.WAFL (l+,@nq(_z:MX:`+zurl 5http://www.primenet.com/~exclmid/Molding%20Clay.htmlmime text/htmlhntt"1055c0-2a24-36a874c4"hvrsdata Two Views Of The Clay Shaw Trial

MOLDING CLAY: TWO VIEWS OF THE SHAW TRIAL

 

Not Really A Book Review:

By Gregory Bishop

Readers were warned that this magazine would treat many subjects to the Excluded Middle once-over. Synchronicity hit recently as I was wondering if there was ever anything written which gave another point of view on the Jim Garrison JFK conspiracy trial. Garrison's book seemed a little too "pat"(sy) to me, and in the midst of this speculation, Robert Larson handed me a copy of American Grotesque, an account of the Clay Shaw trial brought by Garrison in 1969. If you have seen JFK or read the Garrison book that Oliver Stone extrapolated from and are unfamiliar with the original case, it is fairly easy--I daresay mandatory--that one form an opinion, since you now have a host of "facts" to call upon and back yourself up. This can become dangerous if one is in a position of authority or even drunk at a party. JFK was one of the best examples of propaganda ever made. (The use of that word is not necessarily intended as negative -- look it up, lazybones.) If the situations presented in the book and film conform to our cosmology, then they are "facts". If we disagree, then they become "errors" or even "lies" and the product of "conspiracy theorists". Kirkwood makes it pretty clear from the start that he is on Clay Shaw's side. He became an occasional friend and confidant of the defendant in the months leading up to the trial. Beginning from this position immediately attracted my attention, since most recent media exposure of this issue discusses only the Stone/ Garrison view, or pooh-poohs it with worn arguments.

Kirkwood, as a member of the press at the time probably wanted to appear just as smug as his comrades in the news biz in condemning Garrison's investigation. It is the natural inclination of a good reporter to scratch the patina of appearance and see what's underneath. Although the arrest of Clay Shaw seems to us to have been the story behind the JFK assassination, mistrust of the Warren Report was already identified with the fringe element in 1967 when Garrison started his investigation. Until recently (and some would argue still) most reporters shied away from the fringe in any controversy. For the purpose of my argument, the "fringe" category includes opinions not backed by what most people would consider more than anecdotal evidence. Kirkwood was well within the area of acting as a "responsible reporter" with his efforts to dog Garrison and his staff. It is therefore interesting to compare Garrison's and Kirkwood's versions of the Clay Shaw trial as published in their respective tomes; while Kirkwood deals almost exclusively with the trial, Garrison concentrates more on the events that led to it, spending only one chapter on this subject. Since I am unqualified and unwilling to open the JFK can of worms, it is best to stick to the trial proper as my premise deals with perception, not "facts". As David Byrne said, "Facts don't come with points of view/ Facts don't do what I want them to."

Perception is all-important in the forum of a jury trial. In fact, it is much of the definition of "verdict". It is an attorney's job to influence the opinions and perception of a jury or judge. Unfortunately for Garrison and his team, this perception did not result in a guilty verdict. Whether or not this was due to tampering with evidence, incompetence, or perjury will not concern me here. What is interesting and educational to observe is the accounts of witness testimony and arguments in light of each author's motivations. Garrison put his reputation on the line in furtherance of his opinion that a conspiracy was involved in the assassination. Kirkwood argues (and I tend to agree on at least this point) is that even if there were more than "one lone nut" involved, the evidence for Clay Shaw's involvement in it was difficult to convince a jury, and efforts to this end were better spent in other areas. Garrison did his best with what he had though, and succeeded in bringing many important issues surrounding the assassination into a public forum.

