Marion Price Daniel III followed his father’s footsteps into politics … appearing on ballots in Liberty County as Price Daniel Jr.
Price Daniel Sr. won election as Governor and U.S. Senator.
Price Daniel Jr. insisted on order in every detail of his life.
So the first step he took in May 1976 that took him down a deadly path seems out of character.
He didn’t usually leave his law office during the work day — except to cross the street to the courthouse. So there were likely some raised eyebrows when he walked out the door on a May afternoon in 1976, climbed into his LTD. and drove to the Dairy Queen on Texas 146.
It was a girl that drew him there. A blonde 28-year-old high school dropout drove a red LeMans Sports Coupe. She was separated from her husband — and had been for many months. It’s hard to scrape up attorney fees on a Dairy Queen paycheck. Her name was Vicki Moore.
He ordered a black coffee and studied her — immediately deciding she didn’t meet his expectations.
She could lose a few pounds.
Her face had that hollow look that many poor white women have from East Texas to Appalachia.
But when she smiled, it was stunning.
Until she married, Vicki had following the tenets of Pentecostal church she was raised in — no cosmetics, no pants, no jewelry and she kept her hair long.
After the death of Franklin, an older brother who helped raise her, Vickie dyed her hair and discovered that blondes do have more fun.
When her daughter came home begging to get her ears pierced, Vickie agreed with the daughter’s request to get hers done too.
Her husband Larry Moore was a heavy equipment operator. He believed that Vicki woke up in a new world every day. He knew she had a mind of her own.
When she asked Larry for a divorce she hadn’t yet found what she was looking for — a way to express herself and be appreciated.
Daniel met Vicki Moore at Dairy Queen in Liberty — likely the only job the pretty mother of two could find a job — as her marriage was imploding.
Daniel was everything her first husband wasn’t.
Larry was over six feet tall — a big, rustic man with hands roughened by labor.
Price was slender and short with perfectly coiffed dark hair, glittering blue eyes.
But she wasn’t smitten when they first met.
Her suitor at the time was a home boy with a business degree who was kind to her children, Kimberly 7 and Jonathon, 5.
He was handsome with dark eyes, perfect teeth and brown hair.
Meanwhile, Price’s 35th birthday was approaching … It’s time to live up to his ambitions.
Price Daniel Sr. had served three terms as Texas governor, after years of service as a state rep, Speaker of the House, U.S. Senator and Texas attorney General.
By the spring of 1976 was as an associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court.
Price Jr. had made a start on living up to his father’s legacy
He won three consecutive terms in the House seat his father once held.
Jr was known for not engaging in the arm-twisting that most ambitious legislators do. He didn’t compromise just to land on the winning side of an issue.
That launched him forward when the Sharpstown scandal broke in 1973. More than half of the legislature was turned out by voters, propelling Daniel into the Speaker’s office.
While he held the gavel, the open meetings act was enacted as well as other transparency measures that have come to be known as Sunshine laws.
Daniel had vowed to step down after one term. When June 1973 arrived, he was popular. His star was rising.
In 1974, Daniel returned to preside over the Constitutional Convention in Austin. The Con Con was charged with creating a new charter for state government. Unlike its federal counterpart, the Texas constitution is a hot mess.
Delegates argued for months and when time ran out they were three votes short.
That’s when Jr acquired the nickname “Half Price.” Even his allies blamed the failure on Price’s alleged weakness of character.
He was publicly described as weak-willed, prissy, aloof, and diffident. A weenie in the House. Not a glowing description for a descendant of Sam Houston.
Price Sr. married Jean Houston Baldwin in 1940. Their marriage was untouched by scandal.
In 1966, Jr. married the granddaughter of Texas Governor Thomas M. Campbell.
They divorced in the aftermath of the con-con.
As his 35th birthday approached he was out of politics and divorced.
He needed to remarry ASAP if he was going to run for office again.
He needed a wife and Vickie needed a lawyer.
Still wounded from his first marriage, Price was wary of the world-wise women who could have provided a boost to his political image.
He began courting Vickie, showing up at the DQ and announcing it was his birthday. … she informed him he was “on the wrong side of the tracks.”
