As New Orleans D.A., Garrison began an investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in late 1966, after receiving several tips from Jack Martin that a man named David Ferrie may have been involved in the assassination. The end result of Garrison’s investigation was the arrest and trial of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw in 1969, with Shaw being unanimously acquitted less than one hour after the case went to the jury.
Garrison was able to subpoena the Zapruder film from Life magazine. Thus, members of the American public – i.e. the jurors of the case – were shown the movie for the first time. Until the trial, the film had rarely been seen, and bootleg copies made by assassination investigators working with Garrison which led to the film’s wider distribution. In 2015, Garrison’s lead investigator’s daughter released his copy of the film, along with a number of his personal papers from the investigation.
Garrison’s key witness against Clay Shaw was Perry Russo, a 25-year-old insurance salesman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At the trial, Russo testified that he had attended a party at anti-Castro activist David Ferrie’s apartment. At the party, Russo said that Lee Harvey Oswald (who Russo said was introduced to him as “Leon Oswald”), David Ferrie, and “Clem Bertrand” (who Russo identified in the courtroom as Clay Shaw) had discussed killing President Kennedy. The conversation included plans for the “triangulation of crossfire” and alibis for the participants.
Russo’s version of events has been questioned by some historians and researchers, such as Patricia Lambert, once it became known that part of his testimony might have been induced by hypnotism, and by the drug sodium pentothal (sometimes called “truth serum”). An early version of Russo’s testimony (as told in Assistant D.A. Andrew Sciambra’s memo, before Russo was subjected to sodium pentothal and hypnosis) fails to mention an “assassination party” and says that Russo met Clay Shaw on two occasions, neither of which occurred at the party. However, in his book On the Trail of the Assassins, Garrison says that Russo had already discussed the party at Ferrie’s apartment before any “truth serum” was administered. Moreover, in several public interviews, such as one shown in the video The JFK Assassination: The Jim Garrison Tapes, Russo reiterates the same account of a party at Ferrie’s apartment that he gave at the trial.
Jim Garrison defended his conduct regarding witness testimony, stating:
Before we introduced the testimony of our witnesses, we made them undergo independent verifying tests, including polygraph examination, truth serum and hypnosis. We thought this would be hailed as an unprecedented step in jurisprudence; instead, the press turned around and hinted that we had drugged our witnesses or given them posthypnotic suggestions to testify falsely.
In January 1968, Garrison subpoenaed Kerry Wendell Thornley – an acquaintance of Oswald’s from their days in the military – to appear before a grand jury, questioning him about his relationship with Oswald and his knowledge of other figures Garrison believed to be connected to the assassination. Thornley sought a cancellation of this subpoena on which he had to appear before the Circuit Court. Garrison charged Thornley with perjury after Thornley denied that he had been in contact with Oswald in any manner since 1959. The perjury charge was eventually dropped by Garrison’s successor Harry Connick Sr.
US talk radio host David Mendelsohn conducted a comprehensive interview with Jim Garrison which was broadcast in 1988 by KPFA in Berkeley, California. Alongside Garrison, the program featured the voices of Lee Harvey Oswald and JFK filmmaker Oliver Stone. Garrison explains that cover stories were circulated in an attempt to blame the killing on the Cubans and the Mafia but he blames the conspiracy to kill the president firmly on the CIA who wanted to continue the Cold War.
John Barbour Productions, written, directed and produced by John Barbour.