|Born||Henry Menasco Wade
November 11, 1914
Rockwall County, Texas, United States
|Died||March 1, 2001
Dallas, Texas, United States
Cause of death
|Alma mater||University of Texas |
|Known for||Prosecution of Jack Ruby
Roe v. Wade
Henry Menasco Wade (November 11, 1914 – March 1, 2001) was a Texas lawyer who served as District Attorney of Dallas from 1951 to 1987. As such, he participated in two of the most notable U.S. court cases of the 20th century: the prosecution of Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald, and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade. In addition, Wade was District Attorney when Randall Dale Adams, the subject of the documentary film The Thin Blue Line, was convicted in the murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer. He is also the longest-serving district attorney in United States history.
Wade, one of eleven children, was born in Rockwall County, Texas, outside Dallas. A good student, Wade, along with five of his seven brothers, entered the legal profession. Shortly after graduating from the University of Texas, in 1939, Wade joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then headed by J. Edgar Hoover. Wade's assignment as Special Agent was to investigate espionage cases along the East Coast of the United States and in South America. During World War II, Wade served in the U.S. Navy, taking part in the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa.
He was first elected Rockwall County Attorney. In 1947, Wade joined the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. He won election to the top job only four years later, a position he would hold for thirty-six years straight, from 1951 until his voluntary retirement in 1987.
1956 congressional election
Wade was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate in 1956 against the staunchly conservative Republican U.S. Representative Bruce Alger of Dallas County. Alger prevailed to win his second of five House terms, 102,380 (55.6 percent) to 81,705 (44.4 percent). After his defeat, Wade remained district attorney for another thirty years.
President Kennedy assassination
In the early afternoon hours of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas, just blocks from Wade's headquarters in the Dallas County Courthouse. Wade recounted that Cliff Carter, a member of newly sworn-in President Lyndon B. Johnson's staff, telephoned him three times that night.
Wade lost the opportunity to try Lee Harvey Oswald for Kennedy's murder when Dallas nightclub operator Jack Ruby shot the suspect just two days later, but became nationally recognized for prosecuting Ruby himself for Oswald's murder. Wade closely supervised the Ruby trial, although he appointed his assistant William Alexander to conduct the courtroom proceedings. Wade and Alexander confronted Ruby's lawyers, famed trial lawyer Melvin Belli and Texas counsellor Joe Tonahill, in a lengthy trial that concluded on March 14, 1964, with a verdict for Ruby of "guilty of murder with malice". The jury had deliberated for less than three hours before arriving at its decision, and it recommended a penalty of death.
Roe v. Wade
Wade, as Dallas County District Attorney, was the named defendant when attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee mounted a 1970 constitutional challenge to the Texas criminal statutes prohibiting doctors from performing abortions. Norma McCorvey ("Jane Roe"), a single woman who has since recanted the claim that her pregnancy was the result of rape, was signed up as the representative plaintiff. The challenge sought a declaratory judgment that the Texas criminal abortion statutes were unconstitutional on their face, and an injunction restraining the defendant from enforcing the statutes. The lower court refused to grant Roe's desired injunction, but declared the criminal abortion statutes were void. Consequently, both sides cross-appealed. The case worked its way through the appellate process, culminating in the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which made abortion legal in the United States. Until that time Henry Wade never lost a case.
Despite the loss of the Roe case — and the unpopularity of the results with many conservative Texas voters — Wade himself was not blamed, and his political career did not suffer. He continued to serve in office for an additional fourteen years, and afterwards remained a fixture around the new Crowley Courts Building, where members of the Dallas Bar called him "the Chief." In 1995, the Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center was named in his honor, and in 2000, shortly before his death from Parkinson's disease, Texas Lawyer magazine named him as one of the 102 most influential lawyers of the twentieth century.
Wade once again gained national attention in 1988 with the release of Errol Morris’s documentary film The Thin Blue Line. The documentary is the biography of Randall Dale Adams. Adams was convicted in 1977 and sentenced to death for the murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer. The execution was scheduled for May 8, 1979 but U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., ordered a stay only three days before the scheduled date. Instead of conducting a new trial, Governor Bill Clements commuted Adams’s sentence to life in prison. Adams was exonerated in 1988 after serving 12 years in prison. Similar cases of exonerated men have recently arisen, putting the legality of Wade's practices in question.
As of July, 2008, fifteen persons convicted during Wade's term as Dallas County District Attorney have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were accused in light of new DNA evidence. Because of the culture of the department to "convict at all costs," it is suspected that more innocent people have been falsely imprisoned or even executed. Project Innocence Texas currently has more than 250 cases under examination.
- Wolfgang Saxon (March 2, 2001). "Henry Wade, Prosecutor in National Spotlight, Dies at 86". New York Times. Retrieved January 23, 2010.
- "Henry Wade Biography". Retrieved January 23, 2010.
- Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, Vol. 2, U.S. House, 6th ed., (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 2010), p. 1255
- Warren Commission (1964). Hearings Before the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. vol. 5. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. pp. 218–219. OCLC 475244.
- Bugliosi, Vincent (2007). Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 1465–1466. ISBN 978-0-393-04525-3.
- Bugliosi, p. 1477.
- James Woodard; Eugene Henton; James Waller; Greg Wallis; James Giles; Billy Smith (May 4, 2008). DNA Helps Free Inmate After 27 Years (Video/Transcript). Interview with James Woodard. 60 Minutes. CBS. Dallas, Texas. Retrieved May 11, 2008.
- Wolfgang Saxon (March 2, 2001). "Henry Wade, Prosecutor in National Spotlight, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2008.