turned-informer about arranging the murder of the judge.
Mr. Haynes convinced the jurors that Mr. Davis had thought he was taking part in an F.B.I. operation to expose an extortion plot.
The trials were the subject of a book, “Blood Will Tell: The Murder Trials of T. Cullen Davis” (1979), by Gary Cartwright, and, in 1995, a two-part ABC television movie adaptation, “Texas Justice,” with Dennis Frantz as Mr. Haynes and Heather Locklear as Priscilla Davis.
In 1983, Mr. Haynes won an acquittal for the British arms dealer Ian Smalley, who was accused of conspiring to export weapons to Iran and Iraq.
Mr. Haynes, who called no witnesses, argued that Mr. Smalley had been tricked by government agents into thinking that he was aiding a covert White House operation to bolster Iran’s defenses against a possible Soviet attack.
He continued to practice law well into his 80s. And he had a vivid picture of how he would like his life to end.
“I’m standing in front of a jury, see, giving one hell of a closing argument when I have this heart attack and fall to the floor,” he told The Dallas Observer. “Barely able to speak, I whisper a request that the judge allow the jurors to leave the box and gather around me so I might complete my argument before I die.”