He didn’t convince her to abandon her job and celebrate his birthday with him, but he did break down her objections based on social class a bit.
In a 1981 article in D Magazine that profiled the couple, Dick J. Reavis took a shot at describing the unique mentality of man rural East Texans.
While much of Texas was thriving, the piney backwoods had been left behind. Prosperity had evaded East Texas since the roaring 20s when cotton and petroleum were booming.
Many of the resentments found in Liberty County were not based on anything in the present. Here, you inherited dislike just as you did property.
The Daniels had become unpopular simply because of gossip. That unverified community grapevine claimed that Jr.’s grandfather got rich by hoodwinking poor Baptists in a land grab.
They blamed (without evidence) that Senior cheated black families out of their holdings by arranging food stamp certifications in exchange for acreage.
Many blue collar workers believed that even their vote wouldn’t count if they couldn’t trace their family back to the Daniels, Picketts or Partlows.
When Vicki’s handsome suitor learned that Jr was also attempting to woo her, he simply dropped her.
“He wants you and there’s no sense in somebody like me trying to compete,” he reportedly told Vicki.
The dashing attorney represented her in her divorce action.
By summer, Price was convinced he was in love with Vicki.
He found it easier to relax in her presence. Jr. was socially awkward. Small talk was hard for him. Vicki would talk to anybody about anything as long as they would listen.
She broke the ice. He believed she would be a good campaign partner, even if she wasn’t up to the more complicated conversational topics in Price’s social circle.
In the fall, both Vicki and Price attempted to reconcile with their former spouses. Vicki even applied for a license to remarry Larry. But the old problems resurfaced and by the end of October 1976, she had pledged her love to Price.
As she moved into a life of privilege she, herself, doubted she could handle it
Vicki had a chaotic childhood. She was 10th in a family of 11 children. He parents divorced early in her childhood.
At 12, Vickie moved in with an older brother, but when his health failed she went back to her mother, who had remarried.
In eighth grade, she dropped out of school and entered a Waxahachie children’s home.
In the cottage Vicki was assigned to, there was no cottage father. The cottage mother was overwhelmed.
Vickie helped with household chores and got her first glimpse of settled domestic life.
Price spent his childhood in a mansion where his father was often away attending to business.
He was determined to shelter his children from the glare of the spotlight.
Tom had a room in the Daniels Liberty home. Price and Vicki’s first son, Franklin Baldwin Daniel was born in July 1977.
He doted on his children, but kept his step-children at a distance.
That led to fights.
His career became a frequent source of arguments too when he announced on the radio that he planned to run for Texas Attorney General in 1978,
That September he formally launched the campaign with a banquet at the Elks Lodge. As the election approached, Vicki was often alone with the kids.
The world of legislators, lawyers and kingmakers reminded Vicki of Puppets.
She gave birth to two sons, but never acquired the polish expected of the wife of an up-and-coming Texas politician.
He was rarely home. And when he was home, he was physically abusive — at least once beating her in front of their children.
There also were rampant rumors that Daniel was stepping out on Vicki — with men.
ABC turned the couple’s story into a movie, “Bed of Lies” in 1991, starring Susan Day and Chris Cooper.
Late in October, Vicki filed for divorce, with the assistance of County Judge Harlan Friend. News of the petition quickly hit the wire services.
Family members encouraged Vickie to change her mind.
Price came home and promised to make amends.
Within 48 hours a motion was filed to withdraw the divorce.
But the action had scarred Daniel’s campaign for AG.
His opponent, Mark White, entered the race as an underdog but by the spring, they were neck and neck.
Always parsimonious, Price rejected suggestions that he launch a massive advertising campaign.
After all, he had name recognition.
He was calling in all the ways he had paid for that name through missed childhood experiences and unfair expectations that arose from growing up in Senior’s shadow.
Statewide, Mark White beat Price Daniel Jr. 850,979 to 778,889. In Liberty County he had a margin of 63 percent.
Liberty had set a precedent of letting retired politicians climb down from the pedestal and live ordinary lives. But when the election posters came down, the problems in the marriage escalated.
