Oliver Stone: Closing the Circle
Last week I discussed how documentaries teach us to use different types of media to keep the jury’s attention. Today I go the next step and show how Oliver Stone teaches how to make the most persuasive use of this media in a trial. In future posts I will get into storytelling and trial lawyers.
Several years ago I hung out a few times with Oliver Stone. He came to dinner at the house and we went to restaurants in South Beach. I kept pumping him about his film techniques, but he was more interested in legal procedure. He was in the middle of a lawsuit generated by his film Natural Born Killers, charging that the movie prompted a young couple to copycat the killings portrayed in the film. Stone couldn’t understand why the lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss on First Amendment grounds. So we discussed all that instead of his writing and directing ideas. Fortunately for him the suit was finally dismissed; unfortunately for me we never got around to film.
Stone is a brilliant but quirky film director, producer and screenwriter. I first became aware of him when he won an academy award for his screenplay of Midnight Express, a film which greatly impressed me and my friends back in the 70s. No one wanted to visit Turkey after that. Just like no one took a shower for six months after seeing Psycho.
His film JFK had a great impact in convincing people there was a conspiracy behind the assassination. I am not about to condemn or applaud the film’s theory, but I can say I greatly admire the filmmaking. The story is told from the POV of district attorney Jim Garrison, who charges a New Orleans gay businessman named Clay Shaw as the mastermind behind the conspiracy.
I was fortunate as a very young lawyer to meet Clay Shaw’s defense lawyer, Irvin Dymond, who gave me a blow by blow description of the trial. He thought the whole thing was a joke. Dymond had run against but lost to Garrison for the job of district attorney, but he got his revenge in the courtroom. He regaled me with the story of his cross-examination of Charles Spiesel, an accountant who was one of Garrison’s so-called star witnesses. Spiesel saw conspiracies against him everywhere, and Dymond brought out a series of them which left the jury laughing. The best one is that Spiesel fingerprinted his daughter when she left for school and then again when she came home to ensure she was actually his daughter and not a clone. There are many days I wish I had dynamite like that to blow up a witness.
But regardless of reality, and perhaps in spite of it, this film proved the power of the medium to persuade in a manner that we trial lawyers can learn from. The film opens with newsreel footage of Eisenhower’s farewell address and his warning about the military-industrial complex. Thus starts one of the motives for the assassination, which Stone returns to later in the story. And since the newsreel is grainy and authentic-looking, it immediately gives authenticity to the film. What a way to start.
Throughout the first half of the movie, Stone mixes film stocks, color and black and white film, and many different camera angles to make the events appear confusing when first seen by the viewer. These shots seem like a documentary film to create authenticity. All this leads up to Stone’s brilliant plot device: Kevin Costner selling Stone’s theory of the assassination through a final argument at Clay Shaw’s trial. While Costner is arguing to the jury, Stone flashes on the screen scenes that had been shown earlier in the movie. Clips which at first blush didn’t seem important or relevant to the plot or that the audience didn’t fully understand but now Costner uses them to paint the conspiracy. Costner argues his points in voice-overs while the scenes are re-played for the audience. The best type of corroboration. So Stone shows the action first then uses Costner to argue it while showing it a second time. What could be more convincing than that? They just parroting back to us what we have already seen. And proof of the power of that device? How many young people today believe the conspiracy theory that Stone proposed in the film?
As I first mentioned in the post on documentaries, we need to mix up our media, from one form of media to another, to keep the jury engrossed in the presentation. For example, we can use non-electric technology such as blackboards, newsprint, blowups, exhibit boards, and models— technology that lawyers have used for generations. Or the modern electric technology such as overhead projectors, computers, videotapes, and animations—technology that can be quite powerful for certain kinds of presentations. Then switch back and forth so the jury is always seeing something new.
Start with the opening argument (note I don’t say opening statement). You have to get their attention right away. Start out with something startling, like the newsreel in JFK. A statistic, a current news item, a story that is relevant to your message. Don’t look down at your notes. Don’t shuffle papers. Be in control. Be ready to sell. Don’t waste this opportunity. Think about them watching television with the remote in their hands. They’re switching around to find something that grabs their attention. If you don’t, they’re onto something else.
Then whenever possible use demonstratives: maps, flip charts, whiteboards, or real evidence like guns and knives, drawings, anything that’s going to draw their attention. Something new, something interesting, certainly something to pierce the boredom. The more strikingly visual your argument is, the better the jury will remember it.
Stone takes us a step further than the ordinary documentary. He uses the final argument as a device to pull together all the themes of his film. And it is a brilliant device. One we should be intimately familiar with. This is why his film was so powerful and convincing to a generation of movie goers despite brutal criticism by many writers who had studied the assassination and determined there was no such conspiracy. Stone even called his theory a “counter myth.” Vince Bugliosi wrote 1612 pages in the book “Reclaiming History” debunking the conspiracy and wrote poisonous critiques of the film. None of the academic or popular criticism put a dent in the film’s power. And by the way, Bugliosi, a former prosecutor and defense lawyer, knows something about final argument. He stated he spent at least 100 hours preparing for each one. Also a good lesson to heed.
One point I found startling comes from Jack Valenti, then-president of the Motion Picture Association of America: “In much the same way, young German boys and girls in 1941 were mesmerized by Leni Reifenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, in which Adolf Hitler was depicted as a newborn God. Both JFK and Triumph of the Will are equally a propaganda masterpiece and equally a hoax.” Putting aside he has the wrong date, it is an interesting comment for us because we are more interested in the power of the film and what it can teach us about persuasion. Once again this is a powerful teaching tool on how to persuade. Despite Valenti’s criticisms, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best picture, and won two.
