Sam Houston Clinton, a former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals justice who as a lawyer represented both atheist leader Madeline Murray O'Hair and the man who shot and killed alleged presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, died of Alzheimer's disease Oct. 5 at a retirement home in Austin. He was 81.

In Texas, where judges must stand for election, Clinton served three consecutive six-year terms on the state's highest criminal court, despite being labeled by his political opponents as a liberal judicial activist who often sided with criminals.

His 1,094 opinions were the second-most ever written by a justice on the court. He retired in 1996.

Clinton, who was not related to his Texas-hero namesake, was born in Waco, Texas, the son of a cotton broker. He graduated from Baylor University and served in World War II as a naval aviator. He graduated from Baylor University Law School in 1948.

He was a Washington aide to Rep. Bob Poage of Texas from 1949 to 1950 and a field attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in 1951. He also worked as a fingerprint examiner for the FBI.

As an Austin lawyer from 1959 to 1979, he was general counsel to the Texas AFL/CIO and the Texas Civil Liberties Union. In addition to representing O'Hair, Mr. Clinton brought and won a lawsuit to desegregate women's dormitories at the University of Texas at Austin in the late 1960s.

Mr. Clinton was able to get the guilty verdict against Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who killed Oswald on national television, reversed on appeal, based on procedural errors.

Ruby, meanwhile, had died of cancer while in prison, so the decision was moot.

Mr. Clinton was elected to the state court of criminal appeals in 1978. Over the years, political opponents found it hard to run against a judge named Sam Houston. One potential challenger said he would have to change his name to Davy Crockett to stand a chance.

Survivors include his wife of 34 years, Hazel Lindsay Clinton of Austin; four children; a brother; and two grandchildren.