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Richard Lyon Trial: 1991-92

A Marriage On The Rocks

Prosecutors portrayed Richard Lyon as an undependable, unfaithful, and unscrupulous husband who wanted a financially advantageous way out of his marriage. He killed his wife to be with his lover, with whom he took a long vacation only five weeks after Nancy's death. They presented a paper trail of canceled checks, long-distance telephone records, and invoices for chemical purchases linking Richard to the arsenic that could have been used to kill his wife.

Nancy Lyon's divorce attorney, Mary L. Henrich, testified that Nancy had told her that she thought Richard was systematically poisoning her. She told of the foul-tasting soda he bought for her at the movie. She also described how Nancy became violently ill on the bathroom floor after drinking a nightcap her husband had mixed for her. She said Nancy told her that Richard didn't seem to care that she was ill that night.

Defense attorney Guthrie had Henrich read aloud a poignant letter Nancy had written to Richard on September 12, only months before her death. In the letter, Nancy agonized about her husband's adulterous wanderings, disappearances for days on end, and extravagant spending. She wanted to end their marriage.

"Not only are you free to go, but I need to demand that you go before even more damage is done to the children and to me," the letter stated. The couple separated. Nancy filed for divorce in September 1990.

The defense cited the letter as proof that Nancy was willing to let Richard go. Did he need to kill her in order to be with his lover? No. Guthrie also noted that Lyon had agreed to all of Nancy Lyon's demands during their legal separation. Lyon had offered a fair plan to divide their assets.

Nancy withdrew the divorce petition on January 2, just weeks before her death. Lyon remained beneficiary and executor of Nancy's estate, although he had waived any interest in her property before her death. During the trial, however, it was unclear if Richard realized that Nancy had removed him as beneficiary of a $500,000 life insurance policy and substituted her children. The prosecution claimed he did not; the defense said he was aware of the situation.

Among papers the prosecution subpoenaed from Nancy Lyon's insurance company were three pages of notes penned by the Dallas therapist who treated Nancy from January 1990 to January 1991. Dr. Joanna Jacobus wrote that Richard told his wife he felt trapped by her family money. He said his in-laws considered him inadequate. The Lyons' personal life was in turmoil, punctuated by Richard's affairs, the therapist said. In June 1990, Richard cleaned out their bank account. He failed to pay bills.

In a further attempt to suggest that others might be responsible for Nancy's death, the defense called one of Nancy's former coworkers at Trammel Crow Co. to the stand. Kathleen E. Cunningham testified that Nancy had feared and disliked her ex-boss, David S. Bagwell, whom the company sued in 1987. Cunningham said that before Bagwell settled out of court with Trammel Crow, she and Nancy had received anonymous letters threatening "the wrath of God" if they testified against Bagwell in the lawsuit.

Bagwell took the stand and denied any knowledge of the letter. Nancy's father, William Dillard, Jr., then testified that Bagwell was "a great friend of Nancy's" and visited her in the hospital before she died.

A string of witnesses chronicled how they had signed for a host of chemicals addressed to Richard. The defense countered that Richard could not be directly linked to the purchases. Nancy's sister Susan Hendrickson described how Nancy questioned a canceled check to the Houston-area chemical supplier. Susan called the firm because she thought Nancy's behavioral changes might stem from exposure to the chemicals. She dropped the matter until Nancy mysteriously died.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Richard Lyon Trial: 1991-92 - Doctor's Suspicions Prompt Investigation, Lawyer Promises Perry Mason Defense, A Marriage On The Rocks