Clay Shaw trial: Opening statement by Irvin Dymond
AFTERNOON OF FEBRUARY 6, 1969
. . . . Pursuant to the recess, the proceedings here in were resumed at 1:40 o'clock p.m., appearances being the same as heretofore noted in the record . . . .
THE COURT: Gentlemen, I have been requested by Mr. Bob Jones, representing the news media, all angles of it, to take a short recess after Mr. Dymond makes his opening remarks. I told them I would comply with that request.
(Jury returned to the box.)
THE COURT: Are the State and the Defense ready to proceed?
MR. ALCOCK: We are ready.
MR. DYMOND: The Defense is ready.
THE COURT: Make a note that the Jury is in panel, the Defendant present, and both sides ready to proceed. The status of the case is that the State has made their opening remarks, and it is the option of the Defense whether they wish to make an opening statement or not.
MR. DYMOND: May it please Your Honor: Gentlemen of the Jury, as Judge Haggerty has stated, the Defense is not required to make an opening statement in criminal court, but it does have that right. We are here exercising that right, and while we do not intend to set forth in this opening statement every detail of the defense which we intend to present, there are certain salient facts in connection with that defense which I feel should be mentioned at this time.
THE COURT: Just a second, Mr. Dymond. I notice the reporters straining back there. Would it inconvenience you to take that microphone and hold it up? I think it is a movable microphone.
MR. DYMOND: Your Honor, I would rather not carry a microphone around with me. If they want to set one up here, that is all right.
THE COURT: Set it up.
MR. DYMOND: Gentlemen, let me say here and now that we are not here to defend the findings of the Warren Commission. In our humble opinion, that is not this case at all, and should not and is not to be confused with the issues in this case. We have neither the inclination nor the desire, nor did we have the money to try to do that. The Warren Commission interviewed some 25,000 witnesses, and we certainly did not have the resources to undertake any such thing as that. In opening, let me say that although the defendant in a criminal case is not called upon to prove anything, it is our intention to prove to you that not only did Clay Shaw not engage in a conspiracy with David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate President Kennedy, but that he never knew nor ever laid eyes on either of these two individuals.
Now, it is our intention in the defense of this case to strike at the very core of the State's case, that is, the alleged conspiratorial meeting between David Ferrie, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Mr. Clay Shaw (indicating).
We will show you that this alleged meeting was never even conceived until after the death of David Ferrie, the last living barrier between the State's hand-picked Defendant here and the tragedy of this prosecution. When David Ferrie died, the roaches came out of the woodwork.
Now, in a case of this kind when you are called upon to prove a negative, which we in effect are, there are two courses of action that can be taken by a defendant ordinarily. One is to prove that he was elsewhere at the time of the alleged happening.
Let me say now that this would be impossible. First of all, never at any stage of these proceedings has the State seen fit to set forth any precise date upon which this meeting is supposed to have taken place, and even if they had done that, Mr. Shaw would have been called upon to go back three and a half years and account for his whereabouts at a particular time. I don't have to tell you the impossibility of doing such a task as that. The other alternative that a defendant has is to prove that whoever said that he was at such a meeting or committed such an act lies. And, gentlemen, I stand here now and tell you that we will prove that the man who claims this, Perry Raymond Russo, is a liar, a notoriety seeking liar whose name does not deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with honesty, justice, and propriety. We will prove that to you gentlemen.
Now, gentlemen, I think that at this stage it would be well for us to go into the history of Perry Raymond Russo's rise from obscurity to fame.
MR. ALCOCK: Your Honor, I am going to object at this time. This is more an argument than an opening statement. They are not outlining the proof that they will attempt to adduce during the course of their trial. This is going beyond an opening statement.
MR. DYMOND: If the Court please, I intend to prove --
THE COURT: I will be glad to hear from you, Mr. Dymond; but it is bordering on argument rather than a bird's eye view of what you hope to prove.
MR. DYMOND: If the Court, please, I said I intend to prove Perry Raymond Russo is a liar and --
THE COURT: That is going to some other matter.
MR. DYMOND: I am trying to --
THE COURT: That is going into history.
MR. DYMOND: Certainly. It is going into the history of his participation in this case and pointing out the individual's history which we intend to prove.