Vickie was pregnant again, she hated taking pills of any kind. When she told Price about the child, they fought for a week before she agreed to go to Houston for an abortion.
The relationship rocked along and in May 1979 the couple took a cruise. It was Vickie’s first trip outside the U.S. When they returned, Vickie shelved her divorce plans.
When she returned, she realized she was pregnant once again, and that Price would not want the child.
The marriage had degenerated. And the children often witnessed the contempt Vicki and Price had for each other.
As an example, Price was a Dallas Cowboys fan.
When the game was on, he didn’t want to miss a single play, so he liked to keep most of the family’s four TVs tuned to the game.
That extended to the color TV in the children’s playroom.
Vickie and the children were relegated to a black and white set in Kimberly’s room.
The disagreement dissolved in a remote control war with each of them battling to change the channels on all the TVs in the house.
Ultimately, Price was holding Vickie down on the bed in the master bedroom and Kimberly pounded on his back, trying to defend her mother.
The couple finally separated for the night with Vickie retreating to the Del Rey Motor Inn.
Peace pacts were drawn up. Eventually those documents became public.
Price initiated the negotiations with terse, lawyerlike instructions: “List 10 things that you would want me to do differently, improve on, or change if we were ever to go back together. Also list 10 things that you would do differently, improve, or change. Be specific. No general statements permitted.”
In a scratchy scrawl with frequent misspellings, Vickie listed 17 points on which she wanted amends from Price, 11 of which she promised to improve herself. Her appeals to Price included “Listen to me when I’m talking to you”; “Come home to relax, not work”; Clean up after yourself; “Cut down on your drinking for your own sake”; and “We should go to church regularly together.” She also made complaints of an emotional tenor, such as “I don’t like fakes. I think you should express your own true feelings… to your family and friends.” Another item recalled the couple’s days of courtship and the class distinction that had once separated them: “I think you should eat at the table and not have me serve you in the playroom. I’m not a waitress anymore, I’m your wife.”
Vickie’s list of promises was less extensive. Goals such as “Learn to cook to your specifications” were written in stingy, short sentences. On other points she was sarcastic. “I shouldn’t be jealouse”-the spelling is hers – “even though you go sit at another womans table or talk all evening about how much you like a person of the fern. gender … I should never watch t.v.,” she continued, “unless you like the show and are watching it too.”
The written negotiations show that money remained a touchy subject. Price had never made Vickie an equal partner when it came to financial decisions.
Price gave Vickie $300 a month to run the household on, while he carried credit cards from Saks Fifth Avenue, Visa, MasterCard, Frost Brothers and American Express.
That $300 sounds outlandish, but in today’s money that’s $1,058.23. Still not doable with four children in the house.
Vickie had one credit card she could use to purchase gas at a Gulf Station.
At the end of the 1979 peace pact, Vicki admitted that the reconciliation was unlikely to work. They were both resistant to change.
She pleaded to continue her pregnancy, he hoped the child would help moderate his hyperactivity.
In November 1979, Price moved his law office from a downtown building to a doublewide on Hwy. 146.
He put away most of the plaques and photos from his political life except two — A photo of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and another one of LBJ.
Even those photos weren’t ever hung properly. They were on the floor, leaning against a wall.
Price had been a second business for many years, but after the defeat in 1978, the Liberty Land Company sign took a higher position over his lawyer shingle.
By the end of 1980 he was a director of 12 corporations that were involved in some aspect of the housing market. Price thought there was a fortune to be made. He planned to be the king of the trailer park and sub-development world in Liberty County.
Instead of suits, Price now went to work in western shirts and jeans.
He bought a pickup.
Those were encouraging signs for Vickie.
Employees were surprised to see the once-driven attorney, lean back in his chair, put his boots up on his desk and smoke a cigarette.
Remember when you had to get out the record player to hear your favorite song? One evening — either accidentally on purpose — Crystal Gayle belted out “Ready for Times to Get Better” over and over as the 45 rpm single was stuck on repeat.
Price had enough. He took the 45 off the turntable, smashed it and threw the pieces away.
