T. Cullen Davis, The Fort Worth multimillionaire who was acquitted in a lurid 1977 trial of killing his stepdaughter, was freed from jail today after a deadlocked jury could not resolve charges that he hired a hit man to murder the judge in his divorce case.
The jury deadlocked and a mistrial was declared at the end of 12 weeks of testimony, much of it contradictory, and which left one of Davis' witnesses jailed on perjury charges and another under investigation.
After 14 ballots spanning 48 hours of deliberations, the jury said that they could never reach a unanimous decision on whether Davis was guilty of solicitation for capital murder.
From the first ballot last Wednesday through today, the jury remained split 8 to 4. Driven from the Harris County Courthouse in a blue and white van, they refused to tell whether the eight favored conviction or acquittal.
Later, the Associated Press quoted juror James Morrison as saying the eight favored a guilty verdict.
The defense lawyer Richard (Race-horse) Haynes, who engineered the multimillion-dollar defense in the case, described the trial's outcome as a victory for the judicial system, although the chief prosecutor remained convinced of Davis' guilt and said he hopes there is a retrial.
Tarrant County has spent $155,000 on this trial in addition to the estimated $300,000 spent on Davis' first trial. The case had been moved to Houston after a public opinion poll showed that most Fort Worth residents thought Davis was innocent and the state would be unable to get a fair trial there.
Davis, co-owner of an $800 million empire, claimed that he had been framed by his estranged wife and two others into thinking he was somehow helping the FBI crack an extortion case. Millions of dollars are at stake in the couple's bitter divorce case.
The jury's inability to deliver a verdict came despite video and audio tape recordings in which Davis said, "Good" when told that his divorce judge had been murdered by a hired gunman.
As his murder trial in 1977 had done, this trial also raised questions of whether Davis' virtually unlimited resources could obtain for him justice not available to persons of lesser means. "I wouldn't have any idea," Davis replied in a courthouse driveway when asked whether his money had been responsible for the hung jury.
Prosecutor Jack Strickland acknowledged after the trial that his star witness David McCrory had "liabilities." At one point, McCrory, who went to prosecutors saying that Davis had asked him to find a contract killer, said on the witness stand: "I've told [Davis] so many stories and lies, there's no way I can remember all of them."
Just over a year ago, an Amarillo jury had rejected the testimony of three eyewitness to murder, including Davis' wife, and set him loose. This time authorities had substantial evidence on the tapes and a photo of the judge playing dead, which McCrory alleged he showed Davis to collect a $25,000 payoff.
Thus Strickland told jurors the tapes made them eyewitnesses to a solicitation for murder.
A smiling Davis, who had been in custody since his arrest last August, was released from the county jail at 5:34 p.m. into a crush of reporters to whom he delared: "I'm just glad to be out." He was freed after posting $30,000 bond pending a decision by prosecutors on whether they will try him again.
"I hope there isn't one," Davis said at the prospect of another trial, admitting through a broad grin that he would have been still happier with an acquittal.
Many of the participants in Davis' first trial reassembled for this one including his wife Priscilla, a self-advertised "Rich Bitch" as she spelled it out in diamonds on her necklace.
But this trial failed to give rise to the torrent of tales that the first trial had, sordid tales of drugs and sex, of wealth turned decadent, of decadance turned wealthy.
Judge Wallace C. Moore here said he would not allow Haynes to indulge in character assassination as he implied Haynes had done in Amarillo. So jurors sometimes slept.
Nevertheless, the charge of arranging a contract murder, the trial and today's verdict are certain to affect the already bitter and unresolved divorce proceedings.
Already, Fort Worth domestic relations Judge Joe Eidson had given temporary custody of the couple's $6 million mansion to Priscilla and barred Davis from it. That is where on the night of Aug. 2, 1976, Priscilla Davis arrived at the mansion with her livein lover after a party.
A man dressed in black and wearing a woman's wig stepped from the laundry room, said a simple, "Hi," and started shooting. Priscilla was hit in the chest. The lover was killed. Priscilla's 12-year-old daughter was found dead in the basement.
Three eyewitnesses, including Priscilla and two visiting children later named Davis in court as the man in black that night.
But it took an Amarillo jury only four hours, 10 minuties to cut Davis loose after 63 days of testimony, much of it stunning defense work by Haynes that virtually put Priscilla Davis on trial.
Lawyers' fees in that murder trial have been put at $3 million according to divorce court testimony -- about 10 times what prosecution spent but perhaps only a month's worth of what Davis earns from his $400 million share of a family industrial empire, Ken Davis Industries. It is thought that this latest trial cost Davis even more than that.
His estranged wife would say later that she has "lived with fear" ever since that night in August 1976.
For Eidson, the fear began last August when authorities informed him he was No. 1 on a hit list of 15 allegedly drawn up by Davis -- many of them connected to the midnight shootings at the Davis mansion.
Prosecutors claimed that Davis had asked McCrory to arrange Eidson's murder. "I thought it was an extremely good possibility I would be murdered," said Eidson, who had had the Davis divorce case before him since 1974. The judge eventually posed as dead in the trunk of a car with ketchup splattered on his lower back.
Davis testified that he had been drawn into all this by a phone call from the FBI, which asked him to go along in an alleged extortion plot. He was just cooperating, he said, and there was no photo but some taped cassettes of earlier conversations that he wanted McCrory to dispose of. And the money, Davis said, under oath and invoking the name of God, had been McCrory's all along and that he was only returning it to him after holding it for safekeeping.
But in closing arguments prosecutors zeroed in on another exchange that morning.
McCrory: I got Judge Edison dead for you.
"What in God's name," asked prosecutor Jack Strickland, "could be the reasonable explanation... ?" He called this the ABC defense -- Any-body But Cullen.
And so it was left to the jury to sort out the contradictions, to separate the plausible from the implausible, to figure out the thoughts and motives of McCrory, Davis and others, each cotributing something to the skein of events that brought Cullen Davis to the bar of justice for the second time in a year to fight for his freedom with all the power and skill and witnesses that his unabashed wealth could muster.
Priscilla Davis, with much at stake in the fate of her estranged husband, would say after the second arrest, "Cullen used to tell me his money could do anything.Since the acquittal he realized just how much power his money brought him and that he could get away with anything. By literally getting away with murder, he felt he could get away with it again."