Closing Summation by Prosecutor Jim Garrison, People v. Clay Shaw
(the JFK murder trial)
THE COURT: Do I understand, Mr. Garrison, that you wish to address the Jury?
MR. GARRISON: Yes.
THE COURT: You may proceed.
MR. GARRISON: May it please the Court: Gentlemen of the Jury, I am not going to dignify Mr. Dymond’s personal inferences about my staff, because I think you have seen them for some days and I think you have seen me here, and I will leave it to your judgment whether or not we would take advantage of any human being in order to try and get any gain of any sort; and I will address myself to the remaining issue of the case which have been posed by Mr. Dymond.
Now I know you are very tired and you have been very patient, and this final day has been a long day, so I will speak only a few minutes and I will probably make one of the shortest closing arguments that has been made in this court, because I think most of the issues are clear to you and I feel that you probably have an understanding of the case by now.
But Mr. Dymond has posed in his last argument one final issue which in a sense raises a question of what we do when the need for justice is confronted by power. So let me talk to you about whether there is government fraud in this case. Now, a government is a great deal like a human being: It is not necessarily all good, and it is not necessarily all bad. We live in a good country, and I love it and you do, too, but we have nevertheless a government which is not perfect, and there have been indications since November 22 of 1963 — and that was not the last indication — that there is excessive power in some areas of our government — and that the people have not received all of the truth about some of the things that have happened, some of the assassinations that have occurred, and particularly with regard to the assassination of John Kennedy. Going back to when we were children, I think most of us, probably all of us here in this courtroom, felt that justice came into being automatically, that virtue was its own reward and good would triumph over evil, that it occurred automatically. And later when we found that it wasn’t quite so, most of us felt that, hopefully, that at least justice occurred frequently of its own accord, but now I think that almost all of us world have to agree that there is really no automatic machinery, not on this earth at least, which causes justice to happen automatically. Men have to make it occur, individual human beings have to make it occur, otherwise it doesn’t come into existence, and this is not always easy. As a matter of fact, it is always hard, because justice presents a threat to power, and in order to make justice come into being you often have to fight power.
Mr. Dymond raised the question: Why don’t we say it is a fraud and charge the Government with fraud, if this is the case? Well, then let me be explicit and make myself very clear on this point. The Government’s handling of the investigation of John Kennedy’s murder was a fraud, it was the greatest fraud in the history of our country, it was probably the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in the history of humankind. So that is where I stand on that point. But that doesn’t mean that we have to accept the continued existence of the kind of government which allows this to happen. We can do something about it. We are not forced to either leave this country or accept the authoritarianism that is developed, which tells us that in the year 2039 we can see the evidence about what happened to John Kennedy.
The government does not consist only of secret police and domestic espionage operations and generals and admirals, the government consists of people. The government consists of people, and our Government consists of juries. And cases of murder, whether of the poorest individual or the most distinguished citizen in the land, should be looked at openly in a court of law where juries can pass on them, and not hidden, not buried like the body of the victim beneath concrete for 75 years.
Now, you men in recent weeks have heard witnesses that no one else in the world has heard, and you have seen what happened to your President, and I suggest to you that most of you know right now that in that area at least a fraud has been perpetrated. That does not mean that our Government is entirely black, and I want to emphasize that. It doesn’t mean that the President is
bad, it doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court is bad. It does mean that in recent years, through the development of excessive power, because of the cold war, forces have developed in our Government over which there is no control, and these forces have an authoritarian approach to justice, meaning they will let you know what justice is.
Well, my reply to them is, we already know what it is. It is the jury system. In the issue which is posed by the Government’s conduct in concealing the evidence in this case, in the issue of humanity as posed to power, I have chosen humanity, and I will do it without any hesitation, and I hope every one of you will do the same, and I do that because I love my country and I want to communicate to the Government that we will not accept unexplained assassinations with the casual information that if we live 75 years longer we may be given more data.
