[24.0] The Trial Of Clay Shaw

v1.2.2 / chapter 24 of 32 / 01 nov 13 / greg goebel / public domain

* Although Jim Garrison's investigation against Clay Shaw had run into a storm of public controversy, Garrison persisted in his investigation and Shaw went to trial -- to be quickly acquitted by the jury. Garrison continued legal actions against Shaw, with no better luck, except to the extent of bankrupting him. Garrison, despite the failure of his investigation, would at least be lionized by a hit Hollywood movie.



* Jim Garrison's investigation of Clay Shaw drew increasingly heavy public flak as it progressed, but Garrison pushed forward anyway. A photograph was dug up showing Shaw at a 1949 party with friends, with Shaw standing near the rear of the group looking down, and a person identified as "Ferrie" wearing a light-colored knee-length jacket. "Ferrie" turned out to be a broadcaster named Robert Brannon of station WDSU, who honestly did look like Ferrie.

Clay Shaw & friends

Another party photo from 1949 showed Shaw clowning around in a mop wig with three friends as part of Mardi Gras festivities; one of the figures was identified as "Ferrie", but it's such a grainy image that it's hard to figure which of the three the "Ferrie" was supposed to be. The three individuals in the photo were identified as dentist J. Mofield Roberts, interior decorator Archie Bland, and, also wearing a mop wig and joking with Shaw, real estate agent Arthur Jeff Biddison. To make matters worse for Garrison, Ferrie wasn't living in New Orleans in 1949. Despite the fact that the photos were quickly debunked, conspiracists still claim they "prove" an association between Ferrie and Shaw.

Garrison also found witnesses besides Russo who claimed to have seen Shaw in the presence of various members of the conspiracy:

Conspiracists point to the sheer number of people who claimed to verify associations of Shaw with Ferrie, Oswald, and Ruby, but the stories tended to differ among themselves, and weren't backed up by people who knew Ferrie well -- Ferrie's friends, for example, said they'd never run into Raymond Broshears. Al Beauboeuf told the HSCA that he had a vague recollection of seeing Shaw at Ferrie's apartment but "could not be sure"; if he had said any such thing to Garrison's investigators, they didn't bother to make a note of it. The bottom line is that despite Garrison's obvious determination to make a case against Clay Shaw, Garrison didn't make use of any of these witnesses, clearly because he didn't think they had any value.

Incidentally, in her 2005 book Joan Mellen claimed there was "documented proof" of an association between Ferrie and Shaw, in the form of a loan note dated the week before the JFK assassination. Ferrie, according to Mellen, wanted $400 USD to rent a plane to fly to Dallas; the loan note was co-signed by Ferrie and Shaw. At least that was the story. Mellen was unable to produce the document, and in fact it seems she never saw it herself, saying only that she was "able to find a witness" who claimed to have seen the document, several decades earlier.

Another story also ended up in circulation that the FBI had investigated Shaw early on in connection with the JFK assassination -- but that tale ended up rooted in confused statements made by FBI officials in 1967. The fact was that, as mentioned, the FBI had looked into Dean Andrews' "Clay Bertrand" story in 1963, to come up zeroes; on being told the tale that Clay Shaw was really "Clay Bertrand", an FBI official, assuming the two men really were one and the same, confirmed that the FBI had looked into the matter in 1963. It was a non-issue: the bureau didn't find out a thing about "Bertrand" in 1963 or for that matter later, much less that he was the same person as Clay Shaw.



* In one of the more eccentric exercises in obtaining evidence for the case against Shaw, following up a vague lead Garrison's investigators canvassed the towns of Clinton, Louisiana, a few hours' drive northwest of New Orleans. Out of several hundred locals interviewed, the investigators managed to find eight witnesses who said they had seen Shaw, Ferrie, and Oswald come to Clinton in a big black Cadillac, with Oswald registering to vote locally in order to get a job with a hospital there.

Eventually the eight would have a common story on the incident, but how they got to that point is a matter of interesting speculation. Materials later obtained from the files of the New Orleans DA office concerning the testimony initially obtained by Garrison's people show very little consistency over when the visitors came -- August or September 1963? -- what they did, and so on. One even said that Lee was there with Marina Oswald and a baby, with no mention of Ferrie or Shaw. It should be noted that Clay Shaw did not drive a black Cadillac; he drove a black Ford.