THE COURT: It is argumentative. I agree that it is argumentative.
MR. DYMOND: Your Honor, I am not permitted to present what evidence I can present to show this man is lying? Is that your ruling?
THE COURT: My ruling is that you can't argue.
MR. DYMOND: I am not going to argue.
THE COURT: Present whatever you intend to prove.
MR. DYMOND: I will say what evidence I intend to prove.
THE COURT: You may proceed.
MR. DYMOND: We will begin from Perry Russo's first entrance into this case, gentlemen. A few days after the death of David Ferrie, Russo wrote a letter to the District Attorney saying that he knew David Ferrie and some of his friends, "and I am willing to tell you what I know about them." That was Move Number One that we will prove.
The following day, which was February 24, 1967, Perry Russo was interviewed by a reporter by the name of Bill Bankston who works for the Baton Rouge State Times, in Baton Rouge. Russo we will show later told a witness that this interview lasted approximately 45 minutes, and that he granted it because he wanted to get down with somebody everything that he knew about the case. We will show that in this interview on February 24 with Bill Bankston, Perry Raymond Russo did not mention Clay Shaw, Clay Bertrand, Clem Bertrand, nor any conspiratorial meeting.
We will show that when Mr. Bankston's story appeared in the Baton Rouge State Times, the reporters more or less converged on Russo. He was interviewed by at least three newsmen in Baton' Rouge. To none of these three newsmen did Perry Raymond Russo mention anything about Clay Shaw, Lee Harvey Oswald, Clay Bertrand or Clem Bertrand, nor did he say a word about an alleged conspiratorial meeting.
That gets us up to February 24. Then on the next day, February 25, 1967, we will show that Mr. Sciambra, Assistant District Attorney participating in this case, went to Baton Rouge to interview Perry Raymond Russo; that the interview lasted in the neighborhood of three to three and a half hours; that Mr. Sciambra returned to New Orleans, and on February 27, two days later, wrote a memorandum consisting of approximately 3,500 words, reporting to Jim Garrison, the District Attorney, the information which he had gotten from Russo.
We will show, gentlemen, that nowhere in the report of this interview is there any mention of Clem Bertrand, Clay Shaw, a conspiratorial meeting -- nothing whatsoever! We will show that this man, Russo, was asked by Mr. Sciambra whether he had ever seen Clay Shaw. He was shown a picture of Clay Shaw. He said, "Yes, I have seen him twice, once at the Nashville Avenue wharf and once in an automobile at David Ferrie's filling station" -- no mention, gentlemen, being made of any contention that he had seen him at a conspiratorial meeting at David Ferrie's apartment, no mention whatsoever of the very heart of this case against Clay L. Shaw, that is, a meeting between Mr. Shaw, Ferrie, and Oswald, wherein a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy was hatched. It will show none of those things.
Shortly after the memorandum of February 27, which was based on the February 25 interview, Perry Raymond Russo testified in the preliminary hearing in connection with this case, giving a very vivid description of a conspiratorial meeting, placing Clay Shaw there, saying that he had seen Shaw three time now -- once at the Nashville Avenue wharf, once at Ferrie's filling station, and at this conspiratorial meeting. That came out in the preliminary hearing. Now, after the preliminary hearing, and, more specifically, on March 21, 1967, Perry Raymond~Russo admitted to a reporter for a nationally syndicated magazine that the first time that he had ever mentioned this alleged conspiratorial meeting was after he came down here to New Orleans, after he had given a 3,500-word account of what he knew to Mr. Sciambra. These things, gentlemen, will be shown to you by competent evidence.
Now, in April of 1967 this reporter, noting the peculiarities of Russo's statements, had many conversations with him during this month of April. We will show that during one of these conversations Russo told this man in effect these words: "If Garrison knew what I told my priest after the hearing, he would go through the ceiling." The reporter didn't press him, but the man went on and volunteered what he had told his priest. He told the priest that he would like to get alone with Mr. Shaw in a room and hear him -- in his words "talk and breathe, so that I can resolve some of the doubts that are in my mind about his identification."