So why was Stone so convincing? It is the final argument. The device of tying it all together. Re-showing all the scenes and evidence while Costner is explaining it. And we know it is not Costner’s acting ability in these scenes, because he is not that good. For example, he can’t match Orson Welles in Compulsion. It is the final argument.
At the end of the film, a juror says the conspiracy was proven, but not Shaw’s part in it, so he was found not guilty. The model for JFK was Z a Greek film of a political assassination. I love that film too.
In essence, JFK is a detective story with Costner acting like the classic detective getting all the suspects in a room together and explaining the evidence then revealing the killer. It was always a surprise, but we were convinced by the marshaling of the evidence.
Here is the shooting script of the final argument scene. It shows how many clips and flashbacks were shown as Garrison gives his argument. Whenever he describes an event a clip from early in the film is shown and it is exactly like he describes it. In essence most of his argument is a voice-over accompanying the film clip. A magnificent method of persuasion.
CUT TO later in the trial.
A movie screen has been installed for the jury. Jim paces dramatically, as if waiting, casting looks at the door. Members of the press pack the hot room, and a fan turns overhead.
JIM GARRISON: To prove their was a conspiracy involving Clay Shaw we must prove there was more than one man involved in the assassination. To do that, we must look at the Zapruder film, which my office has subpoenaed. The American public has not seen that film because it has been kept locked in a vault in the Time-Life Building in New York City for the last five years. There is a reason for that. Watch.
The Zapruder film (8mm) now rolls. We have seen pieces of it before in the opening of the film, but now we see it whole. It is crucial that this piece of film be repeated several times during the trial to drive home a point that is easily lost on casual viewing. The first viewing is silent except for the sound of the clanky projector. It lasts about 25 seconds, and then the lights come on. The jury is shaken. The judge is shaken. The people in the courtroom murmur. Even Clay Shaw is surprised at what he has seen. Jim says nothing, letting the truth of it sink in.
Then: JIM (CONT’D) A picture speaks a thousand words. Yet sometimes the truth is too simple for some … The Warren Commission thought they had an open and shut case: three bullets, one assassin – but two things happened that made it virtually impossible: 1)the Zapruder film which you just saw, and 2)the third wounded man, Jim Tague, who was nicked by a fragment down by the Triple Underpass. The time frame of 5.6 seconds established by the Zapruder film left no possibility of a fourth shot from Oswald’s rifle, but the shot or fragment that left a superficial wound on Tague’s cheek had to come from a bullet that missed the car entirely. Now they had two bullets that hit, and we know one of them was the fatal head shot. So a single bullet remained to account for all seven wounds in Kennedy and Connally. But rather than admit to a conspiracy or investigate further, the Commission chose to endorse the theory put forth by an ambitious junior counselor, Arlen Specter. One of the grossest lies ever forced on the American people, we’ve come to know it as the “magic bullet” theory.
CUT TO a drawing which has been put on a chair for the Jury. Jim has also moved Al, acting as J.F.K., into a chair directly behind the larger Numa, acting as Governor Connally. He demonstrates with a pointer.
JIM (CONT’D) The magic bullet enters the President’s back, headed downward at an angle of 17 degrees. It then moves upward in order to leave Kennedy’s body from the front of his neck – his neck wound number two – where it waits 1.6 seconds, turns right and continues into Connally’s body at the rear of his right armpit – wound number three. Then, the bullet heads downward at an angle of 27 degrees, shattering Connally’s fifth rib and leaving from the right side of his chest – wounds four and five. The bullet continues downward and then enters Connally’s right wrist – wound number six – shattering the radius bone. It then enters his left thigh – wound number seven – from which it later falls out and is found in almost “pristine” condition on a stretcher in a corridor of Parkland Hospital. (he shows a mock-up of the “pristine” bullet) That’s some bullet. Anyone who’s been in combat can tell you never in the history of gunfire has there been a bullet like this. (the court laughs) The Army Wound Ballistics experts at Edgewood Arsenal fired some comparison bullets and not one of them looked anything like this one. (he shows mock-ups of comparison bullets) Take a look at CE 856, an identical bullet fired through the wrist of a human cadaver – just one of the bones smashed by the magic bullet. Yet the government says it can prove this with some fancy physics in a nuclear laboratory. Of course they can. Theoretical physics can prove an elephant can hang from a cliff with it’s tail tied to a daisy, but use your eyes – your common sense – (he holds the bullet) Seven wounds, skin, bone. This single bullet explanation is the foundation of the Warren Commission’s claim of a lone assassin. And once you conclude the magic bullet could not create all seven of those wounds, you have to conclude there was a fourth shot and a second rifleman. And if there was a second rifleman, there had to be a conspiracy, which we believe involved the accused Clay Shaw. Fifty-one witnesses, gentlemen of the jury, thought they heard shots coming from the Grassy Knoll, which is to the right and front of the President.
Jim walks to a drawing of an overhead view of Dealey Plaza. On it are dots representing locations of the witnesses. He points to each portion. He pauses and looks out into the courtroom – Liz has entered accompanied by Jasper. Quietly she takes a seat. Jim is unbelieving at first, then very moved. He takes a beat, then:
JIM Key witnesses that day – Charles Brehm, a combat vet, right behind Jean Hill and Mary Moorman, S.M. Holland and Richard Dodd on the overpass, J.C. Price overlooking the whole Plaza, Randolph Carr, a steelworker, who served in the Rangers in North Africa, William Newman, father of two children who hit the deck on the north side of Elm, Abraham Zapruder, James Simmons – each of these witnesses has no doubt whatsoever one or more shots came from behind the picket fence! Twenty six trained medical personnel at Parkland Hospital saw with their own eyes the back of the President’s head blasted out.