However, although the details of the supposed visit of the three "conspirators" to Clinton have been run through the critical mill and come out the worse for wear, they're less interesting than the peculiar logic of the scenario:

The oddities of the situation were not lost on the skeptical-minded; when the Clinton witnesses were asked why they hadn't said anything, the general reply was: "Nobody asked." One of the Clinton witnesses who gave such a reply was a deputy marshal.

A conspiracist named William Davy later claimed that a Clinton witness had come forward shortly after the assassination and told the story, but it only ended up in a Right-wing newsletter titled THE COUNCILOR, printed in Shreveport, Louisiana. Along with the puzzling notion of why the news didn't end up in a more reputable publication with a wider distribution, neither Davy nor anyone else was ever able to produce a validated copy of the article.

The HSCA, which was generally skeptical of Garrison's investigation, later interviewed some of the Clinton witnesses and found them "credible", it seems on the basis that they sincerely believed their own testimony. However, although the Clinton witnesses may have seen some incident with a vague match to that presented by the Garrison investigation, it appears they received prompting on the details; and whatever it was they saw, they demonstrated no concern over it until Garrison's people showed up. The Clinton witnesses would not prove a persuasive element in Garrison's court case against Shaw, but conspiracists still present them in support of the conspiracy case.



* Along with the various "connections" to the conspiracy, Shaw was tagged as a "covert CIA agent", with conspiracists citing as a "fact" that in 1979 ex-CIA Director Richard Helms testified under oath as a witness in a libel trial that Shaw had been a "contract agent" for the CIA. The truth of the matter was that Shaw had spoken to the agency as part of the DCD program, providing information on his trips abroad. The last time he had dealt with the agency was 1956. All Helms said on the witness stand was:


The only recollection I have of Clay Shaw and the agency is that I believe that at one time as a businessman he was one of the part-time contacts of the Domestic Contact Division -- the people that talked to businessmen, professors and so forth, and who traveled in and out of the country.


Apparently conspiracists read the term "contact" as "contract". Conspiracists later tried to establish a spook connection for Shaw by pointing out that he had served in the US Army "SOS" organization during the war, claiming that "SOS" stood for "Special Operations Section", suggesting it was some sort of "black" military operation. Actually, it stood for "Services Of Supply", a logistics organization that supported Allied forces. Shaw's military service was a matter of open record and there was nothing in it that hinted he worked in an intelligence or covert capacity while in uniform. No evidence from his service career shows he was anything but a supply officer.

Another "lead" was provided by an Italian newspaper named PAESE SERA, which ran a story claiming that Shaw was linked to an Italian business operation named the "Centro Mondiale Commerciale (CMC / World Trade Center)", described as a "CIA front operation" in Europe. PAESE SERA was a Communist-linked political tabloid that was suspected to be an outlet for stories leaked by the Soviet KGB. The fact of the matter was that backers of the CMC had contacted Shaw when the organization was being set up, but he never actually had any material involvement with the organization -- indeed, he never went to Italy in his life -- and the CMC folded up quickly in any case. It is not clear that the PAESE SERA article was responsible for convincing Garrison that the CIA was behind the assassination; some claim he already believed that before he learned about PAESE SERA's accusations.

A witness named Donald P. Norton told Garrison's investigators that he had been a CIA agent, and that in 1962 he had been given $50,000 USD by Shaw to deliver to Oswald in Monterrey, Mexico. According to Norton, both Shaw and Oswald were CIA. There was no evidence that Norton had ever been in the CIA or that there was any basis in fact for his story, and Garrison didn't regard Norton as credible enough to use as a trial witness.

Another supposed CIA agent of interest to Garrison was Gordon Novel, who Garrison had dealt with in the course of the investigation. Novel eventually decided to make himself scarce, leaving New Orleans to go to Ohio. Garrison went after him, trying to get him extradited; Garrison failed because he screwed up the paperwork, but claimed that "powerful figures" had blocked the extradition. It is unclear from sources what, if anything, Novel said that linked Shaw to the CIA; in the PLAYBOY interview, Garrison refused to give specifics on the matter. However, Garrison added he had "no doubt" Novel was a CIA agent, and possibly Garrison thought that was the significant issue in itself.

