Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mark Lane, Who Asserted That Kennedy Was Killed in Conspiracy, Dies at 89

By KEITH SCHNEIDER | New York Times

Mark Lane, the defense lawyer, social activist and best-selling author who concluded in a blockbuster book in the mid-1960s that Lee Harvey Oswald could not have acted alone in killing President John F. Kennedy, a thesis supported in part by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979, died on Tuesday at his home in Charlottesville, Va. He was 89. 

The cause was a heart attack, his friend and paralegal Sue Herndon said.

The Kennedy assassination, one of the manifest turning points of the 20th century, also was the climactic moment of Mr. Lane’s life and career. Before the president’s murder in November 1963, Mr. Lane was a minor figure in New York’s legal and political circles. He had organized rent strikes, opposed bomb shelter programs, was a Freedom Rider, took on civil rights cases and was active in the New York City Democratic Party. In 1960, he was elected a State Assemblyman and served one term.

After the Kennedy murder, Mr. Lane devoted much of the next three decades to its investigation. Almost immediately he began the Citizens’ Committee of Inquiry, interviewed witnesses, collected evidence and delivered speeches on the assassination in the United States and in Europe, where he befriended Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher, and one of his early supporters.

By the time President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination, Mr. Lane had emerged as one of its important independent experts. He testified to the commission in 1964 and served as a legal counsel to Marguerite Oswald, the suspect’s mother.

In August 1966, Mr. Lane published the results of his inquiry in “Rush to Judgment,” his first book, which dominated best-seller lists for two years. With a trial lawyer’s capacity to amass facts, and a storyteller’s skill in distilling them into a coherent narrative, Mr. Lane asserted that the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald was the lone gunman was incomplete, reckless at times, and implausible.

He coined the term “grassy knoll” to describe a green expanse of Dealey Plaza in Dallas that Mr. Lane argued was the source of several of the shots fired at the president.

The book raised doubts about Oswald’s marksmanship and the expertise of police agencies. And he sought to ridicule the Warren Commission’s conclusion that one “magic bullet” could strike and grievously injure President Kennedy and Gov. John Connally and still emerge essentially intact.

Mr. Lane’s findings were disputed aggressively by the government. Still, the financial success of “Rush to Judgment,” and its conclusions prompted the development of a new assassination genre in nonfiction — by those who believed and did not believe in a conspiracy — that eventually counted more than 2,000 titles.

Mr. Lane was among the genre’s most active contributors. In 1967, the same year he produced a documentary film version of the book, with the same title, The New Yorker magazine writer Calvin Trillin called Mr. Lane one of the foremost Kennedy “assassination buffs.” In 1968 Mr. Lane published “A Citizen’s Dissent’’ to respond to the defenders of the Warren Commission report.

In 1973, Warner Brothers released “Executive Action,” a feature film based on “Rush to Judgment” starring Burt Lancaster that Mr. Lane wrote with help from Dalton Trumbo. In 1991, Mr. Lane produced a second documentary on the Kennedy assassination, “Two Men in Dallas,” and in 1991 he published a second book, “Plausible Denial,” that argued the C.I.A. was involved in the Kennedy murder.

Mr. Lane relished the heightened national attention that came with his high-profile causes. In 1968, the comedian Dick Gregory chose Mr. Lane as his running mate in several states in a write-in presidential candidacy for the Freedom and Peace Party. The campaign collected nearly 50,000 votes.

In 1970, while working with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Mr. Lane befriended Jane Fonda and appeared with her on “The Dick Cavett Show” on ABC. In 1974, he represented the American Indian Movement and joined William M. Kunstler in successfully defending Russell C. Means and Dennis J. Banks, who led the 71-day Indian uprising at Wounded Knee in 1973, against federal charges of conspiracy, assault, and larceny.

During this period, Mr. Lane also joined Mr. Gregory and other civil rights leaders in investigating the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He took on James Earl Ray as a client and unsuccessfully sought the release of Dr. King’s assassin. In the mid-1970s Mr. Lane worked with Representative Thomas N. Downey, a New York Democrat, to draft legislation that in 1976 established the House Select Committee on Assassinations, with Mr. Downey as its first chairman, to investigate the murders of Kennedy and King.

In its final report in 1979, the committee went further than any branch of government to support the central points of Mr. Lane’s thesis about Kennedy’s murder. It concluded that the F.B.I. and the Warren Commission investigations of the assassination were flawed.

The committee also found that while Oswald fired three shots, one of which killed President Kennedy, a “high probability” existed that a second gunman was present and that the president “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

The committee, though, was "unable to identify the other gunman or the extent of the conspiracy.” But Mr. Lane also came under criticism from the committee for providing evidence about the King assassination that they regarded as unsubstantiated: “In many instances, the committee found that Lane was willing to advocate conspiracy theories publicly without having checked the factual basis for them,” wrote the authors of the final committee report. “In other instances, Lane proclaimed conspiracy based on little more than inference and innuendo. Lane’s conduct resulted in public misperception about the assassination of Dr. King and must be condemned.”

Mr. Lane was undeterred. “It seems clear,” he wrote in 1992, “that the people of this nation have a different agenda from the politics of suppression, disinformation, perjury, and subornation of perjury readily embraced by their leaders.”

Mark Lane was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 24, 1927. He was the middle of three children of Harry Lane, an accountant, and Betty Lane, a secretary. He served in the army after World War II in Vienna and returned to Brooklyn to earn an undergraduate degree and, in 1951, a law degree at Brooklyn College.

In the 1970s, Mr. Lane moved to Charlottesville, where he practiced law.

His first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, the former Partricia Erdner; three daughters, Annemarie, Christina and Vita; and several grandchildren.

A man with a strong personality and a yen for visibility and risk, Mr. Lane consistently cultivated and attracted high-profile clients. In the 1960s he worked with Jim Garrison, the district attorney in New Orleans who was investigating the Kennedy assassination in a case that Oliver Stone featured in the 1991 movie “JFK.”

In late 1970s he represented Jim Jones, the head of the California-based People’s Temple. He was in Jonestown, Guyana, on Nov. 18, 1978, the day that Representative Leo Ryan was killed and when more than 900 other people died of cyanide poisoning. Mr. Lane survived by fleeing into the jungle. In 1979 he published “The Strongest Poison” about Jones and the killings.

In the mid-1980s Mr. Lane successfully defended the far right Liberty Lobby and its publication, The Spotlight, in a defamation case brought by E. Howard Hunt, the C.I.A. agent and Watergate co-conspirator. Mr. Lane’s passion about the Kennedy assassination never seemed to wane, His final book about the Kennedy assassination, “Last Word: My Indictment of the C.I.A. in the Murder of JFK” was published in 2011.

His autobiography, “Citizen Lane,” was published in 2012, with an introduction by the actor Martin Sheen. A documentary of the same name, written and directed by the actress Pauley Perrette, came out in 2013.

“I’ve earned all of the friends I have in the world — Bertrand Russell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dick Gregory, just as an example of them,’’ Mr. Lane says in the film, “but more than that, I’ve earned every one of my enemies, every one of them, and I’m proud of that.”