That’s when it became clear that Vickie wanted him to hear the lyrics of that breakup song, and he didn’t want to hear them.
Meanwhile, Price’s music choices showed he was under stress.
The lyrics from a Judy Collins favorite were ironically significant:
“Isn’t it rich, isn’t it queer,
Losing my timing, this late in my career,
But where are the clowns, there ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.”
Another stanza seemed to speak to his personal troubles:
“Just when I start opening doors, Finally knowing the one I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again, with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines, but no one is there.”
One thing that didn’t change was PRice’s draconian rule over the family purse.
A baby was on the way, but he refused Vickie’s request to buy ordinary household items like sheets for the baby bed or a bathroom rug.
On Feb. 2, 1980, the couple’s second son was born.
They disagreed over the boy’s name. Vickie wanted him to be Marion Price Daniel IV. Price didn’t. But it was Vickie that hospital staffers called on to fill out the birth certificate information.
Price called the baby Bob, apparently in honor of Robert Broussard, a black youth who did yard work and other maintenance chores for Price.
Broussard lived with the family from November 1979 to May 1980 when Vickie underwent a hysterectomy.
Price drew up a new will that named his sister as executor of his estate.
After the surgery, the couple moved into separate bedrooms.
Price began giving more attention to a pretty divorcee in his office named Betty White.
Price cosigned a mortgage for a Betty and her new trailer moved into Twin Oaks, a trailer park behind Price’s office.
Rumors went into over drive, but their relationship was not romantic in the least.
By Thanksgiving 1980, the couple was negotiating terms of their divorce. Price offered Vickie $350 a month to support each of the boys. Vickie thought her children should be treated the same as Price’s son by Dianne Wommack, $500 a month in child support.
Vickie went shopping for a mobile home to move into, but Price and a law partner chose a different, more staid, trailer.
He wanted her to move the trailer into Twin Oaks — where he would be within eyeshot of his office.
She consulted an agent with Price’s land company and was presented with a list of possible homes. She couldn’t decide, and he was hesitant.
They weren’t through fighting yet.
At work, it appeared that Price was adopting co-workers to replace the family that was fracturing.
He gave Betty White new autonomy in paying the company expenses.
He gave all the employees raises and offered attorney Mark Moorefield a partnership in the law firm.
The raises were the last straw. She wrote Price a note, announcing that she would not be waiting on him any more.
She called ex-husband Larry Moore on Monday, Jan. 19, 1979. She asked him for help with the physical labor of moving out of Price’s house on Thursday.
Price left his office about 6:30 Monday evening, after writing a check for $1,250 to Vickie to cover the costs of her move into Baytown and cover living expenses until the divorce was final.
To learn what happened over the next 90 minutes, we have to look at witness testimony from a child custody case that was tried in Liberty the next spring.
When he arrived home, Price handed a set of papers too Vickie.
Among them, was a listing of the couple’s community property.
Vickie refused to sign the papers without having her own attorney review them.
When she dropped the stack of papers onto a table, it knocked over Price’s drink.
Price jumped up and reportedly grabbed Vickie around the neck.
She called out for help, and her 12 year old daughter Kimberly came into the room to find Price on top of Vickie, who was laying face up on the floor.
Kimberly pushed on Price, and he ordered her out of the room.
Price and Vickie got up and she said she went tot he kitchen to make supper for the children.
Price went to the master bedroom and gathered up some personal items.
He may have loaded some items into his truck in his preparation to leave.
Then he lowered the attic stairs and called to Vickie asking where his “stuff” was.
Vickie took that to mean a small amount of marijuana that she had found and flushed months earlier.
She started up the attic stairs but Price kicked her in the forehead, she said. She was knocked off the stairs, and Price followed her down the stairs.
She ran to the back door, but was unable to open it.
Frustrated, she reached into a hallway closet. That’s where the couple kept two .22 caliber rifled and a .410 shotgun.
Vickie picked up a bolt-action Remington, threw back the bolt and shoved a live round into the chamber.
She returned to the foot of the folding stairs and asked Price to leave.
He didn’t respond at first, but then Vickie said he yelled out a threat of his own.
