Jim Garrison's closing summation
One of the most important scenes in the Oliver Stone movie "JFK" is the
closing summation given by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. The
dramatic impact of the scene is impressive and quite convincing that a
conspiracy was responsible for the assassination of President Kennedy.
Critics of "JFK" say that Garrison made no such speech. The truth is
that three separate closing summations were presented by the New Orleans
District Attorney's office.
The first was delivered by prosecutor James Alcock. Alcock reiterated
the nuts and bolts of the testimony and evidence presented at trial. He spoke
for an hour and twenty five minutes.
The second was delivered by Alvin Oser, another prosecutor in the case.
Oser spoke for just over an hour and a half, summarizing the Dallas and Dealey
Plaza evidence which supported conspiracy and was heavily critical of the Warren
At this point, Irvin Dymond, Clay Shaw's attorney, gave his single
closing argument. No defense rebuttal was allowed under then existing Louisiana
law. Dymond concentrated on the tenuous link between the events in Dallas and
the actions of his client in New Orleans. Dymond said he still believed in the
integrity of the Unites States government, claiming that a conspiracy at the
level Garrison suggested is "inconceivable." Dymond summarized the physical,
photographic and medical evidence used in the Warren Report, criticized the
reliability of the witnesses the state had presented and the implausibility of
Shaw ever using the alias "Clay Bertrand," or knowing David Ferrie. Dymond's
focus on disassociating the events in Dallas from Clay Shaw is critical. Dymond
stated it wasn't the basic issue in the case. This is the issue that ultimately
decided Shaw's fate. Dymond's last words were, "I ask you to vote your
conscience, follow the law--and don't make a mistake."
The state was allowed a rebuttal to the defense summation. Alvin Oser
spoke for fifteen minutes, James Alcock spoke again for just under half an
hour, then Garrison himself would finally have the last word.
At 10:55pm, February 28, 1969. Garrison delivered his
He handed out copies of the text to the press.
From New Orleans District Attorney Records,
this is the actual address Garrison
delivered in court in the trial of Clay Shaw for
conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy.
Thanks to David Stager for finding this.
May it please the court. Gentlemen of the jury.
I know you're very tired. You've been very patient. This final day has
been a long one, so I'll speak only a few minutes.
In his argument, Mr. Dymond posed one final issue which raises the
question of what we do when the need for justice is confronted by power.
So, let me talk to you about the question of whether or not there was
government fraud in this case--a question Mr. Dymond seems to want us to answer.
A government is a great deal like a human being. It's not necessarily
all good, and it's not necessarily all bad. We live in a good country. I love
it and you do too. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we have a government
which is not perfect.
There have been indications since November the 22nd of 1963--and that
was not the last indication--that there is excessive power in some parts of our
government. It is plain that the people have not received all of the truth
about some of the things which have happened, about some of the assassinations
which have occurred--and more particularly about the assassination of John
Going back to when we were children, I think most of us--probably all of
us here in the courtroom--once thought that justice came into being of its own
accord, that virtue was its own reward, that good would triumph over evil--in
short, that justice occurred automatically. Later, when we found that this
wasn't quite so, most of us still felt hopefully that at least justice occurred
frequently of its own accord.
Today, I think that almost all of us would have to agree that there is
really no machinery--not on this Earth at least--which causes justice to occur
automatically. Men have to make it occur. Individual human beings have to make
it occur. Otherwise, it doesn't come into existence. This is not always easy.
As a matter of fact, it's always hard, because justice presents a threat to
power. In order to make justice come into being, you often have to fight power.
Mr. Dymond raised the question: Why don't we say it's all a fraud and
charge the government with fraud, if this is the case? Let me be explicit,
then, and make myself very clear on this point.
The government's handling of the investigation of John Kennedy's murder
was a fraud. It was the greatest fraud in the history of our country. It
probably was the greatest fraud ever perpetrated in the history of humankind.
That doesn't mean that we have to accept the continued existence of the
kind of government which allows this to happen. We can do something about it.
We're forced either to leave this country or to accept the authoritarianism that
has developed--the authoritarianism which tells us that in the year 2029 we can
see the evidence about what happened to John Kennedy.
Government does not consist only of secret police and domestic espionage
operations and generals and admirals--government consists of people. It also
consists of juries. And cases of murder--whether of the poorest individual or
the most distinguished citizen in the land--should be looked at openly in a
court of law, where juries can pass on them and not be hidden, not be buried
like the body of the victim beneath concrete for countless years.
