Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bugliosi Interview: Who Really Killed JFK?


This week, Artvoice’s Cy Alessi interviewed attorney and author Vincent Bugliosi who was in Buffalo [New York] Tuesday, November 6, to deliver a talk at Daemen College. Bugliosi is best known as the LA deputy district attorney who successfully prosecuted Charles Manson and his “family” of the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others. He later wrote a book about the trial called Helter Skelter.

After the aquital of O.J. Simpson, Bugliosi wrote the bestseller Outrage, criticizing the prosecutor, the defense team and the judge. And in 2001, Bugliosi published The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President.

This week’s interview focuses on Bugliosi’s most recent book, Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which was published in May. Bugliosi’s 1,612-page book lays out a case in support of the Warren Commission findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of the president.

The book, which he spent 20 years working on, is the result of a 1986 London television production in which Bugliosi prosecuted Lee Harvey Oswald in a make-believe trial presided over by a real federal judge and a jury taken from the jury rolls at Dallas District Court. Bugliosi said he worked harder on the case than any other murder case in his career.

“During my preparation for the trial,” said Bugliosi, “I found out that the conspiracy theorists accused the Warren Commission of bias, distorting the evidence, suppressing the truth from the American people, and I found out it was they [the conspiracy theorists] who were guilty of these things. I found that their conspiracy theories are just pure moonshine, absolute silliness; they lied through their teeth. So I decided to do a book at that point, which means I’ve been working on this thing for over 20 years.

“The Kennedy assassination is the most important murder case in American history. Some guy from C-SPAN called me the other day and said, ‘What about Lincoln?’ And I said, ‘Well yeah, that was important, too, but more people mourned Kennedy’s death than any other human, they say, in history. There were millions more living then. Nobody said the death of Lincoln altered history, but his did…we probably would not have had the Vietnam War. So there are these cataclysmic consequences that resonate to this very day.’ Not only is this the most important murder case in American history, but I put the best of what I’ve learned as a criminal prosecutor and an author of true crime into this book.”

Alessi, an advertising representative for the newspaper, has studied the JFK assassination avidly since college. He is, as Bugliosi realized with delight part way into the interview, “A buff! You’re a buff!”


Artvoice: In the case of JFK’s assassination, why do you feel conspiracy is not a valid answer?

Vincent Bugliosi: The principle argument that the conspiracy theorists use is that such-and-such a group had a motive, ergo they must have killed the president. That’s a child-like non sequitur, because if you buy into that, then in our society if the president is doing something that some particular group doesn’t like—like Wall Street or the unions or the CIA—then they simply kill him.

[Filmmaker] Oliver Stone came up with 10 groups that he thought had a motive, and he has all 10 involved in the assassination—even the KGB and CIA, who are bitter enemies, but they got together on this one, because no one wanted Kennedy alive. As a prosecutor, I can tell you that motive is only important when you can show that “This guy is the only one who had a motive.” Then it’s very important.

AV: The three groups that I’ve read about who had the means and motive to do it were 1) the black ops guys in the CIA, who Lyndon Johnson said had a Murder, Inc. thing going on; 2) the mob, who lost $1 billion in 1963 funds when Castro seized the casinos; and 3) the anti-Castro Cubans who fought at the Bay of Pigs, and who felt that Kennedy didn’t supply air support when the thing was failing, and let them down. They all worked together, they all had guns in their hands...

VB: Motive, means and opportunity mean nothing at all. Kennedy flew into Dallas and he said, “We’re flying into nut country, these are right-wing crazies.” A lot of people hated Kennedy for his proposed civil rights legislation. So any of those people had a motive. Why? Because they hated Kennedy. Means—all they had to do is buy a rifle. Opportunity? All they had to do is be along the parade route. So you have motive, means and opportunity. But in a trial someone’s going to ask, “Do you have evidence?”

You’re right about all these groups having a motive. However, to touch on organized crime, in Sicily the mob kills everyone over there—prosecutors, judges. In this country, they absolutely, unequivocally do not do that. It’s an unwritten rule. They don’t even kill cops. They kill each other. The mob in America does not kill public officials. Now they’re going to suddenly change all of that and start at the top of the hill by killing the most powerful man on Earth, whose brother is the top law enforcement guy in the whole country? It’s silly on its face.

