Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Terry Wilson

I learned last night from Casey O'Brien that former Division Chief, Terry Wilson passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Terry had the unusual distinction of being a member of the Harris County District Attorney's Office on two separate occasions. He initially retired as a Division Chief in the late 1990s, and then returned as a consultant under the Rosenthal Administration, working on office policy issues and international extradition matters. It was during his stint the second time that I got to know him a little bit.

Former Assistant District Attorney Ted Wilson (no relation to Terry) described Terry to me in an e-mail this morning:

I first met Terry in law school. He was a year ahead of me but we did share a few classes. We became friends and I would pick his brain every chance I had. He was an outstanding student and it was fun to listen to Terry when some professor tried to outsmart him in class. They never succeeded.

Terry came to the D.A.'s office a year before me and worked his way through the Trial Bureau. He was picked by Henry Oncken to go to Special Crimes when Terry was a #2 in District Court. He made Chief a few months later and was sent back to District Court as chief prosecutor. He did that for a couple of years and then started the Civil Rights Division. Back then he made every police shooting himself. And, that included when officers got shot as well as when they shot someone. Terry loved that job because he loved "investigating" as well as going to court. And, he was a hell of an investigator.

Terry went from that job to heading up the Major Offender Division. He, and his assistant, Chuck Rosenthal, handled investigations involving violent crimes. I was in Special Crimes by that time so Terry and I handled several investigations together. We also tried a solicitation of capital murder case together. He was brilliant and a lot of fun to work with.

Terry also taught the Penal Code to Houston Police cadets for years. He knew the code backwards and forwards. You could throw any set of facts at him and he could tell you what, if any, violation fit those facts.

Terry acted like a lawyer who wished he was a Texas Ranger. He was gruff and didn't act like a "button down lawyer". I loved watching Terry come to court to go up against a defense attorney who didn't know Terry nor had heard of him. They would look at Terry and assume he wasn't all that great of a lawyer. His demeanor suggested a lot of hot air with little to back it up. But, man was there ever plenty to back it up. He would chew up lawyers in the courtroom. Good on the law, quick on his feet, articulate, and just plain smart. Any case he had, the State was well represented.

I always thought that the newer lawyers in our office didn't take the opportunity to learn from Terry when he came back part-time. They didn't know about Terry prowess when he was a full time prosecutor. So, they didn't know how much help and advice he was capable of providing to them. They missed a lot if they didn't seek his advice.

It was my pleasure to have known and worked with Terry. Not only did we get to do a lot if interesting and challenging things over the years but we had a lot of fun doing it. I learned a lot from Terry. I will miss him and the great times we had.

When Terry did come back to the Office the second time, he was mostly known for the rascal motor scooter than he blazed down the hallways on at a high rate of speed. It was after having to leap to safety to avoid being run over by Terry a couple of times when I finally got to know him. Although I clearly didn't know him as well as Ted or some of the folks from back in the "old days", I enjoyed hearing his war stories. I was also able to learn how to turn down the throttle on his scooter, which probably saved countless lives in the Office.

Terry had been involved in the Max Soffar case when it was first tried back in the 1980s, and he testified in the case when it was re-tried in 2006. It was something very interesting to watch and listen to him talk about. When then-Gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman testified in trial on Soffar's behalf, I remember telling Terry that it was a tough call to see who looked more "grizzled" - Terry or Kinky.

Terry claimed it was him.

In talking to Terry, I just enjoyed feeling his enthusiasm and camaraderie that he felt about the Office. In retrospect, I think it was characters like Terry Wilson that made the D.A.'s Office such a fun and desirable place to work.

Ted is correct in saying that newer lawyers didn't take the time to get to know Terry when he came back to the Office. That's a shame.

I did. And I'm glad that I did.

Terry will be missed.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Murray for writing about Terry. He was a good man, and would do anything for a friend. He may have scared off people by his appearance, but underneath he was a gentle man. I was one of the lucky ones to have known Terry. I worked for him and he considered me a friend. I feel very blessed to have known him for 30 years. I will miss him dearly.

jigmeister said...

