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Is the man who sent Randall Dale Adams to Death Row and defends Walker Railey one lowdown, sleazy lawyer? Or a top-seeded gladiator who fights for the thrill of winning?
By Sally Giddens |

STATE DISTRICT JUDGE LARRY BARA-ka’s courtroom is packed with spectators. Most of them are media types-regular court beat reporters from the local papers and guys in suspenders and bow ties from national magazines who hold on to their overnight bags as if they’re still in Manhattan. There’s even a camera crew from “Entertainment Tonight.” The group is a strange amalgam of West Coast film flash. Northeastern sophisticate snobbery, and at-home Dallas-but one factor binds them together: they are all waiting for the Main Event. They are waiting for Doug Mulder.

“Here he comes. I guess we should be playing the theme from Rocky” one Dallas reporter jokes.

To say Doug Mulder’s reputation precedes him is the understatement of the year. Mulder has always made sure he’s in the center ring, ever since his days as Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade’s first assistant, an achievement he earned before his thirtieth birthday. His mug graced many a front page while he was racking up the best conviction rate in the history of Dallas County as an assistant DA. But 1988 was a big year even for Mulder. Most people know the attorney’s handsome face from more recent film clips of him ushering his sweaty client. Walker Railey. through a media mob to testify before a grand jury about the murder attempt on his wife. The clip from that scene has been shown so often that many Dallasites tie the now nationally infamous Railey with Mulder tighter than a shotgun wedding.

Doug Mulder doesn’t exactly dislike the attention. After all, it brings him more business. Framed newspaper and magazine clippings from nearly twenty-four years of trial work pack the walls of his slick downtown office. His Ralph Lauren looks change little, though some of the clips are yellowed with age. And in story after story-of Mulder the prosecutor or Mulder the defense attorney-the theme, too, remains the same: Mulder wins, Mulder wins, Mulder wins.

But Mulder would just as soon dodge the attention he’s getting in Judge Baraka’s court today. After all, he’s not getting paid. Mulder is the star witness for the state in a hearing that could help get a new trial for Randall Dale Adams, the man Mulder prosecuted for the 1976 shooting death of Dallas police officer Robert Wood. Adams’s trial was the subject of Errol Morris’s recent film The Thin Blue Line, which painted Mulder as a prosecutor out of control, an ambitious and unethical man willing to do anything to peg Adams with the crime and add another capital murder conviction to his formidable record. As an assistant DA. Doug Mulder sought the death penalty for the defendants he was prosecuting twenty-four times. Twenty-four times, he won.

The film, which questions the credibility of witnesses who testified against Adams in the 1977 trial, is the main reason that Adams is getting this hearing. In the movie, Adams’s main accuser, David Ray Harris, recanted his testimony and virtually confessed to the shooting. Back in 1977, Harris had claimed that Adams shot officer Wood from the driver’s seat of a car Harris had ripped off, using a gun Harris had stolen, while Harris sat by and watched. But today, Harris changes his story, saying that Adams wasn’t even in the car when the police officer was shot, and that he was-alone.

The Thin Blue Line has caused quite a stir, and Morris and his movie-making entourage know it. They are in the courtroom, too, part of the crowd waiting for the Main Event. Even though this is Adams’s hearing, even though Harris’s picture has been in the paper for the last few days, everyone knows that this circus is about Doug Mulder. He is the one on trial. Morris’s movie was an indictment of Mulder’s character, and Houston attorney Randy Schaffer, who represents Adams, is out to prove that Mulder didn’t play by the rules, that he virtually framed Adams and sent an innocent man to Death Row. Mulder, not suprisingly, says that Schaffer is flat wrong.

“I think we got the right man,” says the man who did the getting. “And I think he should have been executed.”

Doug Mulder hasn’t seen The Thin Blue Line. But he says he’s disappointed Morris didn’t get Robert Redford to play his part.

He’s not kidding.

