Page 21


The Abilene jury that convicted Gus Mutscher didn’t much like the man, and betting among the press corps was that if the jury had decided the sentence, they would have thrown the book at Mutscher. But even the jury might have been swayed by some of the character witnesses the defense had lined up. Not only were there over 100 character witnesses “from all walks of life,” as Mutscher put it, in Abilene in person, but the defense had two telegrams in reserve. One was from Lyndon B. Johnson, the former President, who was out of the state when the verdict came in. Johnson sent a telegram with the usual character witness formula attesting that Mutscher is “law-abiding, _ _ peaceful” and of good character. Mutscher’s two chief attorneys, told the Observer of the Johnson telegram. He said he has not personally seen it, but it is his understanding that the defense had a similar telegram in hand from John Connally, Secretary of the Treasury. Haynes also said that Luci and Pat Nugent had been standing by to testify as character witnesses for Mutscher. He said it was his information that they had flown from Washington, D.C., to Austin and were ready in case they were needed. Haynes did not volunteer this information to the Observer. LBJ, Connally speak for . Gus want you to be able to look each of them in the eye and say, ‘I followed the law.’ ” ONE SUSPECTS that the jury, like Mr. Bumble, thinks the law is an ass. In any case, Smith laid something considerably closer to home on their shoulders the future of Texas. He hit them with the perennial plaint of Texans, “Why don’t they do something about the mess in Austin?” “You,” Smith told the jury, “are now `They.’ If you think what is going on in Austin is O.K., then you can put your Good Housekeeping seal of approval on it by saying ‘not guilty’ in this case. If you think this practice is O.K., then let’s sanction it and get it out in the open. If we can’t convict a high public official on the evidence we’ve got here, then we might as well turn our state capitol over to the money-changers. And from what we’ve heard here, that’s about where it is now.” Smith had one enormous advantage in having “last go” at the jury. No chance for Colonel Clink to point out where Smith was wrong on the law, no chance for Haynes to drown out Smith’s arguments in a flood of eloquence. It took the jury two hours and 20 minutes to come back with a verdict. Then came the sentencing. Smith had done such an outstanding job prosecuting the case that one hesitates to take issue with his decision not to seek the full penalty in the case. Certainly a good argument can be made that Mutscher has already suffered enough and will suffer more without going to prison. There is little doubt that had sentencing been left to the jury, they would have sent Mutscher and the others to the pen. But as Smith said, the characters of Mutscher, Shannon and McGinty are certainly no worse than that of Frank Sharp. And Sharp was not sent to prison. Injustice is relative. The same day The The Texas Observer Abilene Three were given probated sentences, a kid in Tyler got eight years in the penitentiary for possession of a joint of marijuana. Well over 100 people came to testify as character witnesses for the defendants on the 16th. They were not called since the judge, rather than the jury, assessed sentence, but after the judge dismissed the court, the defendants’ friends formed a macabre reception line. It was an eerie repeat of a scene witnessed dozens of times: Gus and Donna Mutscher standing at the head of the line of people moving past to chat briefly, shake hands, hug, smile except this time both of them were crying. M.I. Tremors, tremors In brief, Gus is dead, Preston’s down, Sissy’s up, Barnes could be hurt, the Dirty 30 is sitting pretty and Mutscher’s men are in bad trouble. After the defendants, Gov. Preston Smith was the biggest loser in Abilene. Gus Mutscher is dead politically and Smith might as well be. It’s hard to say whether or not it was planned that way. When Robert Smith said, in mid-trial, that he would prove Preston Smith was a “co-conspirator” in the case, Smith’s people may have over-reacted. They unleashed Bob Bullock, which is never groovy for swatting gnats, and Bullock lashed Robert Smith for being a Ben Barnes lackey. He pointed to the fact that Robert Smith is a John Connally appointee and there were hints that Preston Smith had refused to appoint Robert Smith to a coveted judgeship \(the implication being At the very least, Bullock’s blast, which was in splendidly Bullockian style, finally dragged out the testimony of Ruth Shockley. Many members of the press have been aware for some months that Shockley, who was the secretary in the Carr-Palmer-Osorio law firm, had given some testimony vaguely damaging to Barnes. But the testimony was so vague, and Shockley was not on any public record giving it, that no one dared use it. The original problem with accepting the Bullock version of why Robert Smith was gigging the guy, was Robert Smith himself. Unlike almost everyone else involved in Texas politics, Robert Smith may be exactly what he appears to be: a schmoo-faced prosecutor with a good brain and country speech. Those who were in Abilene when Smith made his “co-conspirator” statement know that it was dragged out of him. It was not a planned announcement for a big effect: it was first brought up by defense lawyers and Smith made the statement during the course of angry exchange with them. But whether for conscious political motivations or simply because the governor was in the case, Robert Smith did bring up Preston Smith’s name during the course of his summation and dwelled on it at some length. “The evidence is clear the governor was in on one of these fantastic loans. . . . I don’t know how Gov. Smith came to put this bill in the call . . . it was another coincidence in a long chain of suspicious circumstances that form this whole pattern.. . .” But Robert Smith is no political virgin. A few days after he got back from Abilene, he released a strong statement praising Atty. Gen. Crawford Martin for his help in preparing the case against Mutscher. Anyone who can believe that was unsolicited, can also believe in the tooth fairy. The scramble to see who will succeed Mutscher as speaker is reaching obscene proportions. Really, the House has no class. Rayford Price has the edge, so he’s pushing for new election during the special session. Price Daniel, Jr., is trying to stave off a decision on Mutscher’s successor until 1973, when an unprecedentedly large group of reform freshmen can be anticipated. DeWitt Hale has thrown himself into the breach, as it were, offering to serve as interim speaker and promising not to run in ’73. The Dirty Thirty looks stronger all the time, but they don’t seem to get much wiser. They are to gather in Austin next weekend, and, for the first time since the session ended, one can expect all 30 of them to be there. It is now an invaluable credential. The 30 sent out questionnaires to zillions of House candidates, asking them their opinions on reform questions. Only one catch: they made no provision as to what they would do about those who blithely lie on their return forms. Both Farenthold and Briscoe were boosted by the Mutscher conviction. Barnes may yet feel the heat of the people’s wrath on the corruption issue. He is by no means closely linked to the Sharp affair, but a swell of “throw the bums out” sentiment could hurt Barnes almost as much as Smith.