CUT TO: Dr. Peters on the stand. PETERS (describing the wound) … a large 7 cm opening in the right occipitoparietal area, a considerable portion of the brain was missing there. (he gestures to his head)
CUT TO: Dr. McClelland on the stand. MCCLELLAND … almost a fifth or perhaps a quarter of the back of the head – this area here … (he indicates his head) … had been blasted out along with the brain tissue there. The exit hole in the rear of his head was about 120 mm. across. There was also a large piece of skull attached to a flap of skin in the right temporal area.
FLASHBACK TO: Parkland Hospital Emergency Room on that day in 1963. The doctors work on the President. The wounds on the back of his head are evident but will change later in the autopsy. He is placed in a bronze casket.
JIM (VO) Not one of the civilian doctors who examined the President at Parkland Hospital regarded his throat wound as anything but a wound of entry. The doctors found no wounds of entry in the back of the head. But the body was then illegally moved to Washington for the autopsy.
CUT TO: the Secret Service team preparing to wheel the casket out. The Dallas Medical Examiner, Dr. Rose, backed by a justice of the peace, bars the way. A furious wrestling match ensues. MEDICAL EXAMINER Texas Law, sir, requires the autopsy be done here. You’re not taking him with you! KENNY O’DONNELL Sonofabitch, you’re not telling me what to do! Get the hell outta the way! The Secret Service agents put the doctor and judge up against the wall at gunpoint and sweep out of the hospital.
JIM (VO) Because when a coup d’etat has occurred there’s a big difference between an autopsy performed by civilian doctors and one by military doctors working for the government.
FLASHBACK TO: Love Field the same day. We see Air Force One taking off and a photo of L.B.J. being sworn in.
JIM (VO) The departure of Air Force One from Love Field that Friday afternoon was not so much a takeoff as it was a getaway with the newly sworn in President. DYMOND (VO) Objection, your honor. JUDGE Sustained. JIM (VO) On the plane, of course, Lee Harvey Oswald’s guilt was announced by the White House Situation Room to the passengers before any kind of investigation had started. The “lone nut” solution is in place. DYMOND (VO) Objection! Your Honor! JUDGE Sustained. Mr. Garrison, would you please bottle the acid.
FLASHBACK TO: the Bethesda autopsy room in 1963. The room is crammed with military officers, Secret Service men and, at the center, three intimidated doctors. Pictures are being taken as they remove bullet fragments.
JIM The three Bethesda Naval Hospital doctors picked by the Military left something to be desired inasmuch as none of them had experience with combat gunfire wounds. Through their autopsy we have been able to justify eight wounds – three to Kennedy, five to Connally – from just two bullets, one of these bullets the “magic bullet”.
CUT TO: Jim in court with a series of drawings indicating with arrows entry and exit wounds to Kennedy’s neck and head. Dr. Finck is on the stand, erect, very precise, and irritated. JIM Colonel Finck, are you saying someone told you not to dissect the neck? FINCK I was told that the family wanted examination of the head. JIM As a pathologist it was your obligation to explore all possible causes of death, was it not? FINCK I had the cause of death. JIM Your Honor, I would ask you to direct the witness to answer my question. Why did Colonel Finck not dissect the track of the bullet wound in the neck? FINCK Well I heard Dr. Humes stating that – he said …
FLASHBACK TO: Bethesda autopsy room. HUMES Who’s in charge here? ARMY GENERAL I am. FINCK (VO) I don’t remember his name. You must understand it was quite crowded, and when you are called in circumstances like that to look at the wound of the President who is dead, you don’t look around too much to ask people for their names and who they are.
JIM (VO) But you were a qualified pathologist. Was this Army general a qualified pathologist? FINCK (VO) No. JIM (VO) But you took his orders. He was directing the autopsy. FINCK (VO) No, because there were others. There were admirals. JIM (VO) There were admirals. FINCK (VO) Oh yes, there were admirals – and when you are a lieutenant colonel in the Army you just follow orders, and at the end of the autopsy we were specifically told – as I recall it was Admiral Kenney, the Surgeon General of the Navy – we were specifically told not to discuss the case. KENNEY (in Bethesda scene) Gentlemen, what you’ve seen in this room is intensely private to the Kennedy family and it is not our business to …
Jim turns away from the jury. His point is made. Finck is no longer on the stand.
JIM In addition to which, 1) the chief pathologist, Commander Humes, by his own admission voluntarily burned his autopsy notes, 2)never released the autopsy photos to the public, 3) President Johnson ordered the blood soaked limousine filled with bullet holes and clues to be immediately washed and rebuilt, 4) sent John Connally’s bloody suit right to the cleaners, and 5) when my office finally got a court order to examine President Kennedy’s brain in the National Archives in the hopes of finding from what direction the bullets came, we were told by the government the President’s brain had disappeared!
There’s a pause, and then a murmur from the court. Jim is on a roll and knows it. The faces in the courtroom are with him, absorbed, horrified. The law students are still there, they have been since day one. But it is Liz’s interest that touches him the most.
JIM So what really happened that day? Let’s just for a moment speculate, shall we? We have the epileptic seizure around 12:15 P.M. … distracting the police, making it easier for the shooters to move into their places. The epileptic later vanished, never checking into the hospital. The A Team gets on the 6th floor of the Book Depository …
FLASHBACK TO: the Book Depository, 1963. A shooter and two spotters dressed as working men move into the Oswald spot. One spotter produces the Mannlicher-Carcano.
JIM (VO) They were refurbishing the floors in the Depository that week, which allowed unknown workmen in and out of the building.
The men move quickly into position just minutes before the shooting. The camera takes the shooter’s point of view: we see down the street through a scope. His spotter wears a radio earpiece. The second spotter is working out of the southeast window.