The head of the CIA, John McCone, was friends with Kennedy. Kennedy appointed him as CIA head. Maybe Kennedy didn’t invite him to a function at the White House, so McCone said, “I’m gonna kill this guy.”

AV: If it wasn’t a conspiracy and Oswald acted alone, why was he in the sixth-floor School Book Depository window, pointing his M91 rifle at the president?

VB: I can tell by the tone of your voice that you’re a conspiracist, which is okay. You’re like 75 percent of America, who believe there was a conspiracy. Why was he there? He works there. [He laughs.] He worked on the sixth floor.

AV: Well...

VB: There’s no “well” about it, he worked on the sixth floor.

AV: Why, in your opinion, did Oswald decide to shoot the president?

VB: One question that we can’t answer is the one that you ask: Why did he do it? We can’t answer that because he’s dead. There are a number of reasons why he might’ve done it. This is a guy who had delusions of grandeur. His diary was called the “historical diary.” His wife, Marina, whom I met—a feisty gal—she said that he compared himself to the great historical figures about whom he read. And it’s strange because he was a dyslexic, and I thought dyslexics don’t read that much, but this guy read constantly, sometimes staying up all night.

So this is a guy who’s not just trying to create a ripple, he’s trying to change the tide of history. I agree with the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee that Castro played a role here. Oswald revered Castro, he was a very strong supporter of the Cuban revolution. You’re aware that in late September, early October, he went down to the Cuban consulate in Mexico City...

Let me summarize why we know that Oswald killed Kennedy, and why we know there was no conspiracy. On whether Oswald killed Kennedy: As a prosecutor I learned that if you’re innocent of a crime, chances are there’s not going to be any evidence pointing to your guilt, nothing. Why? Because you’re innocent. But now and then, because of the nature of life, the unaccountability of certain things, even though you’re innocent, there might be a piece of evidence pointing towards your guilt. And in rare situations, two or even three pieces of evidence pointing towards guilt. It’s extremely unusual, but three very strong pieces of evidence point towards your guilt, even though you’re completely innocent.

But in this case here, everything points towards Oswald’s guilt. In this book, I set forth 53 pieces of evidence that point towards Oswald’s guilt, and therefore what I’m telling you is that it would be humanly impossible for this guy to be innocent in the world in which we live. Maybe in a fantasy world. And I’ll just give you a few examples of the pieces of evidence:

1) It was his weapon, a Mannlicher-Carcano M91. 2) He’s the only person that flees the School Book Depository building. They have a roll call and Oswald’s missing. 3) Forty-five minutes later he shoots and kills Officer J. D. Tippit. There are 10 witnesses; two saw him do it and eight at the scene saw him running away. 4) A half hour later, he resists arrest and pulls a gun on the arresting officer.

So they take him into custody and he tells one provable lie after another, e.g. “I’ve never owned a rifle.” So they show him a picture of himself with the Carcano. He’s pretty fast, and he says, “Well, that’s my head that’s been superimposed on someone else’s body.” Marina testified that she took that photo in the backyard, she told me that. She testified to it, so it’s all nonsense. So we know that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy, there’s no question about it.

Now let’s get into the issue of conspiracy: 1) There’s no credible evidence that the CIA, the mob, the military industrial complex killed Kennedy. All they come up with is motive.

AV: And means. These are pretty serious gentlemen.

VB: Yeah, but the means don’t mean anything, like I told you. A guy in Dallas buys a rifle and he can do it. Means doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not going to get you a cup of coffee in Buffalo for $1. I told the jury in London, and the jury convicted Oswald, I told the jury, “Three people can keep a secret, but only if two are dead.” And here we have a situation where it’s almost 44 years later, and not one word, not one syllable has leaked out from any credible source, and the reason nothing’s leaked out is because there is nothing to leak out.

2) There’s no evidence that Oswald had any connection with any of these groups believed to be behind the assassination. No credible evidence at all. The FBI interviewed him when he came back from the Soviet Union, but that’s a normal thing. But he came back June 13, 1962, and from that moment on they checked every breath that this guy ever breathed. In 25,000 interviews, they found no evidence of any connection that this guy ever had with any of these groups.

3) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that one of these groups that you mentioned, like the mob or CIA, wanted to kill the president—and I reject those out of hand now, but I didn’t in the book. There are chapters on these. There’s no other book that takes on all of these theories and knocks ’em down, even the House Select Committee and Warren Report.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the CIA or mob said, “Let’s kill the president,” you have to know that Oswald is one of the last people on the face of this earth they would go to. Why? 1) He was not an expert shot, he was a good shot. The buff’s line is that he was a terrible shot, they say he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. He fired a 212 [out of 250 in the US Marines sharpshooting test], which made him a sharpshooter. He was not an expert shot. Look, if you’re the mob or the CIA and you’re going to kill the president, you’re going to get a really top-notch, expert shot. 2) He had a $12 mail-order rifle. 3) He’s notoriously unreliable, extremely unstable. I mean, here’s a guy who defects to the Soviet Union, pre-Gorbachev. Who in the world defects to the Soviet Union?

4) Assuming for whatever reason the CIA decides to kill Kennedy and they go to Oswald and he agrees to be the hitman, after he shoots Kennedy in Dealey Plaza and leaves the building, one of two things would’ve happened: There would’ve been a car waiting for him, either so he could get down to Costa Rica or Mexico, because they wouldn’t want their hitman to be apprehended and interrogated by the authorities, or, more likely, to drive him to his death.

AV: But he did die very soon and never faced trial.

VB: Now you’re talking about some other trial. I’m talking about what would’ve happened immediately after he left that building—there would’ve been a car waiting for him to drive him to his death. Instead he’s out on the street with $13 in his pocket, trying to flag down buses and cabs. Now that alone tells any reasonable person that there’s no conspiracy.

Even the presidential limousine that came right in front of his window there—that motorcade route wasn’t decided until November 18. Does anyone really believe that someone would conspire with him to kill the president within four days of the president’s visit to Dallas?

I say in the book that I don’t know that there’s no conspiracy. I know that Oswald killed Kennedy, because it would be humanly impossible for him to innocent with 53 pieces of evidence against him. But it’s a little more difficult to prove a negative. When people say you can’t prove a negative, that’s nonsense, but it’s a little more difficult to prove. Oswald is dead, though, so I’m satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that there’s no conspiracy.

AV: The ballistics and the forensics of the assassination has always been the smoking gun of the case, pardon the pun. It has been the single biggest reason for so many skeptics and books opposed to the Warren Commission findings, which state three shots, and only three shots, were fired from Oswald’s M91 rifle. The first shot missed the limousine, hit a curb and a piece of concrete hit James Taque in the cheek, drawing some blood. There are two shots left, and now the Pandora’s box of controversy opens up. One shot was the headshot and the other was the one that hit John Connally. So one shot missed and the remaining two did all the damage in Kennedy and Connally. This has got to be a major portion of your book, the whole single-bullet theory and the magic bullet.

VB: What do you want to know about it, and I’ll explain it to you.

AV: Does this make any scientific or practical sense—that one bullet went through two bodies, went through the back and out the neck and hit Connally, shattered a rib, shattered his wrist, went into his leg and came out pristine? Does that really make sense?

VB: What you should ask me is: Did it come out pristine? You said it did come out pristine.

AV: It pretty much looks pristine. The magic bullet we’re talking about is Commission Exhibit 399.

VB: You know this case. [He laughs.] You’re giving me exhibit numbers. So you look at conspiracy books, and they tell you Exhibit 399, and they very cleverly only show you a side-profile of the bullet. In my book, you see the base of the bullet, which is badly damaged. The original bullet weighed 161 grams. The bullet is now at the National Archives, and it weighs 158.6. So it lost 2.4 grams.

AV: Shattering a rib and shattering a wrist...

VB: Okay, number one: It passed through soft tissue in Kennedy, so it’s not going to be too damaged there. As far as Connally, it grazed his fifth right rib. It did cause a comminuted fracture of the wrist, and I’ve been told—I don’t know these things—that the wrist is one of the softest bones in the body. But you’ve got to realize this was a military-type bullet, fully metal jacketed. It was the very type of bullet designed to cause a lot of damage without doing a lot of damage to itself.

AV: The front was pristine, though. How could it look like that, even after passing through skin, tissue, neck, rib, wrist?

VB: It obviously flipped around. In fact the entry wound to Connally is ovoid, indicating that it’d been hit by some intervening object.