Mulder is the kind of guy who says things like that with a straight face. He matter-of-factly declares that he could have won cases other attorneys have lost. He says things that some people might call self-serving and others would call unbelievably egotistical. His friends call this confidence, and they know Mulder has earned the right to more than the average share of it. But even if Mulder never opened his mouth to tell you how many hundreds of cases he’s won, his confidence is apparent. As he walks into the courtroom, his movement is swift and deliberate. He’s not tall, not overly muscular, but his fireplug frame still looks powerful. This is his arena, a place where he has dynamic presence and can wage war and win.

Mulder’s opponent today is a young attorney with half his experience, someone who Mulder says is “trying to make a name for himself with Adams. And unlike many attorneys who are on opposite sides in the courtroom but walk through the door as friends at quitting time, Mulder keeps the fur raised on Schaffer’s back all the time. Before the state calls Mulder to the witness stand, Schaffer tells a reporter, “I’m 100 percent convinced Mulder’s going to lie.”

Schaffer charges that Mulder was “off the Richter scale in propriety” during the Randall Dale Adams trial. And he’s in Baraka’s court to prove that the sleaze rap on Mulder is true. The Adams case has given a new twist to Mulder’s old nickname, “Mad Dog.” Now Mulder has been branded, rightly or wrongly, as an outlaw prosecutor. Defending Walker Railey-who has been convicted by popular opinion-only adds ooze to the sleaze. Yet time after time, the most colorful, renowned crime cases land in Mulder’s lap. Why? Because, as Mulder puts it. he’s the best.

Schaffer might not agree. But he knows he’s up against one bright and skillful legal mind. From the moment Mulder takes the stand, Schaffer holds back nothing. As the battle begins, Adams’s advocate fires this one-liner into a hushed courtroom: “Well, I guess today. Mr. Mulder, you return to the scene of one of your greatest crimes.”

I HIRED DOUG MULDER JUST AFTER HE graduated from SMU.” says former District Attorney Henry Wade. He speaks slowly, thoughtfully, almost reverently, all the while chewing on his cigar, ’And I guess of the thousand or so assistants that 1 hired, he is the only one that I know of that I hired the first time I saw him.”

Wade admits he’s biased when it conies to Mulder. He speaks of him as a father talks about a favorite son who can do no wrong.

Mulder came to Dallas from his home in Iowa to attend SMU law school. He started his job at the DA’s office in October of 1964, straight out of school, just after Wade had finished the Jack Ruby trial and while the eyes of the country were still on the Dallas district attorney’s office. Mulder began at the bottom like everyone else, in the misdemeanor court, but he rose quickly to the felony court and to first assistant.

“He showed a great deal of ability from the start,” Wade says, his cigar disappearing. “All of the cases that I tried the last ten or fifteen years I was DA, I picked him to try with me, mainly because when he came in and said we were ready, we were ready.

“He is a very detailed man-and all business. He devotes all of his energies to the case at hand. Most cases arc won in preparation prior to trial. That’s what Doug is best at. I feel like he was the best prosecutor that ever prosecuted,” Wade says.

That’s some claim coming from a man who defined law and order in this town for thirty-six years. Wade only has one criticism of Mulder’s abilities-he wasn’t very good with the public. A first assistant needs to do quite a bit of hand holding, mainly with people whose cases the DA’s office has dropped. But Wade says Mulder never had the patience to listen to the sob stories.

“He’d tell them they didn’t have a case and to go on about their business,” Wade says.

Though Mulder does his share of hand holding with paying clients these days, he still ignores what he considers pointless social niceties. He’s not a “social” type, not a party-goer. He has a few close friends and he includes his wife, Elyn, in that group. Mulder just doesn’t have time for the hoopla. But he’s not a man who shows passion for work only, Mulder loves golf, and he wins as often on the course as he does in court. Though he played nearly every Friday with Wade while he was an assistant DA, Mulder’s present job as a highly paid defense attorney lends itself to even more time on the back nine. Now he plays not just at Tenison but anywhere he wants, whenever he wants, from Scotland to Scottsdale.

