Interview with Vic Feazell

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  •  California 
  •  Florida 
  •  Mexico 
People and Organizations 
  •  Adams, Jim 
  •  Bush, George W. 
  •  Butler, Ned 
  •  Duncan, Charles 
  •  Fox, Vicente 
  •  Fraga, Ernesto 
  •  Graf, Claire 
  •  Hoover, J. Edgar 
  •  Lockhoof, Reed 
  •  Lucas, Henry Lee 
  •  Obama, Barack (then Senator) 
  •  Pack, Darvin 
  •  Richardson, Gary 
  •  Schroeder, Clemmie ("Sister Clemmie") 
  •  Spence, David 
  •  Watkins, Craig (D.A., Dallas County)(not referred to by name) 
Topics (HRDI Thesaurus) 
    •  Featured Segment: Jury Selection (3 minutes, 51 seconds) 
    •  Introduction and Consent 
    •  Why Texas? 
    •  Baptist Upbringing 
    •  Future of the Death Penalty 
    •  Voir Dire (or jury selection) 
    •  Closing 
    •  Watch Video 1 of "Interview with Mr. Vic Feazell." 
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    •  SOLIS:  Well, thank you. Like I said, I was completely fascinated in the process of learning about all of this stuff. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  I'm really glad you put Ernesto Fraga's name in your letter or chances are I wouldn't have contacted you.  
    •  SOLIS:  Really? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  That gave it legitimacy in my mind.  
    •  SOLIS:  We love Ernesto Fraga. 
    •  RAYMOND:  We really do, and he spoke the world of you. 
    •  SOLIS:  Actually, we're going up, is it next week? 
    •  RAYMOND: Next Friday. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  He's a man with integrity and a man with a heart.  
    •  SOLIS:  Very inspiring. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Yeah, he is.  
    •  SOLIS:  Well I'm going to— 
    •  RAYMOND:  You were finishing a question when we were changing tapes about your talk on the courthouse steps. 
    •   VIC FEAZELL:  Oh, courthouse steps. 
    •  SOLIS:  I was just saying— 
    •  RAYMOND:  —after your acquittal.  
    •  SOLIS: —that earlier in the interview you promised Claire Graf that you, if you 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  —were found not-guilty. 
    •  SOLIS:  —you'd go back and help her out. And there's video footage of you on the steps. 
    •  SOLIS: And someone asks, "What are you gonna do next?" 
    •  SOLIS: A reporter asked you that and you say, "I'm going back to Waco to prosecute a capital—"  is that what you were referring to? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  I was referring to the Graf case. "Yeah, I'm going back to Waco. I have a capital murder case to prosecute."  
    •  FEAZELL: And I think it was during that trial or during the process that I decided I didn't want to have anything else to do with politics, at least as a candidate. 
    •  FEAZELL: It's almost like all we can attract is the mediocre, because anybody that's ever really done anything in their life, the media's just gonna destroy it. 
    •  FEAZELL: With an exception: I gotta say somehow that Senator Obama has been an exception to that. Although he's taken a lot of hits on stuff that he never even said or did. I know what that's like. 
    •  FEAZELL: When the powers that be want you, they may not get you—it's not like Reed Lockhoof said: If they want you, they'll get you.  No. But you will take the ride, and it's not a fun ride. 
    •  FEAZELL: You were asking me what I thought about it all.  Yeah, I was real naïve in the beginning. Cause I really, really thought when we met with Jim Adams that he would want to take it all back and straighten it out. 
    •  FEAZELL: And I was so shocked when I found out that he didn't. Then I found out a little about his background to, you know? 
    •  FEAZELL: He had been deputy director of the F.B.I. under J. Edgar Hoover. That's how he got the F.B.I. involved in the thing. That's how he got Belo involved. 
    •  FEAZELL: They had retired F.B.I. people on their board of directors, retired justice people.  And, like I said, I didn't know any of this during my criminal trial. It would have made the criminal trial a lot easier. 
    •  FEAZELL: But the two main investigators, they're the ones that met with Charles Duncan, the reporter for Channel 8 in the beginning. And just about everything that he put on the T.V. was stuff that they had pulled together. 