My memories of Terry,

I never had the pleasure of trying a case with Terry. I guess he wasn’t pretty enough, or I wasn’t. I guess Ted was though. However, I got to watch him many times. His genius was his ability to investigate a case and use his knowledge of the law and his intellect. He was gruff, tough, wearing old western suits and cowboy boots and many in the office mistook him for an investigator instead of a division chief. He kept a tie in his office, but only wore it when he had to. He walked into the courtroom and was immediately undervalued. Big, big mistake. He was the smartest lawyer in the office and those that were fooled by his appearance and demeanor paid the price. He used the Socratic Method with his lawyers, encouraging them to think through problems and solve them on their own, but with a great sense of humor. He was a great teacher and had instant recall. Perhaps his biggest strength however, was his loyalty to his people. On many occasions, I saw him go to Holmes on their behalf. I don’t know what he had on Johnny (probably just his trust), but he usually got what he wanted.

I followed him as the Chief of Division D when he retired the first time in the late 90’s. Those were big shoes to follow. Thankfully he gave me great advice. Lead from the front by example, stay on top of everything that was going on and give your people as much discretion as possible and then back them up. He was a great friend and mentor; and I miss him tremendously.

Without question, the office of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s was great and a great place to work because of Terry and those like him. cob

Montgomery County Cop said...

I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Terry. He was a great lawyer and a hell of a man. They really don't make the like him anymore. He was one of a kind - I doubt you would find a lawyer like him in a New York courtroom. He could go toe to toe with anyone. He will be kissed.

Katherine said...

I am Terry Wilson's sister, and my family and I greatly appreciate your posting about him and the comments made by former coworkers. He was truly dedicated to the law, and it is gratifying to know that his colleagues think he made a difference. His dear wife forwarded the link to this blog, and we have now forwarded it to family and friends around the world.

Anonymous said...

Katherine, when and where is Terry's funeral?

A Harris County Lawyer said...

The word I have received from Terry's family is that there will be a Memorial Service some time in late April or early May.

Anonymous said...

Cops in Houston knew that when Terry investigated your shooting case, it would be handled fairly and honestly.

Anonymous said...

This isn't related and no disrespect intended. but a memorial for the HCDA Office needs to begin. Mark Donelly was suspended for ridiculous media pandering reasons. Mark is a minority and was accused of being racist by his boss. Those of us who know him know that this is the most absurd reaction a leader could have. I assume Murray will post on this but I am saddened by the latest development from the Gang and their leader, Hatchet Face. Mutiny abounds.

Sarah Teeter said...

To all of you who have posted messages about my father: First off, thank you. It is wonderful during this horrible time to hear such wonderful stories, please keep them coming as they make me cry for the loss and smile knowing how my father has touched your lives in some way. For those of you I have met and who knew me as I was growing up around the DA's office, thank you for the memories I have. I remember many a time walking into Johnny's office not having any idea what was going on and saying hi and getting a smile with that handlebar moustache. These times are the times I am remembering now. I don't even remember how old I was when dad walked me into a Harris County Courthouse and scared the living daylights out of me and told me "This is where you will end up if you do bad things". It stuck with me forever. I've never even had a speeding ticket. This page made me cry and smile to know how much my father was cared for by all of you. I know it may not seem like much, but these memories are all I have left. Please keep them coming and please add new ones if you remember them.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Terry was a great story teller in the courtroom and in person. I had the pleasure of hearing many, many stories about the good old days when the DAs went out on busts and made scenes weekly. One story in particular about helping chase down a fleeing (later to be executed) suspect I must have heard 10x, but it was exciting every time. I'm a sucker for a good-guys-win story and Terry was full of them.

Anonymous said...

Terry Wilson taught my academy class the Texas Penal Code. He amazed me at how he had the code thoroughly memorized, verbatim. His brilliance was not only in his delivery, but his very laid back demeanor. He was more like the hungry lion stalking his prey. God Bless, Mr. Terry Wilson, you will be missed!

Anonymous said...

Terry Wilson was a one of a kind. I just am so lucky to have worked with him, watched him in trial and used him as a witness in a hearing. You would never find a better lawyer or friend. I will never forget when Terry called me and told me I had done a good job on a difficult trial. I was never so proud. Thank you Terry, you will be greatly missed

Elizabeth said...

I am Terry's youngest daughter. It's nice to be able to look back and read stories about my Dad when I am missing him. I was just going through some 20 and 30 year old newspaper stories about him. Great stuff! Thank you all again. I miss you Daddy!

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I may have your father's DA belt buckles. sharlenehempel@hot