One of the major reasons we fight an ongoing battle over study of the evidence in the Kennedy assassination is the fact that there was never a trial for Lee Oswald. But sometimes we may underestimate what that really means in terms of the evidential process – and certainly those who disdain any discussion of conspiracy don’t raise the issue.
Our legal system is set up to aggressively test purported evidence and that includes actual crime scene and forensics evidence all the way to witness statements and documents. A good defense team will scrutinize and challenge issues like chain of possession and will go much further than that, bringing in its own experts to challenge the viability of prosecution evidence and in many cases the legitimency of certain types of evidence as well as the laboratory tests and other processes used to support it. However there was no trial and no defense in the JFK murder, which allowed the FBI and other sources to enter a body of evidence (cited in the Warren Commission report) with no challenge at all. And it’s taken decades to document how pitiful much of that evidence was and how much of it would be destroyed in a combative legal process today. We even have horrific examples such as the WC staff chosing to disregard the actual reports of expert panels which they had themselves convened – the military wound panel evaluating the wounds and CE399 demonstrates that.
And one of the saddest things is that the Commission was replete with legal professionals – who should have been the first to decry their own methodology. Certainly if they had been acting for the defense they would have, but their actions show that they were almost totally acting as prosecution staff with Lee Oswald as their target. Anyone who thinks I’m exaggerating that statement simply needs to read Gerald McKnights “Breach of Trust”.
So, the Warren Commission entered a vast amount of evidence into the record – and none of it was challenged at all. Yet we find similar examples of that in major crimes – such as the murder of Robert Kennedy and the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
OK, some of you are about to pull the cord, telling me there were legal trials in both cases and live defendants and defense teams – what am I blathering about.
Take a deeper look at the RFK assassination and you find that Sirhan’s legal team challenged virtually none of the physical evidence and raised no serious issues when a great many existed. They rolled over and raised no objection as the prosecution placed it all in the record and even attempted to manipulate testimony on the autopsy. And take a look at the Ray trial, the same thing happened again. Ray pleaded guilty and the Judge accepted his plea – and then went on to allow the prosecution to go on and on, putting evidence into the legal record with no challenge at all (and I can assure you there are strong challenges to a great deal of it – as the House Select Committee on Assassinations would later confirm in its own studies).
Why does this keep happening? Well in the case of the Warren Commission that’s a long story which many of us have written about in some detail. At this late date its pretty hard to avoid the indications that Chief Justice Warren was working under a mandate to put a case against Lee Oswald on the record, and only Lee Oswald. In the Sirhan and Ray trials it is also complex but another factor or two enter the mix in the case of living defendants – especially if there is a lot of apparently solid evidence against them. First off their legal team is going to consider what can be done to minimize the penalty in case of conviction – in both cases the defense pitched their clients with the need to avoid a murder conviction that would net them a death penalty. If the defendant buys into a guilty plea its going to considerably alter the sort of defense offered. And of course the defense is not going to be excited about any evidence that smacks of conspiracy since that could lead you to premeditation and affect the judgement. In turn the prosecution normally wants a quick slam dunk victory – and wondering off into conspiracy doesn’t really help and might even confuse issues and judge or jury. Ray’s judge privately admitted he doubted Ray had acted on his own but had been afraid that the issue of conspiracy might complicate the trial and perhaps even undermine the conviction.
Oh, and for those who have studied both the Sirhan and Ray defense, yes there were other issues at work but even then the above considerations apply to those trials.
So, should we be surprised to see questionable evidence in all three of these murders – no, for many reasons but one of the major ones being that the established legal process for testing, challenging and vetting it never happened.
P.S. if you are interested in reading more of my thoughts on the RFK case, wonder on over to the Mary Ferrell Foundation web site, to the RFK area and read my series of essays on “Incomplete Justice”.