    •  FEAZELL: And there was only one fact situation in the whole episode that was true. It had to do with an assault on a policeman case. 
    •  FEAZELL: But they got one major fact wrong: It was my predecessor that had done it a year before I took office. [Laughs] That case was dismissed. 
    •  FEAZELL: In court, Gary, who represented me in the Belo case as well. Gary and I both handled the Belo case. I did all the research, all the writing, all the bench arguments, anything having to do with the law, and he presented it to the jury. 
    •  FEAZELL: And he asked Duncan point blank on the stand, "How could you—Did you know?" 
    •  FEAZELL: "Well, yeah. I knew." 
    •  FEAZELL:  "How could you put that on the air knowing it wasn't even Vic?"  
    •  FEAZELL" And he says, "Artistic license."  [Laughs]  I didn't know there was artistic license in journalism. Pretty wild. 
    •  SOLIS:  So why did you decide to defend Henry Lee Lucas in Florida? What was that like? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Not just Florida. Tyler. A bunch of places I ended up not having to go. The only places I had to actually go somewhere was Florida and Tyler, Texas. 
    •  FEAZELL: I'd gotten to know Henry pretty well during all this ordeal. After he got off the Thorazine he was actually a good conversationalist. 
    •  FEAZELL: They kept him stoned on Thorazine most the whole time he was in Georgetown. We had a doctor do a blood test on him and he said he was on enough Thorazine to knock out a horse. Yeah. 
    •  FEAZELL: So, got to know him and he was just in desperate straits. Even when—'cause we didn't get to finish anything with the Grand Jury. It just expired. 
    •  FEAZELL: And the judge wouldn't up it again. He says, "This has cost enough, it's caused enough problems. I'm not gonna let it continue." The judge calls the Grand Jury together, not the D.A.  So that basically ended it. 
    •  FEAZELL: And often times the truth doesn't win in leaps and bounds. It's gonna be a slow saturating process. And most everybody still thought Henry was a guilty murderer 
    •  FEAZELL: And Sister Clemmie, who had been like his spiritual advisor, teacher, friend in Georgetown, she had asked me if I would help. 
    •  FEAZELL:  And I couldn't help him when I was D.A. of course. But everything was kind of inactive for a while. And then the Rangers started pushing it again. 
    •  FEAZELL: They wanted to get a conviction somewhere so they could say, "See, we were right." 
    •  FEAZELL: And after the Belo trial—and I had been representing Henry some, a little before that. And then, especially after the money came, then I had the funds. 
    •  FEAZELL: I could go anywhere I wanted to and spend whatever time I needed to spend on it. And so I just decided to see it through. And he was never convicted of any more cases. 
    •  FEAZELL: He was only convicted by one jury. Everything else was a guilty plea. And that was the "orange socks" case in Georgetown, which happens to be the only death penalty case that George Bush ever commuted the entire time he was Governor. 
    •  FEAZELL: Even George Bush could look at it and tell the guy wasn't guilty. Even "go get ‘em George." 
    •  FEAZELL: And I hate to admit this, but when I read in the newspaper, or I heard it, I don't remember how it got to me that Bush had commuted—I think I actually just saw it in the paper, I actually said, "God bless George Bush." But let's keep that in context. 
    •  SOLIS:  Well I'm going to kick it over to Virginia here. Virginia has some questions for you.  
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Okay, Virginia. 
    •  RAYMOND:  Okay, well thanks. I do. First of all, I mean Waco [inaudible] but Waco is the headquarters, at least the spiritual headquarters of the Texas Rangers. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Sure. The Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, F-troop, right there.  
    •  RAYMOND:  So you're taking them on right there in their home court.  
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Yeah, I walked right in to the dragon's den.  
    •  RAYMOND:  I just want to think about that for a minute.  I ask people who know a lot, and you, having been a district attorney and seeing a lot of different sides of that, 
    •  RAYMOND:  why do you think it is that Texas has been different about the death penalty in terms of—California's a larger death penalty, but we have people pushing harder and there've been more executions in Texas. 
    •  RAYMOND: What is it about Texas that's made that difference? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  I think Texas just has more roots in the frontier, even more so than California as far as the population that's still here. 