JIM (VO) The second spotter is probably calling all the shots on a radio to the two other teams. He as the best overall view – “the God spot”.
Inside the Dal – Tex Building, a shooter and a spotter dressed as air – conditioning men move into a small second – story textile storage room.
JIM (VO) B Team – one rifleman and one spotter with a headset, with access to the building – moves into a low floor of the Dal – Tex Building. At the picket fence a shooter in a Dallas Police uniform moves into place, aiming up Elm Street. His spotter has a radio to his ear. Another man in a Secret Service suit moves further down the fence.
JIM (VO) The third team, the C Team, moves in behind the picket fence above the Grassy Knoll, where the shooter and the spotter are first seen by the late Lee Bowers in the watchtower of the railyard. They have the best position of all. Kennedy is close and on a flat low trajectory. Part of this team is a coordinator who’s flashed security credentials at several people, chasing them out of the parking lot area. An “agent” in tie and suit moves on the underpass, keeping an eye out. In the crowd on Elm Street, we catch brief glimpses of the umbrella man and the Cuban, neither of them watching Kennedy, both looking around to their teams. There is a third man, heavyset, in a construction helmet.
JIM (VO) Probably two to three more men are down in the crowd on Elm … ten to twelve men … three teams, three shooters. The triangulation of fire Clay Shaw and David Ferrie discussed two months before. They’ve walked the Plaza, they know every inch. They’ve calibrated their sights, practiced on moving targets. They’re ready. It’s going to be a turkey shoot. Kennedy’s motorcade makes the turn from Main onto Houston. J.F.K. waves and turns in slow motion.
JIM (VO) Six witnesses see two gunmen on the sixth floor of the Depository moving around. Some of them think they’re policemen with rifles. From Houston Street we look up at the sixth floor of the Book Depository and see the shooter moving around. Arnold Rowland points him out to his wife. ARNOLD (under) … probably a security agent. In the Dallas County Jail, Johnny Powell is one of many convicts housed on the sixth floor – the same height as the men in the Book Depository. We look across to the Depository through cell bars. Johnny and various cell mates are watching two men in the sixth floor of the Depository.
JIM (VO) John Powell, a prisoner on the sixth floor of the Dallas County Jail, sees them. POWELL (under) … quite a few of us saw them. Everybody was hollering and yelling and that. We thought is was security guys …
JIM (VO) … they don’t shoot him coming up Houston, which is the easiest shot for a single shooter in the Book Depository, but they wait till he gets to the killing zone between three rifles. Kennedy makes the final turn from Houston onto Elm, slowing down to some 11 miles per hour. All the shooters tighten, taking aim. It’s a tense moment.
JIM (VO) The shooters across Dealey Plaza tighten, taking their aim across their sights … waiting for the radio to say “Green Green!” or “Abort Abort!” The camera is on Kennedy waving.
A MONTAGE follows – all the faces in the square that we’ve introduced in the movie now appear one after the other, watching – the killers, the man with the umbrella, the Newman family, Mary Moorman photographing, Jean Hill, Abraham Zapruder filming it, S.M. Holland, Patrolman Harkness …
INTERCUT with the Zapruder and Nix films on J.F.K. in the final seconds coming abreast of the Stemmons Freeway sign.
JIM (VO) The first shot rings out.
CUT TO: the Dal – Tex shooter firing. We see the back of Kennedy’s head through his gun sight. Kennedy (stand in) reacts in the Zapruder film.
JIM (VO) Sounding like a backfire, it misses completely … Frame 161, Kennedy stops waving as he hears something. Connally turns his head slightly to the right. Everything goes off very fast now.
Repeating intercuts are slowed down with shots of Kennedy reacting in the Zapruder film.
JIM (VO) Frame 193 – the second shot hits Kennedy in the throat from the front. Frame 225 – the President emerging from the road sign. He obviously has been hit, raising his arms to his throat.
CUT TO: the picket fence shooter hitting him from the fence. We see Kennedy (stand in) from the point of view of his telescopic sight. In the Zapruder film, we see Kennedy clutch his throat.
JIM Frame 232, the third shot – the President has been hit in the back, drawing him downward and forward. Connally, you will notice, shows no signs at all of being hit. He is visibly holding his Stetson which is impossible if his wrist has been shattered.
CUT TO: the Dal – Tex shooter. We see Kennedy from his point of view, and the Zapruder film in slow motion.
JIM (VO) Connally’s turning now here. Frame 238 … the fourth shot misses Kennedy and takes Connally in the back. This is the key shot that proves two rifles from the rear. This is 1.6 seconds after the third shot, and we know no manual bolt action rifle can be recycled in that time. Connally is hit, his mouth drops, he yells out, “My God, they’re going to kill us all” … Here …
CUT TO: the sixth floor shooter firing rapidly and missing Kennedy but hitting Connally (stand in).
JIM (VO) … the umbrella man is signaling “He’s not dead. Keep shooting.” James Tague down at the underpass is hit sometime now by another shot that misses.
CUT TO: the umbrella man pumping his umbrella. The Cuban is looking off. The man on the curb in the construction helmet is looking not at J.F.K. but up at the Book Depository.
JIM (VO) The car brakes. The fifth and fatal shot – frame 313 – takes Kennedy in the head from the front …
CUT TO the picket fence shooter. We see J.F.K. from his point of view. He fires, and then we see Kennedy in the Zapruder film flying backwards and to his left in a ferocious, conclusive spray of blood and brain tissue. We repeat the shot.