Garrison did specifically claim in the PLAYBOY interview that Novel had been part of a CIA plot in 1961 to rob a munitions bunker in Houma, Louisiana, southwest of New Orleans -- an event also supposedly involving David Ferrie along with anti-Castro Cuban Carlos Arcacha Smith, and whose specifics remain entirely murky. Garrison also claimed that Stephen Plotkin, Novel's lawyer, was being bankrolled by the CIA. Sources typically describe Novel as a conman with a long criminal rap sheet, though Novel protested such accusations; what is clearly a fact, however, is that no credible evidence shows Novel was ever a CIA agent, or that Plotkin or any other lawyers associated with figures in the Garrison investigation were paid off by the CIA.

* Other than the DCD contacts, no conspiracist was ever able to provide any evidence of substance that Clay Shaw was involved with the CIA, much less that he was a CIA agent of any sort. A CIA document from 1967 about an exercise codenamed QKENCHANT does mention that Shaw was assigned a code number of "#402897-A". This has been interpreted as saying Shaw had a covert clearance, but the document gives no details of QKENCHANT or the nature of the code number, and the agency has always responded to queries on the matter with NO COMMENT. In fact, the CIA has never been very forthcoming when asked questions about the association between Shaw and the agency -- saying no more than except for Shaw's chats with the DCD, there wasn't one. Vincent Bugliosi described his experiences in trying to get information out of the agency on Shaw and QKENCHANT as like "pulling impacted teeth" and suggested that "even when it is innocent, [the CIA acts] as guilty as it possibly can."

It's not hard to understand the agency's point of view, like it or not: having already officially denied that Shaw was connected to the CIA except for his conversations with the DCD, what more was there to be said? If people didn't believe the agency on that point, what reason would there be for the CIA to play along with further inquiries from conspiracists? That would just be humoring snoops on "fishing expeditions" into the agency's secrets to uncover what the agency had already declared wasn't there.

Conspiracists would make a fuss if they came across anything the CIA kept secret -- after all, if conspiracists don't know what a secret is, they'll automatically assume the worst and keep right on pushing -- and since the CIA had secrets that did need to be kept, sooner or later the agency would have to issue a NO COMMENT and suffer the accusations of "coverup" anyway. Why go along with a losing game? There was no credible evidence that Clay Shaw was a CIA agent, and if conspiracists claimed otherwise, the burden of proof was on them. Whatever obligations the CIA had in that matter the agency had already addressed, and in the absence of any new facts of substance, the CIA had nothing more to say. If that attitude seemed to make the agency look bad, what of it? Conspiracists would suspect the CIA no matter what the agency said. Indeed, whatever the CIA said, it can be guaranteed that conspiracists would try to use it against the agency.

* It is easy to sympathize with Bugliosi in his annoyance with the CIA, but he still saw no credible evidence that the agency had anything to do with the assassination, nor that the agency tried to "sabotage" Garrison's investigation. Indeed, Bugliosi judged the agency's reaction to Garrison as ineffectual.

Conspiracists have noted that the CIA took an "excessive interest" in the Shaw case, apparently finding it hard to comprehend why the agency would pay any attention to an effort by a public official to link the CIA to a presidential assassination -- but the CIA actually didn't do much more than fret over the matter. It's hard to think was anything the agency could do but lay low and assume that Garrison's shambles of an investigation ran out of steam, which it eventually did. This position was articulated by the CIA's legal counsel, Lawrence Houston, in a memo to CIA Director Helms dated 29 September 1967:


At the present time ... there is no action we can recommend for the Director or the Agency to take. If during the trial it appears that Shaw may be convicted on information that could be refuted by CIA, we may be in for some difficult decisions.


Garrison would have liked nothing better than for the CIA to intervene against him in the slightest way, since it would have given him something tangible to use against the agency. William Gurvich, one of Garrison's men who "defected" from the investigation, suggested to CBS News in 1967 that Garrison chose the CIA as a target precisely because the agency could not fight back. Gurvich told CBS that Garrison had declared "they can't afford to answer", with Gurvich adding that Garrison could "say what he damn well pleases about that agency, and they'll never reply."

Conspiracists do not find Gurvich credible, but the logic of his observation is hard to deny: the supposedly all-powerful CIA is, because of its covert nature, surprisingly vulnerable to public attack. Could Garrison have decided to villainize the agency simply out of convenience? That's hard to say, but Garrison certainly didn't target the CIA on the basis of evidence, since he never produced any evidence that credibly implicated the CIA in his cockamamie New Orleans "plot".

