Attempt to Use Insane Witness Blows Up In Garrison's Face
Lying About Being in the Courtroom
The bomb that shattered our case exploded quickly enough. His name was Charles Spiesel. The accountant from New York whom we had belatedly added to our witness list took the stand next. He said that on a trip to New Orleans he met David Ferrie at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop in the French Quarter. Later they joined Clay Shaw in a building Spiesel recalled as being at "Dauphine and Esplanade," which is approximately where Shaw's residence was located. After everyone relaxed and had a number of drinks, Spiesel said Ferrie and Shaw began discussing the possible assassination of John Kennedy. Although Spiesel was surprised when the subject first arose, everyone had been drinking heavily so the indiscretion of the conversation was understandable to him. He recalled the exchange of comments between Shaw and Ferrie in great detail, each explaining why Kennedy should be eliminated and how it should be done.So Garrison clearly describes himself in the courtroom, watching the spectacle of Spiesel's destruction. He also clearly implies that the man was foisted on an unsuspecting prosecution by Evil Minions intent on destroying his case.
On cross-examination, the chief defense counsel uncannily seemed to know just what questions to ask Spiesel. First, Dymond asked if Spiesel had ever publicly complained about "hypnosis and psychological warfare" being used on him. Spiesel replied that he indeed had been hypnotized in New York and New Jersey, and during several visits to New Orleans, in the period between 1948 and 1954.
Asked who hypnotized him, Spiesel said he did not always know. He said he could tell that hypnosis was being tried "when someone tries to get your attention-catch your eye. That's a clue right off "
Dymond then asked him what happened under hypnosis. Spiesel replied: "They plant certain thoughts in your mind and you are given the illusion that they are true." He added that he had become "rather an expert" at knowing when people were trying to hypnotize him.
Under further cross-examination, Dymond brought out Spiesel's belief that the New York City police had hypnotized him, tortured him mentally, and forced him to give up his practice as an accountant.
"Have you had trouble recently with a communist conspiracy," Dymond asked, "people following you, and tapping your phones?"
"Well," replied Spiesel hesitantly, "not particularly recently."
Then Dymond zeroed in for the kill. Was it not a fact, he asked, that when Spiesel's daughter left New York to go to school at Louisiana State University he customarily fingerprinted her? Spiesel replied in the affirmative.
Dymond then asked if it were not also a fact that he customarily fingerprinted his daughter again when she returned at the end of the semester. Again, the witness acknowledged that this was true.
Dymond then asked him why he fingerprinted her. Spiesel explained that he did this, in effect, to make sure that the daughter who was returning from L.S.U. was the same one he had sent there.
For one very long moment, while I am sure that my face revealed no concern, I was swept by a feeling of nausea. I realized that the clandestine operation of the opposition was so cynical, so sophisticated, and, at the same time, so subtle, that destroying an old fashioned state jury trial was very much like shooting a fish in a barrel with a shotgun. (pp. 236-237)
A somewhat different view is found in Jerry Cohen's article "Case Against Shaw Damaged by Key Witness," in the Los Angeles Times, February 8, 1969.
Cohen first describes Spiesel's testimony, and then continues:
Keeps ComposureSo Garrison, in On the Trail of the Assassins, lied about being present in the courtroom.
As Dymond pressed him, Spiesel frequently rolled his eyes toward the courtroom ceiling and held his hands prayerfully in front of him, but never lost his composure.
Prosecution attorneys, however, sat in shocked silence, rising only occasionally to offer feeble objections to Dymond's line of questioning.
Garrison was not in the courtroom, but his chief assistant James Alcock conceded afterward that the Garrison staff had not thoroughly investigated the background of Spiesel, a speck of a man who often brushed thinning traces of hair across his shiny scalp.
Alcock didn't claim CIA sabotage, but rather pleaded sloppy staff work. If they had investigated Spiesel carefully, he implies, they never would have used him.
Unfortunately for Alcock, Garrison staffer Tom Bethell has written about his experiences with the Garrison investigation, and specifically about this witness.
There is no "discovery law" in Louisiana, which means that the prosecution can produce surprise witnesses at the trial. In the Clay Shaw trial Garrison was preparing to put on the stand a witness who, apart from testifying that he had heard Shaw discussing assassinating Kennedy, was under the impression that the government broke into his house from time to time and substituted "dead ringers" for his children, who then spied on him. (To foil the fiends, he periodically fingerprinted his children.) He believed that he had been hypnotized at least 50 times against his will, and so on. But the truly confusing thing was that he was perfectly normal in most respects, and held a good job as a certified public accountant. On his return to New Orleans, the assistant D.A. who had interviewed him in New York said, standing next to me, "Well, he'd make a hell of a witness, but he's crazy." (The Electric Windmill, p. 70.)Indeed, what Spiesel admitted at the trial should have been the tip-off that the DA's office actually knew there were problems with his testimony. According to trial witness James Kirkwood:
It had been whispered around that the District Attorney's office must not have known about much of Spiesel's past activities or they would never have put him on as a witness. Now Dymond destroyed that theory when he asked, "When you conferred with the District Attorney's office about testifying in this case, did you tell them about these lawsuits and your having been under hypnosis?" "Yes, I mentioned it," Spiesel replied. (Kirkwood, American Grotesque, p. 242)So the Spiesel fiasco was neither the result of the machinations of the Evil Minions, nor a mere investigative failure on the part of Garrison's staff. Rather, the Garrison prosecution chose to put an insane man on the stand, hoping that his insanity would not be discovered.