Murder By the Book: Candy and Betty
Candy Montgomery's murder trial began in October 1980, barely four months after the slaying, in McKinney, Tex., the seat of government for Collin County.
Judge Tom Ryan anticipated vast interest by the media and public, so he ordered the recently-shuttered, 100-year-old county courthouse reopened for the event because it had the largest courtroom in the county, with seating for 250. Ryan was a plain-spoken judge who was known for running brisk proceedings. He did not brook lollygagging or smart aleck lawyers.
Ryan and Don Crowder were at odds from the get-go. On the first day of trial, the judge fined Crowder for contempt for defying his ban against speaking with the media. Crowder was not the sort to shy away from a confrontation, and the sniping between the two men continued through trial's end.
Crowder's adversary (beyond Judge Ryan) was Tom O'Connell, district attorney for Collin County. Although he was just 39, O'Connell had served nine years in the position. He was regarded as competent and courtly but unlike Crowder rarely confrontational.
During jury selection, Crowder calmly and cleverly used four sentences to set up his case before the 62 potential members of the panel that would decide Candy's fate. "Candace Montgomery killed Betty Gore," he slowly said. "She did so with an ax. She did so in self-defense. The homicide was justified." Crowder reinforced this message during his opening statement after the 12 men and women were impaneled, and he promised that Candy Montgomery would mount the witness stand and explain it all.
This served to reduce the prosecution's five-day presentation to a preface. O'Connell and his colleague, Jack Pepper, were the opening act. They presented a workmanlike case, seeking to prove that Candy killed Betty. But Crowder had already admitted that, so what was the point? Everyone in the courtroom was impatient for the prosecutors to clear the stage to make way for Candy, the star of the show.