Nobody ever has. Conspiracist Jim Lesar, a persistent legal nuisance to the agency, told Bugliosi over the phone that he, Lesar, was "confident that Shaw worked covert counterintelligence for the CIA." It has been said that the difference between a fairy tale and a conspiracy theory is that a fairy tale starts: "Once upon a time ..." -- while a conspiracy theory starts: "There is absolutely no doubt ..." Lesar had nothing more to say in specific than Garrison ever did.



* The trial of Clay Shaw began on 6 February 1969, with Judge Edward J. Haggerty presiding. For all Garrison's talk to the news media about the "CIA conspiracy", the prosecution didn't mention the agency, preferring to focus strictly on testimony against Shaw. The prosecution placed much of their hopes on Perry Russo, who testified that he was in Ferrie's apartment in mid-September 1963 and overheard Ferrie, Shaw, and Oswald discussing how to kill JFK.

Again, there was the question of why the conspirators would have been so incredibly careless as to discuss an assassination in front of Russo. When queried on this matter, Russo said to the effect that it just sounded like a "bull session" and he didn't take it seriously. The defense went on to ask Russo why he hadn't contacted the Warren Commission with his vital testimony, to which he replied that he didn't realize the assassination was going to be in Dallas -- apparently it would have been okay if it had been somewhere else -- and that if the FBI had contacted him, he would have told them what he knew, which was a completely irrelevant answer to the question as posed.

Two years later Russo admitted that the story was a fabrication, that Garrison had "brainwashed" him, that Garrison's people had offered bribes and, if the carrot didn't sound good enough, provided a stick as well -- according to Russo, Garrison's people told him to play along or he would see "the courthouse planted on top of me." However, Russo also continued to tell much the same story he told in the courthouse to conspiracists; it seems he was inclined to tell anyone what he thought they wanted to hear. So what was the truth? The truth was that Russo was an unreliable witness.

Dean Andrews, whose story about "Clay Bertrand" had inadvertently implicated Shaw in the first place, took the stand and, though he was evasive about the existence of "Bertrand", he flatly denied that Shaw was "Bertrand": "He is not." The other witnesses called by the prosecution were somewhat more helpful to Garrison:

One of the more plausible-sounding stories was told by a woman named Jesse Parker, who worked in the Eastern Airlines VIP lounge at Moisant Airport in New Orleans. Parker said that in December 1966, she had run into Clay Shaw, remembering him because of his height, manners, and white hair -- and said he signed his name as "Clay Bertrand" on the lounge guest book. The guest book was produced at the trial, and indeed the name "Clay Bertrand" was written there -- but it was the last entry on the page, meaning it could have been scribbled in later. The next to last entry was by an Arthur Davis, an architect who had known Shaw for a decade. Davis testified that he hadn't seen Shaw in the lounge that day, and the prosecution was unable to show that Clay Shaw had taken a flight into or out of the airport at that time.

The defense called Charles Appell JR, a former FBI agent and an expert in handwriting analysis who had worked on many cases, most prominently the 1935 Lindbergh kidnapping-murder trial. Appell used blowups to show the "Clay Bertrand" signature did not match Shaw's handwriting. The prosecution called their own "expert", a flamboyant Boston lawyer named Elizabeth McCarthy. It turned out under her cross-examination that she had no formal qualifications in handwriting analysis, and had never worked in an organization in that role -- though she did perform analysis as part of her law practice.

Jesse Parker seemed a credible witness, clearly not a publicity hound. However, she had not contacted the authorities about meeting Clay Bertrand; Garrison's investigators had contacted her, leading to the interesting question of how Garrison's people knew about the supposed meeting. Another interesting question is why Shaw, who was supposed to have used the "Bertrand" alias in 1963 to cover his tracks in the conspiracy, would have used the same alias in 1966. Even if he had felt the need to use an alias, using the same one over a period of years would have helped establish a trail, not conceal it.

Most disastrously for his case, Garrison hauled in Charles Spiesel, a New York City accountant, who told the court that in June 1963 he was in New Orleans' French Quarter and ran into David Ferrie, who Spiesel had known from Air Force days. That was not getting off to a good start because Ferrie had never been in the Air Force, but in any case Spiesel went with Ferrie to a party in an apartment where Shaw was in attendance. Spiesel claimed that Shaw and Ferrie discussed killing JFK, with Ferrie claiming he could fly the assassin out of danger.