    •  FEAZELL: 'Cause the California population is a lot—people came from somewhere else. And I just think a lot of it's the cowboy mentality, very conservative.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Well, I'm going to push you on that a little bit just because it's changing now, but more of the executions, more of the death sentences come out of Harris County, the whole prison mentality comes out of East Texas, which was not the frontier, it was more part of the Confederacy. 
    •  RAYMOND: Do you see Houston as a frontier place or having that frontier mentality?  
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  No, not really. It'd be more like California in that way. But I'm just talking about how our laws have developed, and the kind of people that still get elected, and what still sells to the voting public. 
    •  FEAZELL: And the conservatives, the death penalty proponents have an easier job because all you have to do is appeal to someone's fear. Appeal to their baser emotions, where on the other side of the spectrum, you've got to be, speak intellectually, spiritually, talk about what's good for all, rather than an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. 
    •  FEAZELL: If it's different, kill it. So I just think it's just an easier row to hoe, to make somebody afraid.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Do you think Texans are more susceptible to that kind of pandering to fear than other people? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Not necessarily. I just think it happens here.  
    •  RAYMOND:  So there have been some studies and articles about how Texans are actually not more like—Texas juries are actually not more likely to convict people, sentence them to death, than are juries in other states. 
    •  RAYMOND: But there are more executions occurring, resulting because of D.A.s pushing. 
    •  RAYMOND: And how does that work in your view, political view, if a lot of the voters themselves when pushed down to when they're on juries wouldn't in particular be likely to sentence people to death and yet the D.A.s think they need to do this to pander to that fear. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  When I was doing it, like I said, there was no life without parole. So there was a really good reason for it then. 
    •  FEAZELL: Now I don't see the reason for the death penalty. I just don't. When you can lock someone up for the rest of their—well as Ned Butler used to say, "the rest of their unnatural lives." There's no reason for it. 
    •  FEAZELL: But D.A.s run for reelection. And right now has been—it just sells. It's a way to get people motivated, to get ‘em to vote. It's just a lot easier to motivate somebody with negative stuff than it is with positive stuff.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Some— 
    •  VIC FEAZELL: It gets the headlines too. That's why a lot of D.A.s like to do it.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Headlines is huge. It's huge.  Some people—I ask a lot of people this question, and so several people attribute this to the large evangelical and fundamentalist religious population in Texas.  
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Yeah.  
    •  RAYMOND: And the largest religion is Baptist. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Right. 
    •  RAYMOND:  And as a preacher's son can you talk about your Baptist upbringing and your views about the death penalty, what effect that had or didn't have on where you came to be?               
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Well, growing up in the Baptist Church I know how conservative that it is. Now some Baptist churches are moving away from that now. But very conservative, spent an awful lot of time in the Old Testament. 
    •  FEAZELL:  I'm fond of saying we live in a Jesus-oriented society that's Biblically illiterate. They're always doing a Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, and most people don't have the slightest idea what he stood for. 
    •  FEAZELL: You know when people ask me, ‘You know I'm thinking about reading the Bible, where should I start?' I say, "Just read the red stuff. Start there. Just the red stuff." 
    •  FEAZELL:  Too often they'll start back in Genesis, they'll get into Exodus, all the books that Moses wrote. But if you eat shellfish, you're worthy of death. You eat a lobster, worthy of death. If you're gay, you are dead. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Retribution. Pretty tough stuff. 
    •  FEAZELL:  There wasn't any talk about God as a father figure. There wasn't talk about love and forgiveness until Jesus came along and you started talking about the Bible. 
    •  FEAZELL: And what you'll find is that the Evangelicals, the hell fire and brimstone types, they spent a lot of time in the Old Testament. 
    •  FEAZELL: They'll even twist the words that Jesus said with Old Testament verses. 
    •  FEAZELL: There are still a whole bunch of ‘em that think homosexuals should be stoned, I mean with rocks. And when I'm asked about that, "What do you believe about homosexuality?" I say, I believe exactly what Jesus said about it. Nothing. 
    •  FEAZELL: If it was that damn important, don't you think he'd have said something? Now he said a lot about divorce that Baptists really like to ignore. He didn't say anything about gays. Nothing. 