You men in these recent weeks have heard witnesses that no one else in
the world has heard. You've seen the Zapruder film. You've seen what happened
to your President. I suggest to you that you know right now that, in that area
at least, a fraud has been perpetrated.
That does not mean that our government is entirely bad; and I want to
emphasize that. It does mean, however, that in recent years, through the
development of excessive power because of the Cold War, forces have developed in
our government over which there is no control and these forces have an
authoritarian approach to justice--meaning, they will let you know what justice
Well, my reply to them is that we already know what justice is. It is
the decision of the people passing on the evidence. It is the jury system. In
this issue which is posed by the government's conduct in concealing the evidence
in this case--in the issue of humanity as opposed to power--I have chosen
humanity, and I will do it again without any hesitation. I hope every one of
you will do the same. I do this because I love my country and because I want to
communicate to the government that we will not accept unexplained assassinations
with the casual information that if we live seventy-five years longer, we might
be given more evidence.
In this particular case, massive power was brought to bear to prevent
justice from ever coming into this courtroom. The power to make authoritive
pronouncements, the power to manipulate the news media by the release of false
information, the power to interfere with an honest inquiry and the power to
provide an endless variety of experts to testify in behalf of power, repeatedly
was demonstrated in this case.
The American people have yet to see the Zapruder film. Why? The
American people have yet to see and hear from the real witnesses to the
assassination. Why? Because, today in America too much emphasis is given to
secrecy, with regard to the assassination of our President, and not enough
emphasis is given to the question of justice and to the question of humanity.
These dignified deceptions will not suffice. We have had enough of
power without truth. We don't have to accept power without truth or else leave
the country. I don't accept either of these two alternatives. I don't intend
to leave the country and I don't intend to accept power without truth.
I intend to fight for the truth. I suggest that not only is this not
un-American, but it is the most American thing we can do--because if the truth
does not endure, then our country will not endure.
In our country the worst of all crimes occurs when the government
murders truth. If it can murder truth, it can murder freedom. If it can murder
freedom, it can murder your own sons--if they should dare to fight for freedom--
and then it can announce that they were killed in an industrial accident, or
shot by the "enemy" or God knows what.
In this case, finally, it has been possible to bring the truth about the
assassination into a court of law--not before a commission composed of important
and powerful and politically astute men, but before a jury of citizens.
Now, I suggest to you that yours is a hard duty, because in a sense what
you're passing on is equivalent to a murder case. The difficult thing about
passing on a murder case is that the victim is out of your sight and buried a
long distance away, and all you can see is the defendant. It's very difficult
to identify with someone you can't see, and sometimes it's hard not to identify
to some extent with the defendant and his problems.
In that regard, every prosecutor who is at all humane is conscious of
feeling sorry for the defendant in every case he prosecutes. But he is not free
to forget the victim who lies buried out of sight. I suggest to you that, if
you do your duty, you also are not free to forget the victim who is buried out
You know, Tennyson once said that, "authority forgets a dying king."
This was never more true than in the murder of John Kennedy. The strange and
deceptive conduct of the government after his murder began while his body was
warm, and has continued for five years. You have seen in this courtroom
indications of the interest of part of the government power structure in keeping
the truth down, in keeping the grave closed.
We presented a number of eyewitnesses as well as an expert witness as
well as the Zapruder film, to show that the fatal wound of the President came
from the front. A plane landed from Washington and out stepped Dr. Finck for
the defense, to counter the clear and apparent evidence of a shot from the
front. I don't have to go into Dr. Finck's testimony in detail for you to show
that it simply did not correspond with the facts. He admitted that he did not
complete the autopsy because a general told him not to complete the autopsy.
In this conflict between power and justice--to put it that way--just
where do you think Dr. Finck stands? A general, who was not a pathologist, told
him not to complete the autopsy, so he didn't complete it. This is not the way
I want my country to be. When our President is killed he deserves the kind of
autopsy that the ordinary citizen gets every day in the State of Louisiana. And
the people deserve the facts about it. We can't have government power suddenly
interjecting itself and preventing the truth form coming to the people.
Yet in this case, before the sun rose the next morning, power had moved
into the situation and the truth was being concealed. And now, five years later
in this courtroom the power of the government in concealing the truth is
continuing in the same way.
