Attorney Henry Wade Dead At 86

Norah Jones performs during her concert in New York's Madison Square Garden on April 18, 2007. AP Photo/Jeff Christensen

District Attorney Henry Wade, whose 35-year career included the murder trial of Jack Ruby and the landmark abortion case Roe vs. Wade, died Thursday of complications from Alzheimer's disease. He was 86.

Wade, a Texas legend known as "The Chief" around the Dallas courthouse, never lost a case he personally prosecuted.

He took office in 1951 and went on to compile one of the nation's lowest acquittal rates. Defense attorneys, in fact, formed a Seven Percent Club, whose name represented their paltry success rate against Wade.

The Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision establishing the right to an abortion began in Texas when a pregnant waitress, identified in court papers by the pseudonym Jane Roe, sued Wade. It was Wade's job as district attorney in Dallas County to enforce a state law prohibiting abortion except to save a woman's life.

In 1964, he helped lead the prosecution of Ruby, the nightclub owner who shot to death the man charged with assassinating President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald. The jury took less than two hours to sentence Ruby to death; he died behind bars.

Wade hid his legal acumen behind a country-boy manner with a thick East Texas drawl.

Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill said it was Wade's finesse in the Ruby case that motivated him to become a lawyer. Wade later hired Hill straight out of law school.

"He was really my mentor and a father figure to me," Hill said. "I went to work for him when I was 25 years old. He taught me so much about life and the law that I will always be deeply indebted to him. He was just a larger-than-life individual."

"He's the person against whom all district attorneys will be measured for as long as anybody who's practiced while he was (district attorney) is still around," Dallas lawyer Peter Lesser, who lost to Wade in the 1982 Democratic primary, said in a story posted Thursday on The Dallas Morning News Web site.


By RENEE C. LEE
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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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