    •  FEAZELL: So, I don't know. I've just developed and grown with my religion to where it's just more tolerant, more loving, more accepting, more forgiving.  
    •  FEAZELL: If I'd a been more that way in the eighties, cause I've changed since then, you know I may have done things differently back then.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Where do you see Texas going with respect to the death penalty? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  I don't know. I am so bad at predicting the future because I am such an optimist. I was saying that—I was predicting in the seventies that marijuana would be legal by eighty-five and here we are 2008 and you can still go to jail for a joint in some places in Texas. 
    •  FEAZELL:  I mean we were looking last year where the Congress in Mexico, I don't remember what you call it, their legislature, remember they got through their Congress a bill that was gonna legalize possession of small amounts of almost anything. 
    •  FEAZELL:  They were gonna become the Amsterdam of the Western Hemisphere. And George Bush's administration put pressure on Vicente Fox to deep-six that thing. So man every time I think we're moving forward, then we just get pulled back.  
    •  RAYMOND:  In terms of the cost of the death penalty, is that having an effect or do you think that that will have any effect on decisions to go for it or not? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  I think if the cost, and I don't know what it is now or if it's get—with appeals and all of that if it's getting up to around what it would cost to house somebody, unfortunately, that economic argument does carry a lot of weight with some people. 
    •  FEAZELL: I don't see it as an issue myself. I think in a state with life without parole there's no reason to go after the death penalty, period. It's not a dollars and cents thing.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Have you either when you were a D.A. or since then talked to other D.A.s or other assistant prosecutors about the effect of life without parole and has that changed other people's minds as well? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  I used to talk about it when I was D.A. I would lobby and campaign for it, against the Texas District and County Attorneys Association because they were always opposed to it, telling us to be opposed to it. But whether my talking has done any good, I don't know. 
    •  RAYMOND:  And have you heard anybody else say that they think life without parole has changed things, that they— 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  District Attorneys?   
    •  RAYMOND:  Yeah.  
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  No. Now maybe this new one in Dallas. But I tell you what. He better be careful ‘cause he's already pissing people off, and he probably is naïve enough to think that if you do right and work hard you'll be rewarded. And I just hope he stays really careful. Yeah.  
    •  RAYMOND:  One other question sort of goes back. What did you look for both as a prosecutor and then when you were doing defense, what did you look for in a jury and how did you go about your jury selection process? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL: On a capital case? 
    •  RAYMOND:  Yes. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  You know I don't do that anymore. 
    •  RAYMOND:  Right.  But back then. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  But back then as a prosecutor I'd look for someone that could impose the death penalty if—my line was if the facts justified it and the law provided for it. That's basically what I was looking for.  
    •  RAYMOND:  And how do you find this? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Well, that's what individual voir dire is for. You can ask them every which way, backwards and forwards, what they think about this, that, or the other, and get an idea of where they will fall in the spectrum between conservative and liberal. And you try to get the most conservative person up there you can.  
    •  RAYMOND:  And as a defense attorney? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Just the opposite. Somebody who's a thinker. Somebody who's more liberal. 
    •  FEAZELL: Used to you could make some generalizations based on race and background. But that's getting more difficult to do now. 
    •  FEAZELL:  I remember when we prosecuted Spence the second time in Bryan-College Station, Ned Butler was assisting me on that. 
    •  FEAZELL: And he was supposed to go black powder hunting in New Mexico on the break between jury selection and when the trial was gonna start. And jury selection went overtime. 
    •  FEAZELL: And I said, Ned, go ahead and go. I can handle this. You don't need to be here. So he went and when he got back he saw that I had accepted an elderly Black lady to be on the jury. And he went crazy on me. He was so upset. 
    •  FEAZELL: He told me, "Why even go forward? You've lost the case." Nah, you can't generalize like that, Ed, you weren't here. You didn't hear her answers. 
    •  FEAZELL: You know, cause when I got to the point about how, what do you think about the idea of lethal injection as a punishment for a crime, if the facts justified it, the law says it's allowed. What do you think about the lethal injection?   
    •  FEAZELL: She goes, "Mmm, I don't like that lethal injection." So I flip over, I'm getting to my questions to disqualify her. And then she goes, "I liked that electric chair better, I think it sends more of a message." 