Why Shaw and Ferrie would have plotted a presidential assassination in front of a near-stranger was again puzzling; under cross-examination by Dymond, Spiesel's testimony became even more puzzling. Was there anything unusual about Ferrie's appearance? No, Spiesel said Ferrie was ordinary looking -- no comments about funny fake eyebrows or an absurd wig. Spiesel was only getting warmed up:

Even if the other witnesses against Shaw had been more credible, Spiesel could have easily torpedoed the entire case all by himself. Conspiracists tend to have surprising faith in questionable witnesses like Jean Hill, but few have any faith in Charles Spiesel. Some conspiracists even claim Spiesel was a "plant", sent in by the conspiracy to discredit Garrison, but any reasonable background check would have revealed his eccentricities -- and the level of credibility of the other witnesses against Shaw wasn't that much higher to begin with. Astonishingly, even after Spiesel's testimony, Assistant DA James Alcock defended the witness, telling the jury: "And I submit, gentlemen, that Charles Spiesel told the truth in this courtroom."

Incidentally, a New Orleans police officer named Aloysius Habighorst was also thrown into the trial, but he never actually testified. Habighorst had helped fingerprint Shaw after his arrest on 1 March 1967, and claimed that Shaw had admitted he was "Clay Bertrand", with the fingerprint card being produced as evidence since it had the "Bertrand" name on it. Judge Haggerty had a closed session to determine the admissibility of that evidence.

Another New Orleans cop, Jonas Butzman, had been present when Habighorst talked to Shaw, and did not recall Shaw admitting he was "Bertrand". Haggerty believed that Habighorst had simply written the "Bertrand" name into the card on his own. The judge also determined that Habighorst had failed to read Shaw his rights. Haggerty declared the evidence was inadmissible, and barely stopped short of calling Habighorst a liar: "I do not believe officer Habighorst."

Conspiracists assert that Haggerty had been trying to "suppress the truth" -- but since Shaw had always denied he was "Bertrand", why would he have admitted it to Habighorst in the first place, and not admit it to anyone else? As noted earlier, courts tend to regard evidence as admissible as long there's no specific reason to think it's bogus; Habighorst's evidence was rejected because it was contradicted by other witnesses, and simply did not make logical sense. The court was not engaging in a "coverup". In hindsight, given the flimsiness of the case against Shaw, the judiciary was being accommodating to Garrison to even allow the case to be brought to trial.

* The jury declared Shaw innocent on 1 March 1969, two years after Shaw had been originally arrested. They took less than an hour to reach a verdict, and there is a believable if unverified tale that they reached the verdict in much less time than that, taking a break for the rest of the hour. Mark Lane, somehow unsurprisingly, asserted later that he had interviewed several of the jurors and they said they did believe there had been a conspiracy to kill JFK -- that Garrison was on to something, but couldn't make it stick.

No doubt some of the jurors did suspect a conspiracy to kill JFK, many people still do, but given what a farce the trial was, it's hard to swallow they thought Garrison had a clue about it. Author James Kirkwood spoke to some of the jurors and their remarks were informative:

To the extent the jurors believed in conspiracy before the trial, afterwards at least some of them had more doubts, Hebert saying: "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 ..."

The only conspiracy that visible in the trial was the determined work of the New Orleans DA's office to trump up a case against Shaw. The NEW ORLEANS STATES-ITEM newspaper called for Garrison to resign, saying: "His persecution of Clay Shaw was a perversion of the legal process such has not been often seen." The NEW YORK TIMES called the trial "one of the most disgraceful chapters in the history of American jurisprudence." Indeed, by this time many conspiracists, including Weisberg, Lifton, and Meagher, had turned against Garrison, believing he had become a public embarrassment to the conspiracy movement -- Meagher declaring Shaw "an innocent man" while denouncing Garrison as a "dangerous charlatan" and pouring scorn on his "contemptible antics".

And yet, given that conspiracists had created an atmosphere of paranoia and slander, why should they have been so surprised to see what it led to? If they went after a conspiracy with absolute determination, refusing to accept the possibility that a conspiracy might not actually exist, wouldn't there be a good chance the exercise would end up a witch hunt? There was nothing different about Garrison except for the fact that he did something more than talk; instead of merely making up a conspiracy and fussing about it, he made up a conspiracy and took it to court.