JIM (VO) This is the key shot. Watch it again. The President going back to his left. Shot from the front and right. Totally inconsistent with the shot from the Depository. Again – (repeats) … back and two the left. (he repeats it like a mantra) … back and to the left … back and to the left. Kennedy’s car speeds off. Jackie is like a crawling animal in a pillbox hat on the back of the car. The people on the other side of the underpass wave innocently as the car speeds through with it’s horrifying contents. Pigeons fly off the rooftop of the Book Depository.
JIM (VO) What happens then? Pandemonium. The shooters quickly disassemble their various weapons, all except the Oswald rifle.
CUT TO: sixth floor spotter dumping the Mannlicher – Carcano in a corner as he leaves … and then to the Dal – Tex spotter and shooter, who break down the gun and move out … and then to the spotter with the fence shooter, who quickly breaks down the weapon, throwing it in the trunk of a car parked at the fence. He walks away. The fence shooter, dressed as a policeman, blends with the crowd.
CUT TO: the umbrella man and the Cuban sitting quietly together on the north side of the curb of Elm Street.
CUT TO: stunned, confused, people in the crowd – some lying on the ground, some running for the Grassy Knoll. Back in the courtroom, patrolman Joe Smith is on the stand.
JIM (VO) Patrolman Joe Smith rushed into the parking lot behind the fence. He smelled gunpowder.
FLASHBACK TO: the picket fence area where, with his gun drawn, Smith rushes across to a man standing by a car who reacts quickly, producing credentials. He is one of the hoboes. There’s a strange moment when the camera moves from Smith’s eyes to the man’s fingernails. SMITH (VO) … the character produces credentials from his pocket which showed him to be Secret Service. So I accepted that and let him go and continued our search. But I regretted it, ’cause this guy looked like an auto mechanic. He had on a sports shirt and pants, but he had dirty fingernails. Afterwards it didn’t ring true, but at the time we were so pressed for time.
JIM (VO) Yet all Secret Servicemen in Dallas that day are accounted for. None were on foot in Dealey Plaza before or after the shooting, till Dallas Secret Service Chief Forrest Sorrels returned at 12:55. Back in the courtroom, Liz is totally absorbed. Jim exchanges looks with her. The camera movies in for a close – up of Jim.
JIM (pausing for effect) What else was going on in Dealey Plaza that day? At least 12 other individuals were taken into custody by Dallas police. No records of their arrests. Men acting like hoboes were being pulled off trains, marched through Dealey Plaza, photographed, and yet there is no records of their arrests.
FLASHBACK TO: the three hoboes being arrested … marching across Dealey Plaza. The hoboes look familiar now.
JIM (VO) Men identifying themselves as Secret Service Agents were all over the place. But who was impersonating them?
FLASHBACK TO: men in suits, ties, and hats moving people out of the parking lot area … turning a policeman back.
FLASHBACK TO: the Cuban, putting away a radio, and the umbrella man, who now rise and leave the area in opposite directions.
JIM (VO) And where was Lee Oswald? Probably in the second floor snack room. Eddie Piper and William Shelly saw Oswald eating lunch in the first floor lunch room around twelve. Around 12:15, on her way out of the building to see the motorcade, secretary Carolyn Arnold saw Oswald in the second floor snack room, where he said he went for a Coke … In the second floor lunchroom of the Book Depository we see Carolyn Arnold, a pregnant secretary, crossing past Oswald, who is in a booth. CAROLYN ARNOLD (VO) He was sitting in one of the booths on the right hand side of the room. He was alone as usual and appeared to be having lunch. I did not speak to him but I recognized clearly. I remember it was 12:15 or later. It coulda been 12:25, five minutes before the assassination, I don’t exactly remember. I was pregnant and I had a craving for a glass of water. On the sixth floor of the depository, Bonnie Ray Williams is eating a chicken lunch, alone.
JIM (VO) At the same time, Bonnie Ray Williams is supposedly eating his chicken lunch on the sixth floor, at least until 12:15, maybe 12:20 … he sees nobody. On the street, Arnold Rowland and his wife look up at the sixth floor windows and we see, from their point of view, two shadowy figures …
JIM (VO) Down on the street, Arnold Rowland was seeing two men in the sixth floor windows … presumably after Bonnie Ray Williams finished his lunch and left. We see footage of J.F.K. coming up Houston – waving. Oswald walks into the second floor lunchroom as policeman Marrion Baker runs in, gun at his side. He is about 30 feet from Oswald. Roy Truly, the superintendent, runs in a moment later.
JIM (VO) Kennedy was running five minutes late for his appointment with death. He was due at 12:25. If Oswald was the assassin, he was certainly pretty non-chalant about getting himself into position. Later he told Dallas police he was standing in the second floor snackroom. Probably told to wait there for a phone call by his handler. The phones were in the adjacent and empty second floor offices, but the call never came. A maximum 90 seconds after Kennedy is shot, patrolman Marrion Baker runs into Oswald in that second story lunchroom. BAKER Hey you! (to Truly) Do you know this man? Is he an employee? TRULY Yes he is. (as Baker moves on) The President’s been shot! Oswald reacts as if hearing it for the first time. Truly and Baker continue running up the stairs. Oswald proceeds to get a Coke and continues out of the room.
CUT TO: the sixth floor, where we see Oswald as the shooter. After firing, he runs full speed for the stairs, stashing the rifle on the other side of the loft. Our camera follows him roughly down stairs – we hear the loud sound of his shoes banging on the hollow wood – to the lunchroom, where Patrolman Baker and Superintendent Truly run in. Then they start to repeat the same action as seen in the previous scene.