    •  FEAZELL: So I flipped back and said, Ma'am, let me tell you about this case. And she ended up on the jury, and she ended up voting for the death penalty. 
    •  FEAZELL: So, you never know. We had a guy one time, we thought he was a really conservative, gonna be for the death penalty. The defense starts questioning him. 
    •  FEAZELL: He says, ‘You realize that if you vote for the death penalty you might as well be going down there and putting a needle in him yourself. Could you do that?" 
    •  FEAZELL: He goes, "Aw, I don't know." And he starts rubbing his head like that. And Ned—that was on the first Spence case— 
    •  FEAZELL: And Ned and I look at each other and go, Man, we thought this guy was strong and now he's waffling. 
    •  FEAZELL: And he goes, "I'd have to talk to my boss about getting off work." All right.  
    •  FEAZELL: He looked for that: Somebody that's been a hunter, somebody who maybe grew up agrarian more than in the city, cause they're more used to dealing with death on a daily basis with the animals and things. 
    •  FEAZELL: Found that horse people are usually good with the death penalty, will be pro-death penalty. Just little things we learned along the way.  
    •  RAYMOND:  This interview has been fascinating for me and I really appreciate your time and all that you've given us. 
    •  RAYMOND: As we're getting ready to end is there anything that we haven't asked you that you think we should have or that you would like people to know about your experience? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  I'm sure there is and I'll probably think about right about the time you're pulling out of the parking garage. I can't think of anything right now.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Anything you wish you had known before you started prosecuting these trials, other than the naïveté I guess? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  No, just that. Just that. A lot of things I would have handled a little differently. I would have watched my mouth, ‘cause, boy, people can hold a grudge. 
    •  FEAZELL:  I made some powerful people really angry. That's what I'm afraid the D.A. in Dallas might be doing. I'm worried about him. 
    •  FEAZELL: 'Cause when you start rocking the boat, somebody's gonna try to take you out.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Thank you very much. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  Thank you. I hope you got what you needed.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Thank you so much. 
    •  SOLIS:  Appreciate it. 
    •  [Camera off briefly] 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  —be to the family. You know, the families of the victims, and that is that the death penalty will not close the chapter for you. It will not bring closure. Only forgiveness does that.  
    •  RAYMOND:  How do you learn that? 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  How do you learn that? 
    •  RAYMOND:  Yeah. I mean you talked about your own experience, but you're now talking also about what you've seen in family members. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  I think it just has a whole lot to do with a person's entire makeup and background, and whether they're open to the idea. 
    •  FEAZELL: And then you just have to decide you're gonna do it. How do I do I forgive somebody?  You just do it. You just do it.  
    •  RAYMOND:  Thank you. 
    •  VIC FEAZELL:  You're welcome.  
    •  SOLIS: [inaudible] this camera and we'll be out of your office. 
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    Title:Interview with Vic Feazell
    Abstract:Vic Feazell was the District Attorney for McLennan County for two terms. In Video 1, Feazell speaks about his capital murder prosecutions of David Wayne Spence and Muneer Deeb, Clifton Belyeu, and Ed Graf. He also describes challenging the bogus confessions of self-proclaimed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas and the retaliation he endured as a result of his investigation. In Video 2, Feazell discusses Texans' attachment to capital punishment, describes his own Baptist upbringing, and explains his thought process as a prosecutor and defense attorney in voir dire (or jury selection). Vic Feazell closes his interview by recommending that people forgive those who have caused them pain.
    Sequence:2 of 2
    • Vic FeazellRole: Narrator
    • Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
    • Virginia RaymondRole: Interviewer
    • Gabriel SolisRole: Videographer
    • Susanne MasonRole: Transcriber
    • Gabriel SolisRole: Proofreader
    Date Created:2008/10/02
    Geographic Focus:North America--United States--Texas
    Geographic Base:North America--United States--Texas--Austin
    Type of Resource:Moving image
      This electronic resource is made available by the University of Texas Libraries solely for the purposes of research, teaching and private study. All intellectual property rights are retained by the legal copyright holders. The University of Texas does not hold the copyright to the content of this file. Formal permission to reuse or republish this content must be obtained from the copyright holder.


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