AUSTIN, Tex. — Out back, Vic Feazell's pool will soon be finished, as will the nearby waterfall. The Taraesque columns of his new, 8,000-square-foot mansion have been freshly painted and, soon enough, shipments of new furniture will fill the cavernous rooms.
Times had not always been so grand for Feazell, not so grand at all. There had been moments in the last few years when his life had seemed so unforgiving, so bleak, that he had wondered how all of it could have happened to him.
While he was the district attorney in the central Texas city of Waco, he had been handcuffed and led off to jail. His small son, Greg, had watched the humiliating arrest on television. His house had been searched by a small army of lawmen. There had been one trial and then another. In all, more than six years had elapsed from that day when the case of Henry Lee Lucas landed on his desk and sent events spiraling out of control.
Henry Lee Lucas. Now there was a name that had sent chills through the collective spine of the country. Beginning with his arrest in 1983, Lucas confessed to murders in every corner of the nation, more than 600 by the time it was over.
He bragged of murdering in every possible way. He said he was Seattle's Green River Killer, Jimmy Hoffa's assassin and the man who supplied poison to Jim Jones for his massacre in Guyana. If authorities asked him about a murder and told him a little about the case, he ponied up a confession faster than a blink. He confessed to three right around Waco.
Feazell did not believe Lucas committed the murders in his district, and that's when his troubles began. His questioning of the Waco confessions was one of the key elements in raising doubt about Lucas' role in other murders--a decidedly downbeat prospect for many lawmen who were clearing cases willy-nilly. Feazell believes--and so did a jury--that the racketeering charges that led to his arrest were trumped up because he challenged the methods of the Lucas task force, headed by the Texas Rangers.
After winning that battle, another jury awarded him $58 million in a libel judgment against a Dallas television station that had first called his honesty and integrity into question.
That amount--the largest libel verdict ever--would later be reduced significantly in an out-of-court settlement. Still, as Feazell put it while sitting in the study of the mansion: "I'll never have to work another day in my life if I don't want to."
In the winter of 1984, Feazell was talking with Deputy Sheriff Truman Simons about Lucas and whether or not he could have committed the murders to which he had confessed in Waco.
They had a stake in this one, because a suspect--Joe Lehming--was already in jail. Simons had been working on Lehming and thought he had been only a hair away from convincing the man to confess to the killings. But when Lucas confessed, Lehming shut his mouth tight, "vapor locked" as Simons put it, hoping that Lucas would take the rap.
Simons went to the computer to see what kind of record Lucas had on the national crime reporting system. He typed in Lucas' name and the oddest thing happened. Nothing showed up. Not a single petty crime. Clearly, someone with control of the file had pulled Lucas' record. Why was another matter. At that point, neither had any reason to think of it as much more than a quirk in the system.
Simons pondered the blank screen for a while and decided to try something different. He typed in the codes for Lucas' traffic record and he started getting "hits" on the screen. They began comparing dates on traffic tickets to dates of confessed murders and it started coming clear.
"There were about 30 cases on the Rangers' list that Henry could not have done because of his traffic record," Feazell said. "He was in other parts of the country."
Weeks later and after disclosing what they had found to a state investigator, Simons pulled up the Lucas traffic record again to see if it was still there. It was not.
The two men began to suspect that there was a purpose behind this--that someone in authority did not want anyone messing with the Lucas confession bonanza. Simons, who is not one to mince words, said that he knew then there was going to be a huge controversy about the Lucas confessions. "I knew there was going to be one hell of a storm," he said.
Feazell called Jim Mattox, then the Texas attorney general. Mattox recalls Feazell's call well because he, too, had been having his doubts about the huge number of murders that were being cleaned up with Lucas confessions. Already, he said, he had called Col. James Adams, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, and told him so.
"Lucas was in the process of confessing to everything in the world," said Mattox, who last year lost in his bid for the governorship. "It just seemed unreasonable."