Actually, the biggest point on the magic bullet theory is that Connally wasn’t seated directly in front of Kennedy. The thing with the conspiracy theorists is that I’ve never seen such intentional misinformation in anything I’ve ever read. They just flat-out lie. I want to show you how these people lie. You see this sketch right here? [Mock defense attorney Gerry] Spence and [defense witness Dr. Cyril] Wecht used it in London, and it puts Connally directly in front of Kennedy. So they say a bullet coming from the right to the left, passing through soft tissue would have to make a right turn in mid-air to hit Connally, and then make a left turn to go on.

The problem is Connally was not seated directly in front of Kennedy. He was seated to his left front. If you start out with an erroneous premise, then everything that follows makes sense, but it’s an erroneous premise. The bullet that passed through Kennedy has nowhere else to go but to hit Governor Connally.

So now we’re in London, and Gerry Spence says to Wecht, “Would you characterize this bullet?” And he says, “Well, Mr. Spence, this bullet made a right turn in mid-air, and made a left turn. Bullets don’t even do that in cartoons. It was a magic bullet.” So I said, “Dr. Wecht, the prosecution has its own magic bullet and, frankly, we’re proud of it. But now apparently you’ve got your own magic bullet. If this bullet is coming down from right to left, passes on a straight line through Kennedy’s body, which you agree, if it did not go on to hit Governor Connally’s body, as you claim it did not, how come it didn’t tear up the interior of the limousine or hit the driver or anything else?” He said, “I don’t know why. I didn’t conduct this investigation, and you’re asking me?” I said, “No, I’m just asking why it didn’t tear up the interior of the limousine, because it’s coming from high to low, right to left, passes through Kennedy and, as you say, didn’t hit Connally. Why didn’t it tear up the limousine?” He said, “Why? I don’t know, I didn’t conduct the investigation.”

I said, “I’ll tell you what, Doc, apparently you have your own magic bullet, because if this bullet passed through Kennedy in a straight line, didn’t hit Connally and didn’t tear up the limousine interior, it must have zigzagged to the left.” He said, “It did not zigzag to the left.” I said, “Well, did it hop, skip and jump over the car?” He said, “No, it may not have performed any magical feat.” I said, “Then, Dr. Wecht, tell this jury, after the bullet exited the front of the president’s throat, what happened to that bullet?” He said, “I don’t know.”

So, if we’re to believe the conspiracy theorists, after the bullet exited the front of the throat, it apparently vanishes without a trace into thin air. That’s the magic bullet. And yet they’ve taken they’re magic bullet theory and wrapped it around the neck of the Warren Commission for 44 years. They are the ones who have the magic bullet. This is Wecht, who’s the lead doctor for the conspiracists, saying after the bullet exited the president, he doesn’t know what happened to it.

AV: If you were not too young to be the prosecutor in 1964, and you had the evidence that was available—and with all the people who were coming forward, saying they thought they heard shots coming from the grassy knoll—could you convict Oswald as a lone gunman?

VB: We had the virtual duplication of what you’re hypothesizing in London, and the guy who was defending Oswald was the top criminal defense attorney in the entire country. He was talking about all these things, about shots coming from the grassy knoll. If you think that Gerry Spence, with his record, would’ve taken this case thinking he was going to lose, you’re wrong. He thought he was going to win. If you saw the film, we were both very, very serious about what we were doing.

In real life, Oswald would not have been prosecuted for a conspiracy. Why? Because the prosecutor would not think that there was a conspiracy, but that he acted alone. In London, then, the only question was: Did he or did he not kill the president? But the conspiracy thing was interwoven, there’s no way to keep it out.

AV: I don’t think there would’ve even been a Warren Commission if Oswald were alive and had been prosecuted. It would’ve been you with the evidence you had, with the evidence for Oswald and all the other witnesses. Would you have prosecuted him with that?

VB: Would I have prosecuted Oswald? Of course, my God. I just told you there are 53 pieces of evidence—it was his weapon, he ran away, he lied, he killed someone else. You’ve got to be kidding me, of course I would’ve! Earl Warren, who used to be the DA up in Oakland, he said, “This would be two-, three-day murder case if the victim hadn’t been the president.” Of course I would’ve prosecuted Oswald. But on the issue of conspiracy, no one’s ever going to prove beyond all doubt…I’ve proven beyond all reasonable doubt in this book that there’s no evidence. But he’s dead now.