When this was told to the reporter, gentlemen, we will show you that the reporter volunteered to set up such a meeting, and did tentatively arrange such a meeting between the Defendant Clay Shaw and Perry Raymond Russo. We will show that at the last minute Perry Raymond Russo cancelled the plans for this meeting, telling the reporter that he was afraid to participate in it because if Garrison ever heard about it he would hit the ceiling. We will then show that later on Perry Russo admitted to this reporter, "I have lied to you about why I didn't go through with the meeting. I was afraid to get with Mr. Shaw for fear I would find out that I was mistaken." He said, "If I should find that out, I don't know what I could do. I could go to Mexico, I could go to California and become a beatnik, but I couldn't run away from myself." So he would not go through with this meeting.
Later on this same reporter had a conversation with Russo in which Russo admitted to him that he does not know the difference between truth and fantasy. We will prove that by the testimony of a competent witness. The final meeting that this reporter had with Perry Russo was on May 28, 1967, here in New Orleans. At this meeting the reporter pointed out to Russo the many inconsistencies in his statements, the past things that Russo had said to him, and Russo replied, "I can't argue with any of that. It has been bouncing around in my head, but I don't know what to do. I have no way out without getting clobbered. If I stick to my story. Shaw and the lawyers will get me, and if I change my story, "Garrison will ruin me." We will show you, Gentlemen of the Jury, that that is the type of witness with which the State hopes to prove this conspiratorial meeting.
There is another witness whose name was mentioned in connection with an alleged happening on the New Orleans Lakefront. I am going to generalize on this witness and merely assure you that we will show to you and prove to you that this witness is totally unworthy of belief by any jury or anyone else, and certainly not the type of person on whom any conviction of any kind could ever be based.
Now, gentlemen, there are other witnesses who will be presented, to whom Russo has made admissions as to the falsity of his testimony. They will be presented to you during the course of this trial.
Now, in closing, I would like to touch briefly upon three of the alleged overt acts. I say three of them, because two of them are necessarily embodied in the Russo contention which I feel has been adequately covered. The overt acts to which I have reference are, first, the trip by Mr. Clay L. Shaw to the West Coast of the United States. Let me say here and now that we will not try in any way to dispute the fact that this trip was taken. It was taken. We will present evidence to you that this trip was taken in the course of Mr. Shaw's employment. He went on a speaking engagement for the World Trade Conference, not at his solicitation but at the solicitation of the person in charge of arranging speakers at this World Trade Conference.
In this connection we will further point out that as the State contends there was need for an alibi for Mr. Shaw, there is no way in the world of feeling that an alibi could be necessary. We will show that he was employed at the Trade Mart and engaged in his occupation every day, associating with upper echelon people who could certainly account for his whereabouts at any time.
We will next get onto the trip by David Ferrie to Houston on the night of the assassination. Actually we will show you that had David Ferrie wanted an alibi, he went from a real good alibi to a not so good alibi. David Ferrie on the day of the assassination was actively engaged, as we will prove to you, as an investigator on the staff of G. Wray Gill, a local attorney who was handling the case of the United States versus Carlos Marcello. We will show that it had been a prolonged case, that Mr. Ferrie had been in attendance at that case. The case ended on the day of the assassination, and what better witness as to his whereabouts than a Federal Judge and Federal Court first of all. We will show that Ferrie went to a party after the Marcello case ended on that day. We will also show that there was no way of telling when the case would end.
With respect to the overt act concerning Oswald taking the gun from the residence of Mrs. Paine to the Book Depository in Dallas, gentlemen, it is our sincere belief that there is no need whatsoever for us to go into this. Clay Shaw, as we will prove to you, did not even know Lee Harvey Oswald. It is our firm and sincere contention that what went on in Dallas, Texas, had nothing to do with this case.
Before closing, I would merely like to remind you gentlemen that we are not trying the Warren Report in this courtroom, and I will ask that you be careful, scrutinize yourselves so as not to permit the pageantry of the presentation of evidence concerning what happened in Dealey Plaza to obscure the actual issues in this case. I implore you to be careful about that, and I feel confident that after having heard all of the evidence, your one alternative will be a verdict of not guilty. Thank you.
THE COURT: Now, Sheriff, take the Jury upstairs. At the request of Mr. Jones, I am going to take a ten-minute recess. We will reconvene at 2:15. Take the Jury upstairs.
(Whereupon, a brief recess was taken.)