JIM (VO) … but what the Warren Report would have us believe is that after firing 3 bolt action shots in 5.6 seconds, Oswald then leaves three cartridges neatly side by side in the firing nest, wipes the rifle clear of fingerprints, stashes the rifle on the other side of the loft, sprints down five flights of stairs, past witnesses Victoria Adams and Sandra Styles who never see him, and then shows up cool and calm on the second floor in front of Patrolman Baker – all this within a maximum 90 seconds of the shooting. Is he out of breath? According to Baker, absolutely not.
CUT TO: the second floor. Oswald ambles past Mrs. Reid, a secretary in the second floor office, on his way out, Coke bottle in hand and wearing his usual dreamy look … there’s a lingering close – up on his face.
JIM (VO) Assuming he is the sole assassin, Oswald is now free to escape from the building. The longer he delays, the more chance the building will be sealed by the police. Is he guilty? Does he walk out the nearest staircase? No, he buys a Coke and at a slow pace, spotted by Mrs. Reid in the second floor office, he strolls out the more distant front exit, where the cops start to gather … Outside, we see Oswald stroll out the door of the Book Depository into the crowd. He heads for the bus stop to the east.
JIM (VO) Oddly, considering three shots are supposed to have come from there, nobody seals the Depository for ten more minutes. Oswald slips out, as do several other employees. Of course, when he realized something had gone wrong and the President really had been shot, he knew there was a problem. He may even have known he was the patsy. An intuition maybe – the President killed in spite of his warning. The phone call that never came. Perhaps fear now came to Lee Oswald. He wasn’t going to stand around for roll call. Back in the courtroom, Jim continues speaking:
JIM The story gets pretty confusing now – more twists in it than a watersnake. Richard Carr says he saw four men take off from the Book Depository in a Rambler that possibly belongs to Janet Williams. Deputy Roger Craig says two men picked up Oswald in the same Rambler a few minutes later. Other people say Oswald took a bus out of there, and then because he was stuck in traffic, he hopped a cab to his rooming house in Oak Cliff …
FLASHBACK TO: Oswald’s boarding house. Oswald enters his room, passing Earlene Roberts, the heavyset white housekeeper.
JIM (VO) … we must assume he wanted to get back in touch with his intell team, probably at a safehouse or at the Texas Theatre, but how could he be sure? He didn’t know who to trust anymore … ROBERTS (watching TV) My God, did you see that, Mr. Lee? A man shot the President.
The camera closes in on Oswald’s perplexed face. Earlene peeks out the shades as she hears two short honks on a horn. Outside is a black police car driven by Tippit. Also in the car is the fence shooter, dressed as a Dallas policeman. The car drives by, honks twice, waits, then moves away. During this visual, we see the fence shooter changing his uniform into civilian clothes.
JIM (VO) Oswald returns to this rooming house around 1 P.M., half hour after the assassination, puts on his jacket, grabs his .38 revolver, leaves at 1:04 … Earlene Roberts, the housekeeper, says she heard two beeps on a car horn and two uniformed cops pulled up to the house while Oswald was in his room, like it was a signal or something … Officer Tippit is shot between 1:10 and 1:15 about a mile away. Though no one actually saw him walking or jogging, the Government says Oswald covered that distance. Incidentally, that walk, if he did it, is in a straight line toward Jack Ruby’s house. Giving the government the benefit of the doubt, Oswald would have had to jog a mile in six to eleven minutes and commit the murder, then reverse direction and walk 3/5 of a mile to the Texas Theatre and arrive sometime before 1:30. That’s some walking.
On a street, Oswald walks alone, fast. A police car pulls up alongside him on 10th Street. Oswald leans on the passenger side of the window. Officer Tippit, suspicious, gets out to question him. Oswald pulls his .38 revolver and shoots him down in the street with 5 shots.
JIM (VO) It’s also a useful conclusion. After all, why else would Oswald kill Officer Tippit, unless he just shot the President and feared arrest? Not one credible witness could identify Oswald as Tippit’s killer. Domingo Benavides, hidden in his truck only a few yards away, watches as another unidentified man (not seen before) shoots and walks away.
JIM (VO) Domingo Benavides, the closest witness to the shooting, refused to identify Oswald as the killer and was never taken to a lineup.
We see Acquilla Clemons, a black woman, looking on. She watches as two men kill Tippit. One of them resembles the fence shooter. The other one is a mystery figure, seen before in the fringes. The men walk off quickly in opposite directions. We notice a policeman’s uniform hanging in the back seat of Tippit’s car.
JIM (VO) Acquilla Clemons saw the killer with another man and says they went off in separate directions. Mrs. Clemons was never taken to lineup or to the Warren Commission. Mr. Frank Wright, who saw the killer run away, stated flatly that the killer was not Lee Oswald. Oswald is found with a .38 revolver. Tippit is killed with a .38 automatic. At the scene of the crime Officer J.M. Poe marks the shells with his initials to record the chain of evidence.
CUT TO: Policeman Poe marking the bullets.
JIM (VO) Those initials are not on the three cartridge cases which the Warren Commission presents to him. On a Dallas avenue near the Texas Theatre, Oswald moves along, spooked. Police cars roar by with sirens blaring. Johnny Brewer, in a shoestore, spots him and follows him.
JIM (VO) Oswald is next seen by shoe salesman Johnny Brewer lurking along Jefferson Avenue. Oswald is scared. He begins to realize the full implications of this thing. He goes into the Texas Theatre, possibly his prearranged meeting point, but though he has $14 in his pocket, he does not buy the 75 – cent ticket. Brewer has the cashier call the police. Outside the Texas Theatre Oswald walks past the cashier, who is out on the sidewalk watching the police cars go by. A double feature is playing – Cry of Battle with Van Heflin and War is Hell. He goes in.
CUT TO: 30 officers arriving at the theatre in a fleet of patrol cars.