About the trial, you raise an interesting issue here. How do we know that Oswald would’ve taken the witness stand? [Oswald assassin] Ruby didn’t take the witness stand. Many defendants don’t. And he may have continued to deny. Also, at a trial, Marina furnished an enormous amount of evidence against Oswald, because she lived with him, she knew him better than anyone else. Because of the husband-wife privilege, at the trial none of that would’ve come out. It came out in front of the Warren Commission. So I can’t categorically say that if he had lived that...

AV: I have a reasonable doubt issue that would’ve been a prosecutor’s big problem. Putting him in the Book Depository when people see things down there on the grassy knoll would’ve been the issue.

VB: The majority of people felt that the shots came from the Book Depository, but quite a few people thought the shots came from the grassy knoll. But you’re aware that Dealey Plaza resounds with echoes. And the grassy knoll doesn’t make any sense for all types of reasons. 1) Forget about [Jean] Hill, because she came up 20 years later. No one saw anyone with a gun behind the picket fence at the time of the assassination. 2) No weapon. No expended cartridges from a weapon were found there. 3) It would’ve been a difficult shot. If you go up to the window, it’s almost a straight shot.

AV: Yes, I went up there. It was not as big as I thought it was going to be. It was a very intimate place for this to happen. But there is an oak tree in the line and a highway sign that was up at the time.

VB: That’s right. You really know this case, whoa.

AV: And I was at the picket fence. It was about a 10-foot shot.

VB: It wasn’t 10. It was more like 30 yards. This is the only book, and I can’t figure out why, that has a scaled map of Dealey Plaza. Now let me show you something here, and see if this makes sense to you…If the bullet is coming from here [indicating the picket fence], it’s going to pass through Kennedy’s head and at the absolute minimum it’s going to traverse the left hemisphere of the president’s head. The autopsy showed no damage to the left side of the president. The left hemisphere of the brain was intact. But at 30 yards you’re shooting him with this rifle and it enters the right side of his head, as the buffs say, and it doesn’t go into the left side of his brain? It doesn’t even make any sense.

AV: So it’s 45 years later, and still we speculate. You have very compelling evidence. And many conspiracy researchers think they have very compelling evidence. This is an all-consuming thing for many people.

VB: They go to conventions.

AV: You spent 20 years of your life on it.

VB: I was consumed by it because I got sucked into the abyss and I couldn’t get out. But I had an objective. These people do it because it’s their life. They subscribe to newsletters. I’m going to be able to extricate myself now. But, I’m telling you, for these people it’s their whole life, they believe it, they’re allergic to anything that points away from it. I tell people, “Listen, if your child wants to get involved in this case, it’s toxic. Keep them away from this case.” It’s destroyed many lives—bankruptcies, divorces, suicides and everything else.

AV: I was never that into it. I just thought it was an interesting case. The crime of the century.

VB: No, you know a lot about the case. I’m not accustomed to people that interview me knowing so much about it. But you’ve gotten most of your information from conspiracy books.

AV: I read the Warren Commission, but not the 26 volumes. That’s a little…as Lyndon Johnson said, “It’s heavy.”

VB: I came up with something recently, because my book’s not thick enough. I want to make it thicker. I started thinking that Kennedy himself might be partly responsible for the continuing fascination with this case. People loved John F. Kennedy. He was mourned by more people than any other human in history. Only one country did not mourn his death—China. But they loved Jack Kennedy, even the people that voted against him. Not Bobby…they loved him, too, but he had a lot of enemies. Nellie Connally [the Texas governor’s wife], she was married to a handsome man, you know. She said, “I thought I knew charisma until I met John F. Kennedy.” So what I’m saying is that they loved this guy so much that maybe these conspiracy theories are one way to hang onto him; they don’t want to see him die.

I postulate this question, and I don’t know the answer, though I think I do: If LBJ had been murdered under the same, identical, precise circumstances as JFK, do you really think that 44 years later there’d be the same interest? I don’t think so. Kennedy was special. He was one of these people…it’s like Marilyn and Elvis and Kennedy. So in a very strange and ironic way, maybe he himself is partly responsible.