Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trial over JFK 'sniper's perch' dispute is postponed

by ROY APPLETON / The Dallas Morning News

Ownership of the "sniper's perch" from the Texas School Book Depository remains an open question.

Caruth Byrd and Aubrey Mayhew each say they possess the sixth-floor window through which Lee Harvey Oswald purportedly fired on President John F. Kennedy.

Byrd sued Mayhew almost two years ago after both had tried to sell their windows on eBay, asserting that Mayhew's offering had diminished the value of his own.

The dispute was scheduled for trial Monday. But on Sunday, Mayhew hired an attorney to represent him. And state District Judge Gena Slaughter postponed the case until March 16 to give the attorney, Paul Fourt, time to prepare a case. She also ordered both sides to mediation.

Byrd, 67, of Van, Texas, says he inherited the shooter's window from his father, Col. D. Harold Byrd, a former owner of the downtown Dallas building. The colonel, who died in 1986, had "what was believed to be" the window removed six weeks after the assassination, according to the lawsuit.

Mayhew, 81, of Nashville, Tenn., bought the depository building from Harold Byrd in 1970, intending to establish a museum for the slain president. The colonel financed the sale and regained the building in 1973 when Mayhew defaulted on the note.

But while he had possession of the building, Mayhew says he hired two men to remove the assassin's window – work described in a handwritten testament letter dated Aug. 9, 1971.

One of the workers, Leo Fernes, recalled last week how he and his boss, Andy Balcom, signed the letter after removing the window – identified as the one "from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired his rifle."

Mayhew also has a letter he says was signed by a building tenant. The letter says workers hired by Col. Byrd removed the wrong window from the building in the early 1970s.

Byrd wants the judge to declare him the owner of the shooter's window. Last April, a visiting judge ruled that Mayhew "is not the owner of the window ... from which Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot and killed President Kennedy." The order doesn't say Byrd owns the window.

Byrd is also asking Judge Slaughter to order Mayhew to return any window he took from the building, claiming removal of property would have violated the terms of his purchase.

"He wasn't supposed to take anything out of that building," Byrd said after the Monday hearing. "He stole it."

But Mayhew's son, Parris Mayhew, countered that Byrd is pressing his lawsuit "because he knows we have the window." Mayhew, who is ill, did not attend the hearing.

Byrd said Monday that he still wants to sell the window to raise money for a wildlife refuge he supports in Van Zandt County.

After Byrd twice listed his window for an online eBay auction, Mayhew offered his as well. Neither attracted a legitimate bid.

Mayhew didn't intend to sell the window, his son said, but wanted to confound bidders and discourage any sale by publicizing conflicting ownership claims.

"If a window sold for in the millions, everybody would think it was legitimate," he said.

Source: Dallas Morning News

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