Indeed, many conspiracists still approve of Garrison's assault on Shaw, saying that Garrison was "on to something", but the conspiracy sabotaged his case. The problem with that assertion is that the case Garrison took to trial was effectively the same case that he started with. Garrison accused Clay Shaw of being involved in the assassination simply because of Dean Andrews and his "Clay Bertrand" story, which Andrews repeatedly repudiated; and because Shaw was gay, suggesting a connection to Ferrie, whose links to the assassination were vaporous in the first place.

Garrison never found out anything more than that; he just wanted to find a suspect, any suspect, using any pretext, and Shaw was simply the unlucky guy who Garrison decided to draw a bead on. Garrison could have targeted any man out of hundreds, even thousands in New Orleans with just as much valid cause. With Clay Shaw, conspiracists use the same flip-flop logic they use to proclaim that Oswald was innocent because he seemed so guilty, just in reverse: they proclaim that Shaw must have been guilty, despite the fact there was no substantial cause to think he was anything but innocent.

Garrison started out with nothing and ended up with nothing, unable to produce evidence beyond the dubious testimonies of the likes of Russo, Bundy, and Spiesel to suggest there was a real case there. Could things have been hidden from Garrison? Sure. But who could show he was anywhere close to the true facts? Who would fail to suspect that the single true fact was that Garrison was only chasing after shadows in his own mind?



* Garrison was not about to quit and was by no means done with Shaw. On 3 March 1969, two days after the verdict against him, Garrison charged Shaw with perjury, claiming Shaw had lied in his defense in the trial -- an extremely unusual measure, a blatant exercise in legal harassment. On 18 January 1971, Shaw asked for and got a temporary restraining order to halt Garrison's efforts. On 25 January, a hearing began in Federal circuit court to determine if the perjury case should be dropped permanently. The hearing lasted for three days -- Russo pleaded the Fifth Amendment and refused to say anything -- and at the end, on 27 May 1971, Federal Circuit Court Judge Herbert W. Christenberry ruled in favor of Shaw, with the injunction against Garrison becoming formal in June. Parts of Christenberry's written decision make interesting reading, starting off with:


... The facts that give rise to this proceeding result from the defendant Garrison's investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. To characterize these facts as unique and bizarre is no exaggeration.


Christenberry followed with a detailed and highly critical review of Garrison's investigation, for example zeroing in Garrison's interrogation of Perry Russo using sodium penthathol and hypnosis:


... substantial doubts are raised regarding the validity and objectivity of the state's case when a prosecuting attorney resorts to the use of such extraordinary tactics as were employed by Garrison on Russo. A fair inference to be drawn is that these ... procedures were used to implant into Russo's mind a story implicating the plaintiff in an alleged conspiracy plot. ... This inference is supported by the fact that Garrison immediately moved to arrest and charge Shaw based solely on Russo's questionable, vague story. Such hasty action on the part of the defendant without further investigation and without submitting the matter, at that time, to the grand jury demonstrates ulterior motives.


The conclusion was, once again, that Garrison's case was completely without merit. Given that the first court case against Shaw had been a joke, the verdict shouldn't have been a surprise to Garrison, and it may not have been -- Garrison may have been simply trying to make Shaw's life miserable, with no expectation that the second case would fly. Never one to give up easily, Garrison appealed to the US Supreme Court, but the high court threw the appeal out. It was a hollow victory for Shaw, since he had been reduced to bankruptcy by legal costs. He attempted to recoup his losses by pressing an "abuse of process" lawsuit against Garrison and his backers, with those involved feeling confident of winning.

Unfortunately, the case hadn't made it to court when Shaw died of cancer in 1974. Shaw didn't have any children and so, as per Louisiana law at the time, the case died with him; later, the law would be altered to permit legal actions to be carried down with the estate. Conspiracists, incidentally, sometimes claim Shaw's death was "mysterious", though there was no evidence of foul play. If the conspiracy did kill Shaw, it seems odd that they did him in before he could disgrace Garrison in court; in fact, it seems odd the conspiracy let Shaw go through not one but two trials where he could have "talked" at any time. After all, didn't the conspiracy kill off Ferrie before he could sing? Yes, that is supposed to be a joke.