Vicki later testified that Price warned her he would stick the gun “up my ass.”
She fired a warning shot.
The bullet went up the stairwell and missed Price.
He came down the stairs real fast and said he was going to kill me. And I backed away. I was scared he was going to hit me again and I closed my eyes and I heard something real funny … and I opened my eyes and he was walking away from me.
The sound that Vickie described as “real funny”-she later told a psychiatrist it sounded like an object hitting water-was another shot from the gun in her hands.
At the foot of the stairs Price apparently dropped a set of keys to his parents’ house – the keys had been in a hiding place in the attic-then turned his back on Vickie and walked away, towards the rear door of the house, the door with the several locks.
A .22 shell had entered Price’s abdomens about 2 inches below the navel.
.22 rounds are rarely deadly — unless they hit a vital organ.
In Price’s case, the bullet moved upward, splitting in two. A portion of the round passed through his aorta.
Eight seconds later he fell dead … killed by ballistic bad luck.
In pretrial proceedings, Vickie faced numerous allegations.
Allegations that the door with several locks was standing up until she shut and locked it.
Vickie hired Richard “Racehorse” Haynes.
Haynes was well known for trying the victim — following a pattern set by Percy Foreman.
Ben Buchanan, manager of the Liberty radio station arrived at the Daniel home just behind EMS.
In all, eight people would wander through the family home that night.
Inside, Vickie fought with paramedics. Price lay on the kitchen floor, dead.
Price’s brother Houston appeared at the door and demanded to be let in.
Buchanan later testified that he and Houston were face to face in the kitchen, and Houston never looked down … “he looked like a man who knew what was going to be there and didn’t want to see it,” Buchanan said.
Defense attorney Jack Zimmerman asked if Buchanan thought Houston had already seen his brother’s dead body.
Buchanan answered that the though never occurred to him.
Testimony did show that Buchanan accidentally stepped on one of the two spent shells from the .22 rifle.
Medics, a nurse, Houston and Charlotte Daniel, local attorney Carl Pickett, sheriff’s deputies and newspaper publisher Ernie Ziechang were all in the house during the investigation.
Zimmerman later wrote about the shooting and courtroom adventures that followed in the Journal of the American Bar Association.
Vickie was indicted shortly after Price’s funeral.
But before the murder case was called, Vickie had to defend herself in a child custody suit filed by Price’s sister.
There were two district judges sitting in Liberty, but both recused themselves from the criminal trial as well as the custody matter.
The custody case proceeded to trial first … a sequence that even the district judge had never seen before.
It was a bitter six-week-long fight before the judge ruled that the mother could keep her two sons.
Seven months later, the murder trial began.
The popularity of the victim’s family forced the court to limit what attorneys could discuss outside the courtroom, particularly with the media. No one was allowed to interview Vickie Daniel.
Attorneys could discuss the day’s event and record to matters of record, but there would be no discussion of trial strategy, future testimony or evidence.
Jack Zimmerman wrote about the trial in Litigation magazine in the Fall 1982 edition.
The case presented several novel questions of law and would require a unique trial strategy.
For one, before a criminal trial could be held in connection with Vickie’s indictment for murder, there was a child custody case to decide.
Price’s sister was suing for custody of the couple’s two young sons.
The two district judges recused themselves and Judge Sam Emison of Houston was appointed to preside over the custody trial
The gist of the custody was trial was that Vickie was an unfit mother and posed a danger to her children because she had shot her husband.
After a bitter, six-week trial, Judge Emison ruled that Vickie could keep her sons.
The murder trial began seven months later.
Zimmerman sought to exclude all testimony from the civil trial, arguing that it was involuntary.
The judge decided that transcripts from the custody trial could only be used to rebut the defendant’s testimony.
This prevented the state from using the prior trial to circumvent the defendant’s right not to testify.
It also kept a psychiatrist’s report that Zimmerman described as “uncomplimentary” from being admitted.
Another pretrial issue was whether evidence seized from the couple’s home while Vickie was in the hospital being treated for a “hysterical reaction,” we’re admissible.
Price’s sister (and the executrix of his estate) consented to the search while Vickie was in the hospital.
