Billie Sol Estes, the subject of media-tainted trial, was born in the Panhandle of Texas in 1925 and reared in Abilene. He moved to Pecos in 1951 with the hopes of starting an agricultural business. By 1960, Estes had built a fortune through land and business purchases. To help amass his fortune Estes would befriend prominent politicians, most notably then-Senate majority leader, Lyndon Johnson of Texas, who would later become vice president and president of the United States. He would also befriend Johnson’s presidential running mate, John F. Kennedy.
In 1961, Estes’s cotton holdings became the subject of a Department of Agriculture investigation. In 1962, the Pecos Independent and Enterprise began publishing a series of stories detailing Estes’s fraudulent business practices, which led to an indictment charging that he had created a multimillion-dollar scheme that illegally manipulated government cotton allotments. The indictment and pretrial maneuvers that followed garnered tremendous media attention due to the fact that Estes was a well-known Texas businessman who had close connections with prominent politicians; his pretrial hearing was carried live on television and radio.
During the trial under the rules of the Texas courts, cameras and still photographers were allowed in the courtroom to record the Estes trial, in which he was convicted of fraud for swindling hundreds of farmers. Estes sued the State of Texas, claiming that he did not receive a fair trial as a result of the publicity associated with his pretrial and trial.
The Supreme Court overturned his conviction in Estes v. Texas (1965) citing Estes’s rights to due process were violated due to excessive publicity, and ruling that Estes should have a new trial. He was retried without cameras in the courtroom and convicted again of fraud and sentenced to prison. Sixteen years later the Court would overturn its Estes decision in Chandler v. Florida (1981).
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited