OBSERVER A Journal of Free Voices A Window to the South March 3Z 1972 250 The trial of the Abilene Three Abilene The Dr Pepper clock on the wall of the Taylor County Courthouse read 11:04 when Larry Yerger, a 28-year-old freshman at McMurry College, stood up, looked at Gus Mutscher and said, “Guilty.” Yerger said “Guilty” twice more on the Ides of March and that ended the trial of the Abilene Three. There are a lot of ways to tell what that trial was like, but maybe the best way to start is with clothes. Gus Mutscher and his lawyers wore expensive, well-cut suits, with French cuffs and gold cufflinks. Larry Yerger wore boots, jeans, a cowboy shirt and a chased leather belt with a big imitation silver buckle on it. Robert Smith, the chief prosecutor, looks like an escapee from Robert Hall’s Big and Tall Department. Miss America of 1964 came every day in a lovely new Nieman-Marcus outfit. The women on the jury were given to print housedresses from Sears. They had blue-rinse permanents and cat-eye glasses with sequins on the top. God knows if it is meet and just that a man’s fate should hang on the differences between those who shop at Nieman-Marcus and those who shop at Sears Roebuck, but those differences were painfully apparent for two and a half weeks in an Abilene courtroom. So much of Abilene itself came into the trial. It’s a flat, homely, windy city, heavily Church of Christ. The town itself is dry, but two local wet spots . Impact and Buffalo Gap, abound with drinking Baptists day and night. The people are cordial and provincial. A well-dressed woman is apt to be told, “Why honey, you just look so Dallas.” The population is 125,000, but the feeling is distinctly small-town. Fluoridation is still a big issue The jury was quintessentially Abilenean. They looked like the cast of “The Grapes of Wrath” with an extra 40 pounds each. Plain people. Sensible people. Not likely to worry overmuch about the fine points of the law. They said afterward that none of them had any doubts about the guilt of Mutscher, Shannon or McGinty. They just looked at the facts and figured it was as Drawing by Gerry Doyle plain as the nose on your face. Robert Smith was the perfect prosecutor for that jury. The Travis County district attorney, as one reporter put it, “played them like a violin.” AP reporter Robert Heard brought Dr. Seuss into the trial by announcing that the judge looks like the Grinch [he is also reminiscent of Elmer Fudd] . If J. Neil Daniel is the Grinch, then Robert Smith is Horton the Elephant: “He meant what he said and he said what he meant.” He didn’t say it very fine or fancy, but he said it right out, plain, and the jury liked him. The defense, by and large, did an excellent job. Frank Maloney enjoys a reputation as one of the most knowledgeable lawyers in the state. But he speaks with a faint Boston accent and looks like Colonel Clink, the Ultimate Prussian. Somehow legal scholarship, admirable as it is doesn’t seem very impressive in Abilene. It is perhaps in the nature of good legal work that much of it is boring nitpicking. While Maloney was running down some arcane point ad nauseum, one not infrequently saw the judge nodding off, two or three jurors napping happily and the press corps slumbering en masse. Richard Haynes is sometimes called a “showboat lawyer,” but he’s good, quick, feisty. He took Rep. Charles Patterson’s testimony to pieces, with generous assistance from Patterson himself. Joe Shannon did a better-than-fair job of defending Tommy Shannon, but Rush McGinty was saddled with one of the great hot dogs of our era, name of Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes even managed to tick off Judge Grinch, who finally told him to sit down and shut up. Rhodes, who has a disastrous habit of winking when he thinks he’s made a point, is also given to ghastly fake grins. FOR A WHILE it looked as though the case against Mutscher and friends could not be won: the testimony of Sharp himself was broken. What Sharp has had to say about this case since he was given immunity has not been convincingly damning to the politicians involved. Warren Burnett, one of the best trial lawyers in the state, said at the half-way point in the case, “If you give the stool-pigeon immunity, bring him to the rodeo and he won’t ride the bribery horse, it’s pretty much gone.” Sharp testified that the intent of the bills he wanted passed was to replace FDIC with state deposit insurance. However, Maloney produced a 1969 letter Sharp had
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