JIM (VO) … in response to the cashier’s call, at least thirty officers in a fleet of patrol cars descend on the movie theatre. This has to be the most remarkable example of police intuition since the Reichstag fire. I don’t buy it. They knew – someone knew – Oswald was going to be there. In fact, as early as 12:44, only 14 minutes after the assassination, the police radio put out a description matching Oswald’s size and build. Brewer says the man was wearing a jacket, but the police say the man who shot Tippit left his jacket behind. Butch Burroughs, theatre manager, says Oswald bought some popcorn from him at the time of the Tippit slaying. Burroughs and witness Bernard Haire also said there was an Oswald look – alike taken from the theatre. Perhaps it was he who sneaked into the theatre just after 1:30. Inside the theatre, Cry of Battle is on the screen. Twelve to fourteen spectators sit scattered between the balcony and ground floor. Brewer leads the officers onto the stage and the lights come on. He points to Oswald.
JIM (VO) In any case, Brewer helpfully leads the cops into the theatre and from the stage points Oswald out … The cops advance on Oswald, who jumps up, as if expecting to be shot. OSWALD This is it! POLICEMAN Kill the President, will you? Scared, Oswald takes a swing at a policeman. He pulls out his gun. The officers close in on him from the rear and front. A wrestling and shoving match ensues. One officer gets a chokehold on Oswald and another one hits him.
JIM (VO) The cops have their man! It was already been decided – in Washington. Outside the theatre, Oswald, his eye blackened, is led out by the phalanx of officers. They are surrounded by an angry crowd. CROWD Kill him! Kill him!
JIM (VO) Dr. Best, Himmler’s right hand man in the Gestapo, once said “as long as the police carries out the will of the leadership, it is acting legally.” That mindset allowed for 400 political murders in the Weimar Republic of 1923 – 32, where the courts were controlled and the guilty acquitted. Oswald must’ve felt like Josef K in Kafka’s “The Trial”. He was never told the reason of his arrest, he does not know the unseen forces ranging against him, he cries out his outrage in the police lineup just like Josef K excoriates the judge for not being told the charges against him. But the state is deaf. The quarry is caught. By the time he is brought from the theatre, a large crowd is waiting to scream at him. By the time he reaches police headquarters, he is booked for murdering Tippit … At the Dallas police station, Dallas Police Captain Will Fritz takes a call from a high official in Washington. In the background we notice Lee Oswald continuing to be questioned by federal agents. We hear Johnson’s distinctive Texas drawl but we never see him.
JIM (VO) No legal counsel is provided. No record made of the long questioning. HIGH OFFICIAL VOICE Howdy there, Cap’n. Thanks for taking care of us down in Dallas. Lady Bird and I will always be grateful. FRITZ Thank you, Mr. President. We’re doing our best. HIGH OFFICIAL VOICE Cap’n, I know you’re working like a hound dog down there to get this mess wrapped up, but I gotta tell you there’s too much confusion coming out of Dallas now. The TVs and the papers are full of rumour ’bout conspiracies. Two gunmen, two rifles, the Russkies done it, the Cubans done it, that kinda loose talk, it’s carin’ the shit outta people, bubba’. This thing could lead us into a war that could cost 40 million lives. We got to show’em we got this thing under control. No question, no doubts, for the good of our country … you hear me? FRITZ Yes, sir. HIGH OFFICIAL VOICE Cap’n, you got your man, the investigation’s over, that’s what people want to hear. The camera closes in on Oswald in the background. He turns to an unseen Deputy, sad. OSWALD Now everyone will know who I am.
JIM (VO) By the time the sun rose the next morning, he is booked for murdering the President. The whole country – fueled by the media – assumes he’s guilty. In an underground police garage, we see Jack Ruby being allowed in via an interior staircase by his police contact. He moves towards the outer edge of reporters, nervous. Oswald comes out with his two guards. We see a repeat of the assassination in stop time … Ruby’s eyes, Oswald’s … do they recognize each other?
JIM (VO) Under the guise of a patriotic nightclub owner out to spare Jackie Kennedy from having to testify at a trial, Jack Ruby is shown into the underground garage by one of his inside men on the Dallas Police Force, and when he’s ready Oswald is brought out like a sacrificial lamb and nicely disposed of as an enemy of the people. By early Sunday afternoon, the autopsy has been completed on him. Who grieves for Lee Harvey Oswald? Buried in a cheap grave under the name “Oswald”? No one. We see Oswald dying on the floor of the police station. A paramedic pushes in and starts administering artificial respiration, which only aggravates the internal hemorrhaging. At a Texas cemetery, Oswald’s mother weeps. Oswald is buried with a few people present, but there are no details, no dates. We see Marina whisked out by agents.
CUT TO Kennedy’s funeral, which, in contrast, attracts thousands of mourners.
JIM (VO) Within minutes false statements and press leaks about Lee Oswald circulate the globe.
FLASHBACK TO X: reading about it in the New Zealand Airport, and then back to the courtroom in 1969. JIM The Official Legend is created and the media takes it from there. The glitter of official lies and the epic splendor of the thought – numbing funeral of J.F.K. confuse the eye and confound the understanding. Hitler always said “the bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.” Lee Oswald – a crazed, lonely man who wanted attention and got it by killing a President, was only the first in a long line of patsies. In later years Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, men whose commitment to change and to peace would make them dangerous to men who are committed to war, would follow, also killed by such “lonely, crazed men,” who remove our guilt by making murder a meaningless act of a loner. We have all become Hamlets in our country – children of a slain father – leader whose killers still possess the throne. The ghost of John F. Kennedy confronts us with the secret murder at the heart of the American dream. He forces on us the appalling questions: Of what is our Constitution made? What is our citizenship, and more, our lives worth? What is the future of a democracy where a President can be assassinated under conspicuously suspicious circumstances while the machinery of legal action scarcely trembles? How many political murders, disguised as heart attacks, cancer, suicides, airplane and car crashes, drug overdoses will occur before they are exposed for what they are?
