THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD
by Stephen E. Lewis © 2000
In 1976, a docudrama titled THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD aired on national television. The film is based on the supposition that Lee Harvey Oswald was not killed on November 24th, 1963, and lived to stand trial for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The movie stars Ben Gazzara (of Ben Casey fame) as the prosecution attorney and Lorne Greene (of Bonanza fame) as the defense attorney. John Pleshette portrays Oswald and bears an acceptable resemblance to him. The film was shot on location (that's worth the price in itself) and all of the key people are represented, although many of the names have been changed (possibly to avoid paying royalties to the real witnesses and players, but who knows). This could tend to be slightly irritating to researchers and serious students, but it doesn't detract from the drama as it unfolds.
Our story begins in the county jail where Oswald has been incarcerated in a specially designed cell that is isolated from all other prisoners. A synopsis of his life can be heard in the background courtesy of a television reporter. He has been on trial for the past 43 days and the jury has just finished their deliberations. As he is being handcuffed to return to the courtroom for the verdict, the scene drifts away to his thoughts of the evening of November 21st…
WAS LEE JEALOUS?
Lee goes to Ruth Payne's home in Irving to visit Marina and the children. After dinner, Lee becomes amorous and suggests that he and Marina retire for the evening. Marina refuses his advances and chooses instead to watch the news about JFK's trip to Dallas the following morning. Lee becomes upset, childishly blocks her view of the television and when she ignores him, he turns it off. Marina gets up and turns the television back on. Lee turns if off again; she turns it back on. This goes on for several iterations until Lee finally walks away. The viewer is left with the subliminal thought that JFK had stolen Marina's affection from Lee. Far-fetched? Maybe, but remember that it has been suggested that if Marina had been a little warmer to Lee that night, he might not have taken the rifle to the book depository the next day.
It's Friday morning and Lee has left for work early. His life savings and wedding ring are on the dresser when Marina awakens. He hitches a ride to work with Buell Frazier and he's carrying a long paper bag that, he says, contains curtain rods. Is this déjà vu all over again? Yes, sports fans, we are watching the Warren Commission Report in living color. But wait, it gets better.
It is now lunchtime and all of the employees on the sixth floor are hurrying downstairs to eat and watch the motorcade go by. That is, all except our boy. He dallies and misses the elevator, but tells one of the occupants to send it back up for him. Hmm, interesting concept. This could explain how Lee made it downstairs so fast later on.
Next we see a reenactment of the assassination. Even though the general public had already seen the Zapruder film on Geraldo Rivera's Goodnight America, the producers tastefully elected not to duplicate the gore of the fatal head shot. The reenactment holds true to the "Z" film and the actors really do resemble JFK and Jackie. In fact, this version is much better than Oliver Stone's was in JFK. Pandemonium ensues and we have witnesses pointing to the TSBD and the grassy knoll; a patrolman stops a man at the picket fence who tells him he's with the Secret Service; and Lee Harvey Oswald is seen drinking a soda in the lunchroom. More pandemonium follows and Oswald calmly strolls out the front door.
THE MURDER OF OFFICER J. D. TIPPIT
Oswald is now at his rooming house (what happened to the bus and taxi ride?). He hurriedly puts on a jacket and leaves. He is next seen walking down the street at a quickened pace and is stopped by a Dallas patrol car. A taxi cab driver is watching, but as shots ring out, a row of bushes conceals the gunman from his view. Now we jump immediately to the front of the shoe store (what happened to the flight from the murder scene?) and then see him sneak into the Texas Theater.
Oswald is identified in the theater, says, "it's all over now", and struggles with the police. He is transported to City Hall where Captain Will Fritz, the FBI and the CIA interrogate him. Again, the film remains true to the Warren Commission Report in regard to the incriminating photographs, the weapons, his flippant attitude during questioning, and his denials of any wrongdoing.
I want to point out here that at no time during the previous chronology did the film show Oswald doing anything illegal. We never see him with the rifle; we never see him in or around the "sniper's nest"; and we never see him shoot Tippit. All conjecture.
Enter the lawyers. The prosecution has oodles of physical evidence, but one can sense that they are not 100% convinced that Oswald acted alone. That is, of course, until LBJ himself calls and tells them not to bother with an investigation because Oswald is guilty and that's that. Ooh! We're riding the Allusion Bus down to Innuendo City now. The defense, on the other hand, seems to think he just might be guilty and concentrates on looking for conspiracy evidence that will keep him out of the electric chair. I told you it would get better.
Howard Brennan was the first witness called. He stated that it was Oswald firing from the TSBD. The defense attempted to discredit him because he failed to identify Oswald in the police lineup after the arrest. The second witness was Bonnie Ray Williams who was on the 5th floor and heard the bolt action and shell casings drop. Again, the defense claimed the shell casing noise could have been anything. The third witness was Buell Frazier and the curtain rod story. All in all, the defense did a fair job of casting reasonable doubt over the physical evidence.
WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON, JUDGE?
The argument arose concerning Oswald's ability to fire three rounds with accuracy in the determined time of 5.6 seconds. The prosecution agreed to prove that it was possible by demonstration. The court adjourned to the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository and a limousine with test dummies inside was rolled down Elm Street. The prosecution employed a marksman who scored two out of three hits – exactly where they struck JFK – within the allotted time. The defense, in turn, argued that Oswald was not a marksman and asked the court reporter to fire next. He scored one hit (in the back) in 8.9 seconds. They tried again with a different shooter, who did about as good as the court reporter. In an attempt to suggest the possibility of a conspiracy, the defense had a gunman (unbeknownst to the judge) fire a shot from the grassy knoll (simultaneously with the third shot) that hit the dummy in the side of the head. The judge was so infuriated that he threatened to charge the defense attorney with contempt of court.
The story moves in and out of the trial scenario as more witnesses are interviewed. We get the Sylvia Odio story, the visit to the Cuban and Russian embassies in Mexico City, the CIA/Mafia connection, and all the little "in betweens" that were integral parts of the original commission findings. Not much is left out.
Although stone-faced and silent throughout the trial, Oswald's only display of emotion comes during the cross-examination when the prosecutor questions certain aspects of his personal life. He breaks down in court, but crawls even deeper into his own mind. The viewer is primed for a confession that doesn't come. When all of the evidence has been presented, Oswald is returned to his cell and the jury deliberates. Is he guilty or is there enough for reasonable doubt?
I will not reveal the outcome of the trial in this writing. To do so would spoil it for those of you who wish to view it yourselves. However, if you do not have the time to watch it and would like to know how it turns out in the end, email me at LewisSET@usfk.korea.army.mil and I will enlighten you.
W. Tracy Parnell states on his home page that Lee Harvey Oswald is the most interesting character in the "crime of the century". He is right. John F. Kennedy was a victim and Jack Ruby was an emotionally disturbed man who inadvertently became the cornerstone of conspiracy. Oswald is the catalyst in this whole sad affair. THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD attempts to probe his psyche and at the same time provide an entertaining and thought-provoking twist to the Kennedy assassination phenomenon. Lone gunman and conspiracy theorists alike should enjoy it.
THE TRIAL OF LEE HARVEY OSWALD can probably be found in most of the major movie rental stores, but if you can't find it there, it is currently available for purchase in VHS format at www.amazon.com.