Fort Worth industrialist T. Cullen Davis, taking the stand for the first time in his own defense, testified that he was framed into appearing to order the murder of the judge hearing his multimillion dollar divorce case.
Davis, who was acquitted in November 1977 of the murder of his 12-year-old daughter in one of the state's most sensational trials, said he took part in conversations about killing the judge on the instruction of a man claiming to be an FBI agent.
The tape-recorded conversations and an accompanying eight-minute videotape purporting to show Davis paying an FBI informer $25,000 for the judge's death are key elements in the state's second capital murder case against Davis.
State District Court Judge Joe Eidson, who has heard the still-open Davis divorce trial since 1974, posed for a photograph that appeared to show him dead and that was given to Davis just before his Aug. 20 arrest.
The photograph showed Eidson lying in the truck of a car wearing a ketchup-stained shirt scarred by cigarette burns that were to be taken for bullet holes.
Defense attorney Richard (Racehorse) Haynes, who defended Davis in the 1977 murder trial in Amarillo, has said he will show that Davis was set up for his latest arrest by his estranged wife, Priscilla.
But prosecutors say they are confident that Davis will be convicted. "If Mr. Haynes wins an acquittal for him this time, I think it will be a miracle." said the prosecutor Tolly Wilson.
Davis was acquitted in the 1977 trial despite testimony from Priscilla Davis and other witnesses identifying him as the black-wigged gunman who broke into the Davis mansion and killed Davis' daughter, Andrea.
The same gunman also killed Mrs. Davis' lover, Stan Farr, and wounded Mrs. Davis before fleeing. The shootings came just hours after Judge Eidson has increased Mrs. Davis' childsupport payments to $5,000 per month.
Davis' assets, which include a $150 million share in a family-owned oil equipment company, have been frozen since the divorce proceedings began.
Prosecutors say Davis put his estranged wife and Eidson on a 15-person hit list, which also included witnesses in the Amarillo murder trial and in the divorce case, and asked a friend and employe, David McCrory, to arrange for their murders.
McCrory had testified that, when he became aware that Davis was serious about the killings, he went to the FBI, who wired him for sound and arranged to videotape his last meeting with Davis.
Davis, however, testified yesterday that a man identifying himself as FBI agent David Acree told him by telephone in early August that McCrory and others were plotting to extort money from him.
Acree had testified earlier this month about investigating an extortion plot against Davis in late 1977. No arrests were made in that case. Acree has not yet been called on to testify about this part of Davis' story.
Davis said he did not meet the man identifying himself as Acree in August, and spoke to him only at what the "agent" said was his home telephone number.
Davis said the "agent" told him to "play along" with McCrory's suggestions as part of a plan to crack the alleged extortion ring.
Davis said McCrory told him he had been talking with "the people that Priscilla had hired to bump me (davis) off and said that if I was willing to pay them more they would work for my side instead of hers."
Davis said he suggested to McCrory they might help gather evidence against Mrs. Davis for the divorce case. But McCrory, Davis said, suggested that Judge Eidson, Mrs. Davis and the others be killed.
Davis said he made two tape-recorded conversations with McCrory at McCrory's insistence, to demostrate to McCrory's associates his willingness to go along with their schemes.
"I was just doing what I thought the FBI agent had told me to do," he said, adding that he had tried to steer his talks with McCrory away from any alleged murder plots.