A winning record like Mulder’s obviously requires discipline and devotion. He works about seventy hours a week, and he doesn’t do breakfast, and he doesn’t do lunch. Since he jumped the fence to become a defense attorney, more times than not Mulder has gotten a fat fee up front, and that has become his trademark. When he left the DA’s office in January of 1981, Mulder was making $60,000 a year. His first case as a defense attorney netted him a $100,000 fee. And though that murder case never went to trial, Mulder cashed his check the day he left his office at the county courthouse.

Henry Wade says he had to talk Mulder into leaving and taking that first very lucrative case. Mulder had planned to stay on as first assistant as long as Wade was DA. Courthouse types speculate that Mulder would have waltzed into the DA spot if he hadn’t crossed over to become a defense attorney, but that’s not the way Wade tells it. He says that Mulder could have had the DA’s job if he had wanted it-without even running for office.

“The governor wanted to appoint me to the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Wade says. “And he said he’d appoint anyone I wanted to be DA. I asked Doug about it and he said, ’I don’t want to be district attorney and you don’t want to be a judge, so let’s just go ahead like we are.’”

” NEARLY $200,000 WORTH OF COCAINE is strewn in front of Doug Mulder as he stands before Judge Jack Hampton’s bench. His client, Michael Ross, has been brought to trial for possession with intent to deliver that coke. The case looked like a loser from the beginning. The evidence was stacked against Ross-the most damaging clue being Ross’s thumbprint on a plastic wrapper containing part of a kilo. And though the rest of the cocaine was found in a kitchen being cooked up into crack, one of the plates that held a cooling mayonnaise jar full of crack also had Ross’s thumbprint on it. Ross was one of around ten people arrested at this residence where a couple of days earlier an undercover police officer bought a $200 bag of cocaine. On that day, the officer gave his money to Ross.

This is the kind of guy Mulder used to put away for years when he was prosecuting for the district attorney’s office. Unlike many in his field, Mulder made that transition to defense attorney smoothly and quickly. Wade surmises that the crossover was easy for Mulder because his approach to cases has always been singular, driven, and intense. He has always found the winning formula and then stuck with it. So what if Mulder plies that formula for the accused, even the unsavory accused, rather than for the state? Mulder says his job as a defense attorney is to make sure clients like Michael Ross are well represented,

And that he does. Unbelievably, Mulder is able to raise doubt by bringing in three witnesses who say Michael Ross walked into the townhouse just seconds before the police broke down the front door. “Michael had a fit,” one of the women testified. “He was cussing and throwing stuff. He said, ’this ain’t no crack house.’”

So, maybe, Mulder suggests, just maybe, those fingerprints showed up because Ross was tearing up the place. And maybe, since Ross had just walked into the kitchen moments before the police arrived, this bunch of crack belonged to someone else. Maybe someone else was in charge of the kitchen. Maybe the police had the wrong man.

Mulder raised enough questions to keep the jury out for more than seven hours. His client was pleased with his defense and optimistic that he would win, When the jury came back, though, Ross was found guilty. But in a small way, Mulder had still won. The jury had given Ross a break, convicting him of a lesser offense than charged.

Policemen sitting through the trial speculate that Mulder got $50,000 to defend Ross on this charge. Ross was their biggest bust of the summer, the consummation of a special task force attempt to make a dent in the crack trade in southern Dallas. But with attorneys like Mulder around, the officers figure they’ll be seeing Michael Ross on the street again someday.

So has Mulder hit a gold mine here, a customer who’ll keep coming back? Mulder says he would defend the man again-if “the necessary arrangements can be made.” Translation: if Ross can cough up the cash and get it to Mulder in a way that makes it clear he’s not being paid with drug money.

ANDY SCHAFFER SPITS OUT DOUG Mulder’s name, punctuating it with distaste. Raising his voice over the repeated objections by assistant district attorney Leslie McFarlane, Schaffer turns, points to Adams, and yells: “He is shackled like a wild animal, but if you had your way, he’d be dead today, wouldn’t he, Mr. Mulder?” Mulder agrees and says, ironically, that Adams would be dead today except for the fact that he had a bad defense, which has kept his trial mired in controversy.