In this particular case, our efforts to look into it — and it was our duty when we found out that part of the assassination planning occurred in New Orleans — massive power was brought to bear to prevent justice from ever coming into this courtroom as it has. The power to make authoritative pronouncements, the power to manipulate the news media by the release of false information, the power to interfere with an honest inquiry, the power to provide an endless variety of experts to testify in behalf of power, was demonstrated in this case. The American people have yet to see the Zapruder film. Why? The American people have yet to see and hear from witnesses about the assassination. Why? Because today in our Government we have a problem area in which too much emphasis is given to secrecy with regard to the assassination of our President, and not enough emphasis has been given to the question of justice, to the question of humanity.
These dignified deceptions will not suffice. We have had enough of power without truth. We don’t have to accept power without truth or leave the country. I don’t accept that alternative. I don’t intend to leave the country, and I don’t intend to accept power without truth. I intend to fight for the truth, and I suggest that not only is this not un-American but it is the most American thing we can do, because if the truth does not endure then our country will not endure — not in the way it was supposed to. In our country the worst of all crimes is when the government murders truth. If it can murder truth, it can murder freedom. If it can murder freedom, it can murder your own sons if they should dare to fight for freedom, and then announce that they were killed in an industrial accident or shot by the enemy, or God knows what.
But in this case finally it has been possible to bring the truth about the assassination into a court of law, not before a commission composed of important and powerful and politically astute men, but before a jury of citizens. Now I suggest to you that yours is a hard duty, because in a sense what you are passing on is equivalent to a murder case. It has the same essential characteristics, and the difficult thing about passing on a murder case is that the victim is out of your sight and buried a long distance away, and all you can see is the defendant, and it is very difficult to identify with someone you can’t see; and sometimes it is hard not to identify to some extent with the defendant and his problems. In that regard, every prosecutor who is at all humane, is conscious of feeling sorry for the defendant in every case he prosecutes. But he is not free to forget the victim who lies buried out of sight, and I suggest to you that if you do your duty you also are not free to forget the victims who is buried out of sight. You know, Tennyson once said that authority forgets the dying king. This was never more true than in the murder of John Kennedy. The strange and deceptive conduct of the Government after his murder began while his body was
warm and has continued for five years.
In a sense, you have seen in this courtroom indications of the interest of some part of the government power structure in keeping the truth down, in keeping the grave closed. We presented a number of eye-witnesses, as well as an expert witness, as well as the Zapruder film, to show that the fatal wound of the President came from the front. A plane landed from Washington and out steps Dr. Finck for the defense, to counter the clear and apparent evidence of a shot from the front. I don’t have to go into Dr. Finck’s testimony in detail for you to see that it simply did not correspond with the facts. He admitted that he did not complete the autopsy because a general told him not to complete the autopsy.
Now, in this conflict between power and justice — to put it that way — just where do you think Dr. Finck stands? A general, who was not a pathologist, told him not to complete the autopsy, so he didn’t complete it. This is the way I don’t want my country to be. When our President is killed, he deserves the kind of autopsy that the ordinary citizen gets every day in the state of Louisiana. We can’t have government power suddenly interjecting itself and preventing the truth from coming to the people.
But in this case, before the next morning when the sun rose, power had moved into the situation and the truth was being concealed. And five years later in this courtroom it is continuing in the same way.