We presented eyewitnesses who told you of the shots coming from the
grassy knoll. A plane landed from Washington, and out came ballistics expert
Frazier for the defense. Mr. Frazier's explanation of the sound of the shots
coming from the front, which was heard by eyewitness after eyewitness, was that
Lee Oswald created a sonic boom in his firing. Not only did Oswald break all of
the world's records for marksmanship, but he broke the sound barrier as well.
I suggest to you, that if any of you have shot on a firing range--and
most of you probably have in the service--you were shooting rifles in which the
bullet traveled faster than the speed of sound. I ask you to recall if you ever
heard a sonic boom. If you remember when you were on the firing line, and they
would say, "Ready on the left; ready on the right; ready on the firing line;
commence firing," you heard the shots coming from the firing line--to the left
of you and to the right of you. If you had heard, as a result of Frazier's
fictional sonic boom, firing coming at you from the pits, you would have had a
reaction which you would still remember.
Mr. Frazier's sonic boom simply doesn't exist. It's part of the fraud--
a part of the continuing government fraud.
The best way to make this country the kind of country it's supposed to
be is to communicate to the government that no matter how powerful it may be, we
do not accept these frauds. We do not accept these false announcements. We do
not accept the concealment of evidence with regard to the murder of President
Who is the most believable: a Richard Randolph Carr, seated here in a
wheelchair and telling you what he saw and what he heard and how he was told to
shut his mouth--or Mr. Frazier with his sonic booms?
Do we really have to reject Mr. Newman and Mrs. Newman and Mr. Carr and
Roger Craig and the testimony of all those honest witnesses--reject all this and
accept the fraudulent Warren Commission, or else leave the country?
I suggest to you that there are other alternatives. One of them has
been put in practice in the last month in the State of Louisiana--and that is to
bring out the truth in a proceeding where attorneys can cross-examine, where the
defendant can be confronted by testimony against him, where the rules of
evidence are applied and where a jury of citizens can pass on it--and where
there is no government secrecy. Above all, where you do not have evidence
concealed for seventy-five years in the name of "national security."
All we have in this case are the facts--facts which show that the
defendant participated in the conspiracy to kill the President and that the
President was subsequently killed in an ambush.
The reply of the defense has been the same as the early reply of the
government in the Warren Commission. It has been authority, authority,
authority. The President's seal outside of each volume of the Warren Commission
Report--made necessary because there is nothing inside these volumes, only men
of high position and prestige sitting on a Board, and announcing the results to
you, but not telling you what the evidence is, because the evidence has to be
hidden for seventy-five years.
You heard in this courtroom in recent weeks, eyewitness after eyewitness
after eyewitness and, above all, you saw one eyewitness which was indifferent to
power--the Zapruder film. The lens of the camera is totally indifferent to
power and it tells what happened as it saw it happen--and that is one of the
reasons 200 million Americans have not seen the Zapruder film. They should have
seen it many times. They should know exactly what happened. They all should
know what you know now.
Why hasn't all of this come into being if there hasn't been government
fraud? Of course there has been fraud by the government.
But I'm telling you now that I think we can do something about it. I
think that there are still enough Americans left in this country to make it
continue to be America. I think that we can still fight authoritarianism--the
government's insistence on secrecy, government force used in counterattacks
against an honest inquiry--and when we do that, we're not being un-American,
we're being American. It isn't easy. You're sticking your neck out in a rather
permanent way, but it has to be done because truth does not come into being
automatically. Individual men, like the members of my staff here, have to work
and fight to make it happen--and individual men like you have to make justice
come into being because otherwise is doesn't happen.
What I'm trying to tell you is that there are forces in America today,
unfortunately, which are not in favor of the truth coming out about John
Kennedy's assassination. As long as our government continues to be like this,
as long as such forces can get away with such actions, then this is no longer
the country in which we were born.
The murder of John Kennedy was probably the most terrible moment in the
history of our country. Yet, circumstances have placed you in the position
where not only have you seen the hidden evidence but you are actually going to
have the opportunity to bring justice into the picture for the first time.
Now, you are here sitting in judgment on Clay Shaw. Yet you, as men,
represent more than jurors in an ordinary case because of the victim in this
case. You represent, in a sense, the hope of humanity against government power.
You represent humanity, which yet may triumph over excessive government power--
if you will cause it to be so, in the course of doing your duty in this case.
I suggest that you ask not what your country can do for you but what you
can do for your country.
What can you do for your country? You can cause justice to happen for
the first time in this matter. You can help make our country better by showing
that this is still a government of the people. And if you do that, as long as
you live, nothing will ever be more important.