But Schaffer’s goal is to direct as much attention as possible away from his client and onto Doug Mulder, skirting around the issue of who killed officer Wood and concentrating on one thing: did Doug Mulder keep Randall Dale Adams from getting a fair trial?

For many people who have seen The Thin Blue Line, the answer is a resounding yes. Adams was convicted in the spring of 1977 for shooting officer Robert Wood to death after Wood had stopped a car for driving with its lights off. After losing state appeals, Adams was sentenced to death in 1979. But the next year, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Adams’s death sentence on grounds of improper jury selection. (Mulder did not participate in the jury selection phase of the trial.) At that time, then-District Attorney Henry Wade asked Governor Bill Clements to change Adams’s sentence to life in prison and thus prevented a new trial.

But last November, after the release of The Thin Blue Line, Adams got another day in court. And despite Mulder’s winning performance as a witness, in which he denied each of Schaffer’s charges, Schaffer and Adams won. Baraka recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Adams be given a new trial. Baraka concluded that Adams had an inadequate defense and that Mulder withheld crucial information about the credibility of witnesses.

The most important of those witnesses had been Harris, who has now recanted his testimony. Schaffer argues that the jury in that first trial never knew that Harris, a juvenile, faced charges of burglary and aggravated robbery in Orange County. After Harris testified for the state in 1977, his charges in Orange County were dropped. Schaffer says that Mulder arranged that deal.

The state’s most credible witness was Teresa Turko, officer Wood’s partner. Turko had described the driver of the car that she and Wood stopped as having “bushy hair.” In 1977, Adams had bushy hair; Harris’s was straight. But Schaffer argues that Turko originally couldn’t describe the driver’s hair and told officers at the scene that “the windows were very dirty and I could barely see inside.” Schaffer says Turko’s description of the hair arose after she underwent hypnosis, and if Adams’s defense attorney had known that, he could have objected to her testimony. Schaffer says Mulder didn’t tell the defense that Turko had been hypnotized and that Turko had earlier been unable to specifically describe the hair of the driver.

The jury also wasn’t told, Schaffer says, that Emily Miller, a passer-by, had picked out another man-not Adams-in a police lineup. Miller identified Adams in the courtroom as the man in that car, despite the fact that her initial statements to police described the driver as a “Mexican or a very light-skinned black man,” while Adams is white. Schaffer says that Mulder was required by law to furnish those statements to the defense, which he did not.

But Mulder and the police maintain that Miller never saw a lineup. “Who knows why Emily Miller would lie about that,” Mulder says. “But she still sticks by her original description.”

Schaffer also charges that Mulder made a deal with Miller to testify, too. Robbery charges against her daughter, pending at the time of the trial, were later dropped.

Following the November hearing, Dallas District Attorney John Vance maintained his position of standing behind Mulder and his office’s claims that Adams was rightfully and legally convicted. But in a surprising move late in January, assistant DA McFarlane bucked her boss and backed Adams’s retrial. McFarlane filed a one-paragraph brief with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that read in part. . .”the state has no objection to the trial court’s. . .finding that applicant is entitled to a new trial.”

Mulder says he also has no objections to Adams getting a new trial. He argues that it’s no longer his role to be an advocate one way or another. “If Vance wants to cut him loose, that’s fine with me,” Mulder says, adding that Adams has served nearly enough time on his life sentence to be released anyway.

Bui Mulder doesn’t waffle about Adams’s guilt or innocence, He still believes he got the right man.

“What we had then were two people-Harris and Adams-telling the identical story,” Mulder says, “except Adams claimed he couldn’t remember what happened on Hampton Road, that he blacked out, and Harris could remember.”

Mulder maintains that Harris, who is now on Death Row for later murdering a Beaumont man, is playing games with the media. In 1977, Adams flunked a polygraph, while Harris, telling his original story, passed. And even now, though Harris says his “hand was on the gun” that killed Wood, he always stops just short of confessing to the murder. And Mulder says he fully expects that Harris will flip-flop on his testimony again.

