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John Hill Trial: 1971 - Motive: Failed Divorce, Outburst Leads To Mistrial, Retrial Unnecessary

joan robinson kurth death

Defendant: John Robert Hill
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Donald Fullenweider and Richard Haynes
Chief Prosecutors: Erwin Ernst and l.D. McMaster
Judge: Frederick Hooey
Place: Houston, Texas
Dates of Trial: February 15-26, 1971
Verdict: Mistrial

SIGNIFICANCE: Sensational trials are not uncommon in Texas, but the extraordinary sequence of events that followed the death of Joan Hill made this a case without equal.

On Tuesday, March 18, 1969, Joan Hill, a 38-year-old Houston, Texas, socialite, became violently ill for no readily apparent reason. Her husband, Dr. John Hill, at first indifferent, later drove her at a leisurely pace several miles to a hospital in which he had a financial interest, passing many other medical facilities on the way. When checked by admitting physicians, Joan's blood pressure was dangerously low, 60/40. Attempts to stabilize her failed and the next morning she died. The cause of death was uncertain. Some thought pancreatitis; others opted for hepatitis.

Joan's father, Ash Robinson, a crusty and extremely wealthy oilman, remained convinced that his daughter had been murdered. Neither was he reticent about naming the culprit: John Hill. When, just three months after Joan's death, Hill married long-time lover Ann Kurth, Robinson threw thousands of dollars into a crusade to persuade the authorities that his son-in-law was a killer. Noted pathologist Dr. Milton Helpern, hired to conduct a second autopsy, cautiously volunteered his opinion that Joan Hill might have been poisoned.

Under Robinson's relentless badgering, prosecutors scoured legal textbooks, searching for a way to indict Hill. They came up with the extremely rare charge of "murder by omission," in effect, killing someone by deliberate neglect. Assistance came in the unexpected form of Ann Kurth. Hill had ditched her after just nine months of marriage. What Kurth told the district attorney bolstered their decision to indict Hill.

Jury selection began on February 15, 1971. Because of the defendant's undeniably handsome appearance, Assistant District Attorney I.D. McMaster aimed for a predominantly male, middle-class panel, one he thought likely to frown on a wealthy philandering physician. His opponent, chief defense counsel Richard Haynes, quite naturally did his best to sit jurors that he thought would favor his client. In this first battle McMaster emerged a clear victor, securing a jury made up of eleven men and one woman. Haynes wasn't that perturbed. In a long and eventful career he'd overcome bigger obstacles, earning a statewide reputation second to none for tenacity and legal acumen. Not for nothing had he acquired the nickname "Racehorse." It promised to be a memorable contest.

John Marshall Branion Trial: 1968 - Imperfect Alibi, Illicit Love, On The Run [next] [back] Jacobellis v. Ohio - Significance, Defining Obscenity, Other Opinions: "i Know It When I See It", Consequences Of Jacobellis

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almost 4 years ago

A good friend of my ex sister-in-law used to play flute for the 3rd Mrs. Hill's social gatherings. Always an intriguing story.

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over 4 years ago

Sometime in late 1969 or early 1970, I was a patient of Dr. John Hill to have my broken nose repaired. At my very young age, I did not believe he was particularly handsome. I had heard he romanced his female patients by playing the piano, but saw no evidence of it. He seemed rather sedate, probably due to his upcoming murder trial.

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over 4 years ago

I have read the Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson. But I have two questions waiting to be replied.

Wasn't Joan killed by John Hill?

If so, how did she die?

And, Ash Robinson hadn't John killed, so why was he killed?

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over 4 years ago

I always thought John Hill was fairly nice looking. Of course, being a wealthy plastic surgeon adds to a person's aura. He evidently was a world-class charmer, too. This is one of the most fascinating murder cases that I have ever read about.

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almost 5 years ago

John Hill wasn't particularly handsome. He had a passion for music and added a "music room" on the second floor of their River Oaks mansion. A friend of mine, Gene Clements, bought the home about 25 years ago and restored it - it was actually much nicer when he finished. The address is 1561 Kirby Drive. Gene's home was much in demand for fund raisers for the local judges (Gene was a very prominent lawyer - he was killed in an auto accident in 1999). Did you read either of the books? I'm fairly certain Hill's photograph is in both of them. If you have a real interest, I could probably find his photo and forward it to you. The story was the case of the decade here in Houston. I used to tease Gene that if he was ever short of cash he could charge admission for a tour of his home.

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almost 5 years ago

I was just wondering if anyone had any pictures of what John Hill used to look like?