Henry Wade

From Academic Kids

Henry Menasco Wade (November 11, 1914March 1, 2001), one of eleven children, was born in Rockland 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 the towering figure of 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.

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Henry Wade

Wade and the Kennedy Assassination

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. 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. According to Wade, Johnson wanted any evidence of a potential conspiracy suppressed, lest the stability of the nation or its foreign relations be put in jeopardy. Wade asserted that Johnson essentially ordered him to "charge Oswald with plain murder." In point of fact, that was actually the only available option, because in 1963 there was no federal law concerning assassination of the president: technically, the JFK assassination was a conventional murder case over which only Dallas County held jurisdiction.

Wade lost the opportunity to try Lee Harvey Oswald for JFK's murder when Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot the suspect just two days later. Nonetheless, Wade became nationally recognized for prosecuting Ruby himself for Oswald's murder. An aura of mystery still surrounds these proceedings; many writers claim that Oswald and Ruby had in fact been acquainted. In that celebrated trial, Wade went hand-to-hand against the famed San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli. Legend has it that Wade, in an effort to ridicule his opponent and possibly to play to anti-ethnic prejudices, deliberately mispronounced Belli's name as "Belly". When Belli politely corrected Wade, the latter acquiesced; a short time later, Wade moved that the court adjourn for the lunch hour so that he and his staff could have some "spaghet-tye." Ruby, for his part, died while waiting for an appeal; he claimed that various entities were trying to poison him.

Roe v. Wade

Wade represented the State of Texas at the 1970 trial of Norma McCarvey, an indigent pregnant woman, charged with procuring an abortion, a criminal offense at the time. McCarvey, and her inexperienced attorney, feminist activist Sarah Weddington, were intent upon mounting a constitutional challenge to the Texas statute prohibiting abortion. Consequently, Wade was also the respondent as 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 decision, Wade had never lost a case. Despite this reversal--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 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 20th century.


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