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On March 1, 1967, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison arrested and charged New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw with conspiring to assassinate President Kennedy, with the help of Lee Harvey Oswald, David Ferrie, and others. On January 29, 1969, Shaw was brought to trial in Orleans Parish Criminal Court on these charges. A jury took less than an hour to find Shaw not guilty. To date, it is the only trial to be brought for the assassination of President Kennedy.
To support his prosecution of Clay Shaw, Garrison attempted to prove the following:
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The origins of Garrison's case can be traced to an argument between New Orleans residents Guy Banister and Jack Martin. On November 22, 1963, the day that President John F Kennedy was assassinated, Banister pistol whipped Martin after a heated exchange. (There are different accounts as to whether the argument was over phone bills or missing files.)
Over the next few days, Jack Martin told authorities and reporters that Banister had often been in the company of a man named David Ferrie who, Martin said, might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Martin told the New Orleans police that Ferrie knew accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald going back to when both men had served together in the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol and that Ferrie "was supposed to have been the getaway pilot in the assassination." Martin also said that Ferrie had driven to Dallas the night before the assassination, a trip which Ferrie explained as research for a prospective business venture to determine "...the feasibility and possibility of opening an ice skating rink in New Orleans."
Some of this information reached New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who quickly arrested Ferrie and turned him over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which interviewed Ferrie and Martin on November 25. Martin told the FBI that Ferrie might have hypnotized Oswald into assassinating Kennedy. The FBI considered Martin unreliable. Nevertheless, the FBI interviewed Ferrie twice about Martin's allegations. The FBI also interviewed about twenty other persons in connection with the allegations, said that it was unable to develop a substantial case against Ferrie, and released him with an apology. (A later investigation, by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, concluded that the FBI's "...overall investigation ... at the time of the assassination was not thorough.")
In the autumn of 1966, Garrison began to re-examine the Kennedy assassination. Guy Banister had died of a heart attack in 1964, but Garrison re-interviewed Jack Martin, who told the district attorney that Banister and his associates were involved in stealing weapons and ammunition from armories and in gunrunning. Garrison believed that the men were part of an arms smuggling ring supplying anti-Castro Cubans with weapons."
Journalist James Phelan said Garrison told him that the assassination was a "homosexual thrill killing." However, as Garrison continued his investigation he became convinced that a group of right-wing activists, which he believed included David Ferrie, Guy Banister, and Clay Shaw (director of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans), were involved in a conspiracy with elements of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to kill President Kennedy. Garrison would later say that the motive for the assassination was anger over Kennedy's foreign policy, especially Kennedy's efforts to find a political, rather than a military, solution in Cuba and Southeast Asia, and his efforts toward a rapprochement with the Soviet Union. Garrison also believed that Shaw, Banister, and Ferrie had conspired to set up Oswald as a patsy in the JFK assassination. News of Garrison's investigation was reported in the New Orleans States-Item on February 17, 1967.
On February 22, 1967, less than a week after the newspaper broke the story of Garrison's investigation, David Ferrie, then his chief suspect, was found dead in his apartment from a Berry Aneurysm. Garrison suspected that Ferrie had been murdered despite the coroner's report that his death was due to natural causes. According to Garrison, the day news of the investigation broke, Ferrie had called his aide Lou Ivon and warned that "I'm a dead man".
With Ferrie dead, Garrison began to focus his attention on Clay Shaw, director of the International Trade Mart. Garrison had Shaw arrested on March 1, 1967, charging him with being part of a conspiracy in the John F. Kennedy assassination.
Earlier, Garrison had been searching for a "Clay Bertrand," a man referred to in the Warren Commission report. New Orleans attorney Dean Andrews testified to the Warren Commission that while he was hosptialized for pneumonia, he received a call from "Clay Bertrand" the day after the assassination, asking him to fly to Dallas to represent Lee Harvey Oswald. According to FBI reports, Andrews told them that this phone call from "Clay Bertrand" was a figment of his imagination. However, Andrews testified to the Warren Commission that the reason he told the FBI this was because of FBI harassment.
In his book, On the Trail of the Assassins, Garrison says that after a long search of the New Orleans French Quarter, his staff was informed by the bartender at the tavern “Cosimo’s” that "Clay Bertrand" was the alias that Clay Shaw used. According to Garrison, the bartender felt it was no big secret and “my men began encountering one person after another in the French Quarter who confirmed that it was common knowledge that 'Clay Bertrand' was the name Clay Shaw went by.” However, a February 25, 1967 memo by Garrison investigator Lou Ivon to Jim Garrison states that he could not locate a Clay Bertrand despite numerous inquiries and contacts.
When Garrison's evidence was presented to a New Orleans grand jury, Clay Shaw was indicted on a charge that he conspired with David W. Ferrie, Lee Harvey Oswald, and others named and charged to murder John F. Kennedy." A three-judge panel upheld the indictment and ordered Shaw to a jury trial.
Garrison believed that Clay Shaw was the mysterious "Clay Bertrand" mentioned in the Warren Commission investigation. In the Warren Commission Report, New Orleans attorney Dean Andrews, claimed that he was contacted the day after the assassination by a "Clay Bertrand" who requested that he go to Dallas, Texas to represent Lee Harvey Oswald.