We presented eye-witnesses who told you of the shots coming from the grassy knoll. A plane landed from Washington and out came ballistics expert Frazier for the defense. . . [Objections]
Now, the issue I’m sure every one of you understands is whether or not the Government has created a fraud, and I call your attention that Mr. Frazier’s explanation of the sound of shots coming from the front, which was heard by eyewitness after eyewitness and after eyewitness [sic] — his explanation is that Lee Oswald created a sonic boom in his firing. Not only did Oswald break all of the world’s records for marksmanship, but he broke the sound barrier as well. And I suggest to you, that if any of you have shot on a firing range, and most of you probably have in the Service — you were shooting rifles in which the bullet traveled faster than the speed of sound, and I ask you to recall if you ever heard a sonic boom. If you remember when you were on the firing line and they would say, “Ready on the left, ready on the right, ready on the firing line, commence firing,” you heard the shots coming from the firing line to the left of you and to the right of you, and if you had heard, as the result of Frazier’s fictional sonic booms, firing coming at you from the pits, you would have had a reaction and you would still remember it. It simply doesn’t exist. It is a part of the fraud, a part of the government fraud, and the best way to make this country the kind of country it is supposed to be is to communicate to the government that no matter how powerful it may be, we do not accept fraud, we do not accept false announcements, we do not accept the concealment of evidence with regard to the murder of President Kennedy.
Who is the most believable — a Richard Randolph Carr seated here in a wheelchair and telling you what he saw and what he heard and how he was told to shut his mouth, or Mr. Frazier with his sonic booms? Do we have to actually reject Mr. Newman and Mrs. Newman and Mr. Carr and Roger Craig, and the testimony of all those honest witnesses — reject that and accept the fraudulent Warren Commission, or else leave the country? I suggest to you that there are other alternatives, and one of them has been put in practice in the last month in the State of Louisiana, and that is to bring out the truth in a proceeding, where attorneys can cross-examine, where the defendant can be confronted by testimony against him, where the rules of evidence are applied, and where a jury of citizens can pass on it, and where there is no government secrecy, where you do not have evidence concealed for 75 years in the name of national security.
All we have in this case are the facts — facts which show that the defendant participated in the conspiracy to kill the President, and that the President was subsequently killed in ambush. The reply of the defense has been the same as the earlier reply of the government in the Warren Commission, has been authority, authority, the President’s seal outside of a volume of the — each
volume of the Warren Commission, made necessary because there is nothing inside of these volumes. Men of high position and prestige sitting on a board and announcing the results to you but not telling you what the evidence is, because that has to be hidden for 75 years.
You heard in this courtroom in recent weeks eye-witness after eye-witness after eye-witness, and, above all, you saw an eye-witness which was indifferent to power — the Zapruder film. The lens of the camera is indifferent to power, and it tells you what happened, and that is one of the reasons two hundred million Americans have not seen the Zapruder film. They should have seen it many times. They should know exactly what happened. They should know what you know now. Why hasn’t this come into being if there hasn’t been government fraud? Of course there has. But I am telling you that I think we can do something about it. I think that there are still enough Americans left in this country to make it continue to be America. I think that we can still fight authoritarianism: the government’s insistence on secrecy, the government force used in counter-attacks against an honest inquiry; and when we do that we are not being un-American, we are being American, because it isn’t easy, and you are sticking your neck out in a rather prominent way, but it has to be done, because truth does not come into being automatically. Justice does not happen automatically. Individual men, like the members of my staff here, have to work and fight to make it happen, and individual men like you have to make justice come into being, because otherwise it doesn’t happen. And what I am trying to tell you is that there are forces in America today, unfortunately, which are not in favor of the truth coming out about John Kennedy’s assassination. As long as our government continues to be like that, as long as such forces can get away with these kind of actions, then this is no longer the country in which we were born.
The murder of John Kennedy was probably the most terrible moment in the history of our country. Yet circumstances have placed you in the position where not only have you seen the hidden evidence, but you are actually going to have the opportunity to bring justice into the picture for the first time.
Now, you are here sitting in judgment on Clay Shaw, but you as men represent more than jurors in an ordinary case, because of the victim in this case. You represent, in a sense, the hope of humanity against government power. You represent humanity which yet may triumph over excessive government power, if you will cause it to be so in the course of doing your duty in this
I suggest that you “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” What can you do for your country? You can cause justice to happen for the first time in this matter. You can help make our country better by showing that this is still a government of the people; and if you do that, as long as you live nothing will every be more important than that.