One of the particularly odd things about Garrison's merciless harassment of Shaw was that Garrison didn't seem to think Shaw was particularly important. Garrison published a book titled HERITAGE OF STONE in 1970, describing his fight against the conspiracy that killed JFK. One detail he left out was Clay Shaw, which seems a bit strange since Garrison's court case exclusively targeted Shaw. Was Garrison simply trying to sweep his failure in court under the rug? Or did he even think Shaw was anything more than a convenient pawn?

Garrison was voted out of the DA's office in 1973, though five years later he became a state circuit judge. That same year, 1978, HSCA investigators interviewed him about his ideas on the JFK assassination. They weren't able to get much out of him, their report saying:


During the course of Garrison's long monologue about the power of the Federal government, particularly the CIA, it was most difficult to ask him specific questions; Garrison would continue to talk without responding to a question on most occasions when they were asked.


Garrison did bring up Shaw in a second book, ON THE TRAIL OF THE ASSASSINS, published in 1988, a few years before Garrison's death in 1992. The ARRB looked into Garrison's investigation a few years later, with Anna Nelson of the board flatly dismissing Garrison's allegations: "In truth, Jim Garrison ... has been discredited by [the documents obtained and released by the ARRB]. If you read them, you see he did not have a case. He had nothing to build it on."

Despite the transparent fraudulence of Garrison's investigation, he still remains a respected figure among a faction of conspiracists -- oblivious to the irony that, in their struggle against the evil schemes of the government, in endorsing Garrison they enthusiastically approve of what by all evidence was an outrageous abuse of authority, a relentless persecution of an honest citizen on the whim of an unbalanced public official.



* Foremost among Garrison's fans was movie producer Oliver Stone. Stone's 1991 movie "JFK", following in Garrison's footsteps, represented a "blenderized" read on assassination conspiracy theories, constructed around a long list of conspiracy theory myths:

And so on. Along with all the misrepresentations of fact on one hand, with the other hand Stone dealt with inconvenient realities by discarding them:

And so on. Stone even went so far as to have an "informational pamphlet" printed up in bulk and distributed as a promotion for the movie, with the pamphlet repeating the myths such as the zigzag path of the "magic bullet" as unargued facts.

All the mangled specifics aside, Stone was taking an entirely questionable view of the facts to present the obsessive Garrison as a hero and the unbalanced Oswald as a victim. Much worse, in declaring Garrison's trumped-up case against Shaw as evident fact, Stone was explicitly carrying on Garrison's unfounded and vicious persecution of Shaw. Stone, unimpressed by a jury's quick rejection of the flimsy case against Shaw, chose to resurrect that same flimsy case, embellish it, then declare himself judge and jury to condemn Shaw -- Stone being perfectly aware that Shaw was no longer around to defend himself.

"JFK", though an exercise in low cunning, was an artful one, and a box-office hit, with many who watched it saying they had little doubt it was entire truth and nothing but the truth. Those with a firmer grasp of specifics were not so impressed, one saying that the only thing that Stone had managed to get right in the movie was the fact that JFK had been assassinated in Dallas. Stone replied the movie wasn't a documentary, that it was a "counter-myth" intended to raise questions about the JFK assassination -- in other words, Stone wasn't interested in sorting out facts from fictions, asserting in justification that the Warren Report was just as much a fable as his. Clearly "JFK" wasn't supposed to be a documentary, but it's just as clear that Stone didn't intend it to be the farce that it was. As one movie critic, George Lardner, put it: "Stone claims artistic license for his work. I don't know who gave him his license, but he ought to be arrested for reckless driving."

In any case, the movie had its 15 minutes of fame, inspiring a new wave of conspiracy books, and doing much to reinforce the popular perception of a conspiracy to kill JFK -- at a time when it should have been dying of boredom and its own dead weight. The fuss it raised did help lead to the creation of the ARRB and to Posner's influential CASE CLOSED, but otherwise it amounted to nothing but an artful exercise in sowing confusion. As far as hard facts went, people who watched the movie knew less after the closing credits than they did before it started.

In 1995, a meeting was arranged between Stone and John F. Kennedy JR at a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, much against JFK JR's better instincts. Stone tried to tell JFK JR that his father must have been killed by a conspiracy; JFK JR, finding Stone repellent, just got up and walked off, with the meeting then quietly cut short in embarrassment. JFK JR later said: "I just couldn't sit across a table from that man for two hours. I just couldn't."