By “48 Hours” producer Gail Abbott Zimmerman
Texas oil tycoonwas one of the wealthiest men in America to be tried for murder. Two eyewitnesses identified him as the man who shot four people, leaving two of them dead. One victim was a 12-year-old child. Davis hired a team of attorneys led by Texas legend Richard “Racehorse” Haynes. He was acquitted after a lengthy trial in 1977.
One year later, Cullen Davis’ lawyers faced a daunting new challenge. Their multimillionaire client was in trouble again – this time charged with soliciting the murder of a judge. The key evidence was a secret recording of Davis meeting with the man he allegedly asked to arrange the hit. The man tells Davis he “got the judge dead” and Davis forks over $25,000. At trial, Haynes tried – but failed – to have the incriminating tapes thrown out on technical grounds (the audio and video had been recorded separately and later synched up by the police). The jury saw the sting and deadlocked – eight to four in favor of conviction. A retrial was already underway when the enterprising attorneys came up with a new plan of attack: instead of going after the technical integrity of the tapes, they would discredit the words themselves. Enter expert witness Roger Shuy, a highly respected professor of linguistics at Georgetown University.
It was Shuy’s first time testifying as an expert and, as far as he knows, it was the first time any linguistics expert has testified in America. He learned about the case on an airplane, while seated next to a Texas attorney who knew that his fellow attorney – Richard Haynes — had a problem with undercover tapes. When Shuy described himself as “sociolinguist who analyzes tape recordings of the way people talk,” he says, his seatmate’s “eyes lit up.” Shuy was soon conferring with Haynes and his team. “I had never heard anyone talking about murder…