Without stooping to an exhaustive examination of minutiae, Garrison's and Kirkwood's observations and opinions of the trial witnesses sound at times like descriptions of completely different people. The first notable time the Discrepancy Monster (Can you tell me how to get to Ontology Street?) rears its ugly head is at the appearance of the star witness for the prosecution, Perry Russo. Apart from the fact that Garrison didn't attend the trial during Russo's testimony or cross-examination, (indeed, he only appeared in court 3 or 4 times during the month-long trial) and to the extent that we can trust his second-hand impressions of this witness on the stand, the differences with Kirkwood's characterization are telling. While the District Attorney crowns him as , "A tough minded young man with a high degree of curiosity", Kirkwood devotes an entire two chapters to Russo's testimony, one entitled "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Talker." Continually referring to his tendency to over-answer a question when a simple yes or no would do, and at times even offering testimony damaging to the prosecution, Russo is characterized as a sometime embarassment to Garrison (at least among the press corps). Kirkwood's on-the-spot account describes Mr. Russo's speeches as a "shuffle-hop hedge-step", and relates his admission of "a flat error on my part" when asked about sighting Shaw and suspected co-conspirator David Ferrie together. This "error" was supposed to place the two together before the assassination or even the alleged "party" where Ferrie outlined an assassination plot (1962), but Russo later corrected his faulty recall and admitted that his sighting of the two together at a gas station occurred after November, 1963. Garrison makes no reference to these discrepancies, possibly due to the fact that he wasn't there when Russo made these remarks. This fact doesn't stop him from commenting on the proceedings, however. The general conclusion on this issue is that the D.A. depicts Russo as absolutely sure of his statements, while the reporter endlessly brings up his uncertainty. The jury was there and Kirkwood was there, so it's not surprising that they came to the same conclusions.

Charles Speisel, a witness for the prosecution, is quickly disposed of by Garrison as a government "plant" sent to destroy his case. Since we are dealing in perceptions, one wonders why the prosecution team didn't check him out more thoroughly before he got on the stand with statements regarding "50 or 60 people" who had tried to hypnotize him and detectives who had "followed him down" from New York. Kirkwood documents the incredulous reactions to these paranoid remarks, which left both sides shaking their heads and/or laughing. Garrison said he was swept by a "feeling of nausea" when he heard Speisel's spouting, but Kirkwood's account is conspicuous for it's absence of any reaction from the D.A. (or even mention of his presence), so we are faced again with two versions of "reality".

When characterizing the defendant, the authors' language again filters the proceedings. After two years of investigation, Shaw was finally brought to face his accusers. On the first day of testimony, Garrison:

"...glanced over at the defendant and his staff of attorneys. Shaw was as imperious as ever, his cigarette tilted upward as he always held it, smoke spiralling toward the cieling. His nobility of manner, every gesture courtly, made me think that this must have been the way that Louis XVI had been at his trial. He seemed detached, even slightly bored, by the mundane proceedings around him."

Kirkwood defends the defendant in a few sentences: "(Shaw would) react virtually the same to any moment of identification. Head up, he would look his identifier in the eye--not with belligerence or even disbelief--simply look at him." In these short passages, the focus of the problem is revealed. Having seen the film JFK, (since most of us could not have been there) we are struck by Tommy Lee Jones' literal portrayal based on Garrison's descriptions, but these mannerisms could just as easily be interpreted as a man with nothing to hide (or even with a sure sense of the verdict). Keeping in mind Kirkwood's view of the proceedings, I would tend more towards Garrison's depiction.

It offended me that Oliver Stone used the inference of Shaw's alleged homosexuality to color the audience perception, i.e.gay=shady and dishonest, and portrayed him as a drug-huffing weirdo parading around in gold body paint with young boys. In any case, what would that have to do with the charges against him (besides Ferrie's reported penchant for young men)? This suggestion however, was confirmed by a man whom I met last month who told me that he grew up In New Orleans, and worked in the mail room of the International Trade Mart (the building and company owned by Shaw) in the mid- to late 1960s. According to his account, it was common knowledge that Shaw was gay, and was often seen in the French Quarter in "way too tight pants". In spite of the unappetizing image this calls up, it makes me wonder why noone was called to testify to this fact. Perhaps it was seen as "hitting below the belt" tactics to bring Shaw's proclivities into a public forum. If this was the case, perhaps we should be thankful.

A few enterprising researchers have recently discovered through the Freeedom of Information Act that Shaw was in fact a CIA operative. Perhaps he was only another "baby sitter" or "useful idiot" used to watch Ferrie and/or Oswald (who also may have been useful idiots.) The fact remains, however that Garrison and his staff were unable to convince the jury. We may just now be seeing the fruits of his hard work. The revelations of the Reagan/Bush years served to enhance the general attitude of mistrust in the government, and perhaps On The Trail Of The Assassins and JFK find more receptive ears as a result.

So there. Find or order the books for yourself and test the dictum that "reality is a Rorshach blot."

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