Mulder laughs at Schaffer’s theory about a “deal” with Harris to testify against Adams. “Anyone who thinks I would make a deal with a kid is extremely naive,” he says.

Though The Thin Blue Line does a good job of presenting its side of the case, answers from Mulder are glaring in their absence. Filmmaker Morris did interview Mulder, but Mulder wouldn’t sign a release that gave Morris cane blanche with the material. And Mulder’s absence from the film makes the case for Adams stronger.

So is guilt or innocence determined on the big screen? DA John Vance will probably choose not to retry Adams, whose conviction was set aside on March 1. If there were a new trial. it would bear little resemblance to the first. Harris isn’t the only one who has changed his testimony since 1977. Adams now says that he signed his statement under pressure and that investigator Gus Rose threatened him with a gun. Rose denies that that ever happened.

“If that is true,” Mulder says, “it’s curious that he waited ten years to tell us. Why didn’t Adams ever tell that to the judge or the jury or even his own attorneys?”

And testimony in any new trial for Adams likely would revolve around his hairstyle at the time of the shooting. Did officer Turko see “bushy hair” or not? Today Adams is a balding, middle-aged man, a tact that somewhat comically underscores the difficulty the state would have if it retried this case.

“Every day that passes,” says former DA Wade, “the state’s case gets worse and the defense’s case gets better.”

Schaffer agrees. “How can the DA expect jurors to believe beyond a reasonable doubt admitted perjurers?” he says.

Mulder says that Schaffer can make fun of his witnesses and allege deals were made and still not change the fact that all of the witnesses described a man in the driver’s seat with a dark complexion, bushy hair, and a big mustache.

“We can argue all night about whether you can make a positive identification of Adams at night from a moving car eight or ten feet away,” Mulder says. “But there is no way you could have mistaken one for the other. Adams fit that description at the time. Harris was a baby-faced, pale blond kid.”

Mulder says he’s fed up with the Adams case. He wishes he could have handled the hearing for the state and put to rest what he considers a media-created circus. “It’s a shame,” Mulder says. “But Adams isn’t the first murderer to beat the system.”

Mulder should know.

OUG MULDER SITS AT A TABLE IN A dark downtown bar and drinks another light beer This is not some stylish Dallas place, not a place to see and be seen. This is just a bar, nondescript except for the waitress whose dress has more zippers than material.

Mulder orders another round, giving him more time to talk about the profession he has mastered over twenty-four years.

“I just like to try cases. Really any kind of case. I like murders, drug cases. I like them all.” But then he pauses and starts into another war story. This one is a child molestation case and it’s clear, though Mulder won, that he didn’t like this one. “I don’t think I’ll take any more of those,” he says.

Mulder is comfortable with the customary criticisms aimed at his profession. Defense attorneys are often derided for doing their job, which is to defend people that society is trying to rid itself of. The job takes a strong stomach, and though Mulder has developed one, he seems pleased that he has the luxury to turn down cases that he finds distasteful. But some crimes, no matter how contemptible, will still beckon him because of the exhilarating challenge of the trial.

It’s a touchy subject because Mulder, like most defense attorneys, is armed with a speech about the criminal justice system, about how everyone is innocent until proven guilty, about how each person-no matter what the crime-deserves not just a defense but a good one. Even Randall Dale Adams.

Mulder has taken it on the chin for this case. Much of the criticism is coming from competitors who say the case has lent credence to stories they’ve heard for years about Mulder’s ruthless behavior as a prosecutor.

Sour grapes? John Hagler. a Dallas appellate lawyer who has worked with Mulder as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, believes Mulder’s colleagues are jealous “because they know that he gets first crack at every big case.”

In the meantime. Mulder is willing to admit that the 1977 Randall Dale Adams trial was not an even match. When it was over and Adams had lost, his attorney, Dennis White, quit trying cases for good. But, Mulder says, “I didn’t pick the sides.”

And what if Mulder had not been the prosecutor? What if he had been the one defending Randall Dale the man he believes should have already been put to death?

“Oh yeah.” Mulder says. “I’d have gotten him off. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

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