At the trial, the prosecution sought to have entered into evidence a fingerprint card with Clay Shaw's signature on it and, which also had on it, Shaw's admission that he had used the alias "Clay Bertrand." In regard to this, Judge Edward Haggerty, after dismissing the jury, conducted a day long hearing, in which he ruled the fingerprint card inadmissible. He said that two policemen had violated Shaw's constitutional rights by not permitting the defendant to have his lawyer present during the fingerprinting. Judge Haggerty also announced that Officer Habighorst had violated Miranda v. Arizona and Escobedo v. Illinois by not informing Clay Shaw that he had the right to remain silent. The judge said that Habighorst had violated Shaw's rights by allegedly questioning him about an alias, adding, "Even if he did [ask the question about an alias] it is not admissible." Judge Haggerty exclaimed, "If Officer Habighorst is telling the truth — and I seriously doubt it!" The judge finished with the statement, "I do not believe Officer Habighorst!"
Jim Garrison's key witness against Clay Shaw was Perry Russo. Russo testified that he had attended a party at the apartment of anti-Castro activist David Ferrie. 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 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 some of his testimony was induced by hypnotism and by the drug sodium pentothal, sometimes called "truth serum."
Moreover, a memo detailing a pre-hypnosis interview with Russo in Baton Rouge, along with two hypnosis session transcripts, had been given to Saturday Evening Post reporter James Phelan by Garrison. There were differences between the two accounts. Both Russo and Assistant D.A. Andrew Sciambra testified under cross examination that more was said at the interview, but omitted from the pre-hypnosis memorandum. James Phelan testified that Russo admitted to him in March 1967 that a February 25 memorandum of the interview, which contained no recollection of an "assassination party," was accurate. However, in several public interviews, such as one shown in the video The JFK Assassination: The Jim Garrison Tapes, Russo reiterates the same account of an "assassination party" that he gave at the trial.
In addition to the issue of Russo's credibility, Garrison's case also included other questionable witnesses, such as Vernon Bundy, a heroin addict, and Charles Spiesel, who testified that he had been repeatedly hypnotized by government agencies. However, defenders of Garrison, such as journalist and researcher Jim Marrs, argue that Garrison's case was hampered by missing witnesses that Garrison had sought out. These witnesses included right-wing Cuban exile, Sergio Arcacha Smith, head of the CIA-backed, anti-Castro Cuban Democratic Revolutionary Front in New Orleans, a group that David Ferrie was reputedly "extremely active in", and a group that maintained an office in the same building as Guy Bannister. According to Garrison, these witnesses had fled New Orleans to states whose governors refused to honor Garrison's extradition requests. However, Sergio Arcacha Smith had left New Orleans well before Garrison began his investigation and was willing to speak with Garrison's investigators if he was allowed to have legal representation present.[clarification needed] Further, witnesses Gordon Novel from Ohio may have been extradited if Garrison pressed the case in Ohio[clarification needed] and Sandra Moffett was offered by the defense but opposed by Garrison's prosecution.[clarification needed]
The testimony of witnesses who placed Clay Shaw, David Ferrie and Oswald together in Clinton, Louisiana the summer before the assassination has also been deemed not credible by some researchers, including Gerald Posner and Patricia Lambert. However, when the House Select Committee on Assassinations released its Final Report in 1979, it stated that after interviewing the Clinton witnesses it "found that the Clinton witnesses were credible and significant" and that "it was the judgment of the committee that they were telling the truth as they knew it."
At the trial's conclusion — after the prosecution and the defense had presented their cases — the jury took 54 minutes on March 1, 1969, to find Clay Shaw not guilty.
Attorney and author Mark Lane said that he interviewed several jurors after the trial. Although these interviews have never been published, Lane said that some of the jurors believed that Garrison had in fact proven a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, but that Garrison had not adequately linked the conspiracy to Shaw or provided a motive. However, author and playwright James Kirkwood, who was a personal friend of Clay Shaw, said that he spoke to several jury members who denied ever speaking to Lane. Kirkwood also cast doubt on Lane's claim that the jury believed there was a conspiracy. In his book American Grotesque, Kirkwood said that jury foreman Sidney Hebert told him: "I didn't think too much of the Warren Report either until the trial. Now I think a lot more of it than I did before...."
Garrison later wrote a book about his investigation of the JFK assassination and the subsequent trial called On the Trail of the Assassins. This book served as one of the main sources for Oliver Stone's movie JFK. In the movie, this trial serves as the back story for Stone's account of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations stated that available records "...lent substantial credence to the possibility that Oswald and [David] Ferrie had been involved in the same [Civil Air Patrol] C.A.P. unit during the same period of time." Committee investigators found six witnesses who said that Oswald had been present at Civil Air Patrol meetings headed by David Ferrie.
In 1993, the PBS television program Frontline obtained a group photograph, taken eight years before the assassination, that showed Oswald and Ferrie at a cookout with other Civil Air Patrol cadets. Frontline executive producer Michael Sullivan said, "one should be cautious in ascribing its meaning. The photograph does give much support to the eyewitnesses who say they saw Ferrie and Oswald together in the C.A.P., and it makes Ferrie's denials that he ever knew Oswald less credible. But it does not prove that the two men were with each other in 1963, nor that they were involved in a conspiracy to kill the president."
In a 1992 interview, Edward Haggerty, who was the judge at the Clay Shaw trial, stated: "I believe he [Shaw] was lying to the jury. Of course, the jury probably believed him. But I think Shaw put a good con job on the jury."
In 1979, Richard Helms, former director of the CIA, testified under oath that Clay Shaw had been a part-time contact of the Domestic Contact Service of the CIA, where Shaw volunteered information from his travels abroad, mostly to Latin America. By the mid-1970s, 150,000 Americans (businessmen, and journalists, etc.) had provided such information to the DCS. In 1996, the CIA revealed that Clay Shaw had obtained a "five Agency" clearance in 1949.