Liz watches, moved. Susie, Al and Numa are also there for the summation. Even Lou Ivon has come back to support his friend.
JIM “Treason doth never prosper,” wrote an English poet, “What’s the reason? For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.” The generals who sent Dreyfus to Devils Island were among the most honorable men in France, the men who killed Caesar were among the most honorable men in Rome. And the men who killed Kennedy, no doubt, were honorable men. I believe we have reached a time in our country, similar to what life must’ve been like under Hitler in the 30’s, except we don’t realize it because Fascism in our country takes the benign disguise of liberal democracy. There won’t be such familiar signs as swastikas. We won’t build Dachaus and Auschwitzes. We’re not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose – stepping off to work … “Fascism will come,” Huey Long once said. “in the name of anti – fascism” – it will come in the name of your security – they call it “National Security,” it will come with the mass media manipulating a clever concentration camp of the mind. The super state will provide you tranquility above the truth, the super state will make you believe you are living in the best of all possible worlds, and in order to do so will rewrite history as it sees fit. George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth warned us, “Who controls the past, controls the future.” The American people have yet to see the Zapruder film. Why? The American people have yet to see the real photographs and X – rays of the autopsy. Why? There are hundreds of documents that could help prove this conspiracy. Why have they been withheld or burned by the Government? Each time my office or you the people have asked those questions, demanded crucial evidence, the answer from on high has been “national security.” What kind of “national security” do we have when we have been robbed of our leaders? Who determines our “national security”? What “national security” permits the removal of fundamental power from the hands of the American people and validates the ascendancy of invisible government in the United States? That kind of “national security,” gentlemen of the jury, is when it smells like it, feels like it, and looks like it, you call it what it is – it’s Fascism! I submit to you that what took place on November 22, 1963 was a coup d’etat. Its most direct and tragic result was a reversal of President Kennedy’s commitment to withdraw from Vietnam. War is the biggest business in America worth $80 billion a year. The President was murdered by a conspiracy planned in advance at the highest levels of the United States government and carried out by fanatical and disciplined Cold Warriors in the Pentagon and CIA’s covert operations apparatus – among them Clay Shaw here before you. It was a public execution and it was covered up by like – minded individuals in the Dallas Police Department, the Secret Service, the FBI, and the White House – all the way up to and including J. Edgar Hoover and Lyndon Johnson, whom I consider accomplices after the fact.
The camera holds on onlookers shuffling and murmuring. Clay Shaw smirks, smoking his cigarette. The very grandiosity of the charge works in his favor. Jim is falling apart from built – up strain and fatigue. He looks over at Liz, gathering his spirit.
JIM (VO) There is a very simple way to determine if I am being paranoid here. (laughter) Let’s ask the two men who have profited the most from the assassination – your former President Lyndon Baines Johnson and your new President, Richard Nixon – to release 51 CIA documents pertaining to Lee Oswald and Jack Ruby, or the secret CIA memo on Oswald’s activities in Russia that was “destroyed” while being photocopied. All these documents are yours – the people’s property – you pay for it, but because the government considers you children who might be too disturbed to face this reality, because you might lynch those involved, you cannot see these documents for another 75 years. I’m in my 40’s, so I’ll have shuffled off this mortal coil by then, but I’m already telling my 8 year – old son to keep himself physically fit so that one glorious September morning in 2038 he can walk into the National Archives and find out what the CIA and the FBI knew. They may even push it back then. It may become a generational affair, with questions passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, in the manner of the ancient runic bards. Someday somewhere, someone might find out the damned Truth. Or we might just build ourselves a new Government like the Declaration of Independence says we should do when the old one ain’t working – maybe a little farther out West. He approaches the jury.
JIM An American naturalist wrote, “a patriot must always be ready to defend his country against its government.” Well, I’d hate to be in your shoes today. You have a lot to think about. Going back to when we were children, I think most of us in this courtroom thought that justice came into being automatically, that virtue was its own reward, that good would triumph over evil. But as we get older we know that this just isn’t true. “The frontier is where a man faces a fact.” Individual human beings have to create justice and this is not easy because truth often presents a threat to power and we have to fight power often at great risk to ourselves. People like Julia Ann Mercer, S.M. Holland, Lee Bowers, Jean Hill, and Willie O’Keefe have come forward and taken that risk. (he produces a stack of letters) I have here some $8000 in these letters sent to my office from all over the country – quarters, dimes, dollar bills from housewives, plumbers, car salesmen, teachers, invalids … These are the people who cannot afford to send money but do, these are the ones who drive the cabs, who nurse in the hospitals, who see their kids go to Vietnam. Why? Because they care, because they want to know the truth – because they want their country back, because it belongs to us the people as long as the people got the guts to fight for what they believe in! The truth is the most important value we have because if the truth does not endure, if the Government murders truth, if you cannot respect the hearts of these people … (shaking the letters) … then this is no longer the country in which we were born in and this is not the country I want to die in … And this was never more true than for John F. Kennedy whose murder was probably the most terrible moment in the history of our country. You the people, you the jury system, in sitting in judgement on Clay Shaw, represent the hope of humanity against Government power. In discharging your duty, in bringing the first conviction in this house of cards against Clay Shaw, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Do not forget your young President who forfeited his life. Show the world this is still a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Nothing as long as you live will ever be more important. (he stares into the camera) It’s up to you.
He returns to the table and sits. The courtroom is still.