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TEXAS'CONCEALED GUN LICENSE LAW

How One Texan Got a License, Then Killed 2

October 03, 2000|RICHARD A. SERRANO and WILLIAM C. REMPEL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LIVINGSTON, Texas — Robert Clinton Hinkle lived life hard--the bandit biker gangs, the death threats, the drugs, the gunfights too many to count.

But then something odd came real easy--his plastic concealed handgun license card from the state of Texas.

He mailed in the yellow, 19-question application, passed a written exam and a shooting test, and soon became one of the tens of thousands legally walking around Texas with a hidden firearm.

With his new license slipped neatly in his wallet, he carried a .380 semiautomatic in a shoulder holster and a .41-caliber magnum Smith & Wesson tucked under his belt at the back of his pants.

Hinkle was armed. He was also dangerous.

In fact, he is among the most egregious examples of how the state of Texas has granted hundreds of concealed-weapon permits to citizens with questionable backgrounds. Roughly a year after he received his license, Hinkle killed two men and seriously wounded a third in a wild shootout over drugs.

Hinkle is in prison in Livingston, probably locked up for the rest of his life, but he laughs when he talks about how little effort it took to get the concealed handgun license. "It just fell into my hands," he says, sitting in the maximum security penitentiary next to Texas' death row.

Law enforcement officials in Texas maintain that because Hinkle had no prior criminal history, there was no reason for him to be denied a license.

Ray Nutt, chief investigator in the district attorney's office in Henderson County, Texas, where Hinkle was tried, convicted and sentenced, called it unfair to blame the state program for awarding Hinkle a license in 1996.

"You're always going to have a few people who slip through," Nutt said. "And if you wrote the law so Hinkle couldn't have one, then nobody could have one."

Even local prosecutor Shari Jenkins Moore, who helped put Hinkle away for so long that he won't even be eligible for parole until he is nearly 90, said that while in hindsight he should not have gotten a license, the program is sound and should not be changed.

"Given his history, I don't think anybody made an error giving him one," she said. "A lot of it is whether you're honest about who you are and why you want the license.

"Because even if you beat up your wife and shove a gun in her face, if you're not convicted of that, you're going to slip through."

But Herman Porter, a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, has a different perspective because he had earlier investigated Hinkle and his world of violent biker gangs. Asked whether Texas should have licensed Hinkle to carry a concealed weapon, Porter replied:

"Are you kidding me?"

A Love Affair With Motorcycles

A Texas native, Hinkle loves guns (he kept as many as seven around his home at any one time) and he had long been a hunter.

But motorcycles, Harley Davidsons mostly, were his real love. Even though he was nicknamed "Pokey," he bragged in the prison interview that he once built the fastest Harley around, one that could fly at 187 miles an hour.

Twenty years ago he began riding with the Banshees, a biker gang, and soon was flaunting the trappings of that nether world--heavy beard, ponytail, black leather boots, blue dragon tattoo on his left forearm.

"It was like a family," he said. "We would drive to the lake and drink a few beers, maybe 40 or 50 of us."

Hinkle was an expert motorcycle mechanic, brought into the "family" because he could build fast bikes.

In the early 1980s, things turned ugly. The Banshees were challenged by another biker gang, the Banditos. According to Hinkle, the Banditos did not want the Banshees wearing the words "Texas Rocks" on the back of their riding jackets. There soon was an altercation--shots fired, knives flashed and one Bandito was left dead.

Porter, the ATF agent, helped put a prosecution together, in which he said about 20 Banditos were convicted of various crimes.

Hinkle was called as a government witness to demonstrate to the jury what kind of person joins an outlaw gang. "He was pretty raunchy looking," Porter said. "We tried to clean him up a bit in court, but he was still just a dirt bag biker."

Hinkle said his life went into a tailspin after his court appearance. He said that a bounty was placed on his head for testifying against the Banditos--and that the reward was a five-gallon jug of P2P, an oil base that is a critical ingredient used in methamphetamine.

What followed, he said, was a series of attempts on his life. Suspicious characters began showing up around his motorcycle shop near Dallas and someone placed a bomb on the gas meter at his home, destroying a side of the house, he said.

So Hinkle moved east to Eustace, Texas, to elude his enemies, he said. But he kept his shaggy look (ponytail down his back and the beard down to his chest). He kept tinkering with motorcycle engines, did drugs daily, and always, he said, worried about his safety.

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