During jury selection, Zimmerman asked prospective panel members about their knowledge of “dominated wife syndrome,” which includes not only battering, but emotional abuse as well.
In Texas, the law of self defense at that time applied equally to apparent danger from the defendant’s point of view.
Zimmerman also questioned potential jurors about the reactions of a reasonable woman defending herself from a man.
One response Zimmerman received was that the average woman is just as strong as a man.
At that point he seized the opportunity to educate the jury that a woman who is five foot 2, 110 pounds, cannot be expected to defend herself against a man who is 5 foot 8, and weighs 155 pounds using only her hands.
On day 3 of jury selection, someone called in a death threat against Vickie Daniel.
The defense team also used scientific evidence provided by the medical examiner to show that the shooting was accidental.
Dr. Joseph Jachimczyk described the bullet’s point of entry and trajectory.
He also found remnants of trace metal on Price Daniel’s hand. The pattern was consistent with grabbing the barrel of the .22 rifle.
The distance between the muzzle of the rifle to the entry wound was 15 inches, Zimmerman wrote.
To give the jury a visual image he demonstrated that at that distance, the muzzle was within arm’s reach.
Further, a weapons expert testified that the rifle could possibly discharge if the butt were struck against an object, while someone had their finger on the trigger.
Further, an FBI expert had provided a report that the weapon had been tested and found it would fire without anyone pulling the trigger if the bolt was struck from the rear with sufficient force.
A fingerprint expert found smudges on the barrel. He asked the sheriff’s department to fingerprint Price Daniel, but that was not done.
Zimmerman and the medical examiner reenacted the shooting in front of the jury.
Zimmerman jumped on a chair and asked the medical examiner to point the rifle at an angle that would match the trajectory of the bullet’s path through the body.
Zimmerman then reached out and quickly jerked the rifle.
The defense also put on evidence that Price Daniel could have caused the weapon to fire either by jerking the rifle toward him — taking it away from icky — or by pushing it backwards, striking the door jamb.
In either case, the shooting was not the result of a voluntary act by Vickie.
The defense team also had to prove that Vickie was entitled to hold the weapon, and create an appearance that she will use deadly force if necessary.
Zimmerman believed that majority of the jury was sympathetic toward Vickie,
and that the courtroom atmosphere in general was favorable to the defense.
However, after testimony began, the defense team learned that one of the jurors had not fully disclosed her participation in a prior murder case. She admitted to being a state’s witness in a murder case, she did not share the fact that the victim was her husband.
The rules of procedure in Texas courts set a different standard for granting a request for an instructed verdict depending on whether a jury is sitting, or a bench trial is being held.
During a bench conference, Zimmerman made a motion for an instructed verdict and the court said it would be denied. Zimmerman then said he should discharge the jury, changing the test.
The district attorney believed that Zimmerman would not do that, but the judge indicated he would approve the motion to discharge if both sides agreed.
Zimmerman said after Vickie testified, she told him she wanted the case to end. She was showing the effects of the protracted custody trial, and the three-week murder trial.
On the second day of presenting the defense’s case, Zimmerman and his team presented evidence of abuse during the marriage. Zimmerman also said he was convinced the state had not provide their case.
After court, Zimmerman and the district attorney spoke about the likelihood of a mistrial.
The defense believed that the judge would be better equipped to apply the complexities of the law to the facts in this case. They were also concerned about the impact on their client if they continued presenting evidence for two more days.
Zimmerman consulted his law partner, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, who was trying a case in Corpus Christi. Neither attorney knew the judge well.
Zimmerman then spoke with the court reporter and the bailiff who worked with the judge every day. He spoke with Beaumont attorneys who appeared in court.
At the third day of the defense’s case began, Zimmerman approached the just and announced his desire to dismiss the jury.
After dismissal, reporters polled the jury and announced 10 votes to two for acquittal. That’s without hearing jury instructions and closing arguments.
The case concluded the next day.
At noon on Friday, Oct. 30, 1981, announced a 20 minute recess. When he returned, he announced that he found Vickie Daniel not guilty.
The 300 people in the courtroom roared.