TESTIMONY OF H. LOUIS NICHOLS
The testimony of H. Louis-Nichols was taken at 9:30 a.m., on April 8, 1964, in the office of the U.S. attorney, 301 Post Office Building, Bryan and Ervay Streets, Dallas, Tex., by Mr. Samuel A. Stern, assistant counsel of the President's Commission.
Mr. STERN. Good morning, Mr. Nichols. Will you stand and raise your right and be sworn.
Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Mr. NICHOLS. I do.
Mr. STERN. Sit down, please. As you know the President's Commission has been instructed by President Johnson to inquire into all the facts surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. This morning I would like to cover with you what you know about Lee Harvey Oswald, whom I understand you interviewed at the Dallas Police Headquarters.
Would you state your name and business address?
Mr. NICHOLS. H. Louis Nichols, 1200 Republic Bank Building, Dallas.
Mr. STERN. What is your profession?
Mr. NICHOLS. I am an attorney.
Mr. STERN. And how long have you been a member of the bar?
Mr. NICHOLS. Since 1939.
Mr. STERN. What bars are you a member of?
Mr. NICHOLS. State Bar of Texas, and admitted to practice in the Northern District of Texas, Federal Court.
Mr. STERN. What position do you presently hold with the Dallas Bar Association?
Mr. NICHOLS. I am a member of the board of directors for the Dallas Association, at the present time. During 1963, I was President of the Dallas Bar Association.
Mr. STERN. During the calendar year, 1963?
Mr. NICHOLS. Yes.
Mr. STERN. I See. Would you relate for us, Mr. Nichols, in your own words, what occurred respecting Lee Harvey Oswald and your inquiry whether he had the opportunity to avail himself of counsel during the period of his detention, which began on November 22, 1963?
Mr. NICHOLS. Sometime in the afternoon on Saturday the 23d of November, as I best recall, in the neighborhood of about 2 o'clock, I received a phone call from a lawyer friend of mine in Dallas who asked me if I knew whether or not Mr. Oswald was represented by an attorney.
I told him I did not. He said he had received a phone call from an eastern lawyer, dean of one of the law schools in the East, who told him that the news media up there were saying that Oswald could not get a lawyer to represent him in Dallas, and he wanted to know if I knew anything about the situation. I told him I had not been following it too closely on television, because I was out Friday and then out with my boy on Saturday morning and didn't know really whether or not he had a lawyer.
And he said, well, that was the information he had received, and wanted to know what I knew about it, and if he didn't have a lawyer, or wasn't able to get one whether or not the bar association could, or would do anything about it. I told him I didn't know what the situation was, but that I would be glad to look into it, and--it had been less than 24 hours since Mr. Oswald had been arrested. In order to refresh my memory as to what the requirement of the State law is, and since I don't practice criminal law, I called a lawyer friend of mine in Dallas who is a criminal lawyer and asked him just to tell me offhand what the obligation was to appoint lawyers in criminal cases, if a person did not have someone to represent him, and he told me that the obligation was only to appoint counsel after a man had been indicted, and that, as he understood it, since Mr. Oswald had not been indicted there was no legal obligation to appoint an attorney.
I also received another call shortly thereafter from another lawyer friend of mine in Dallas who said he had received a call from a dean of a law school. One of the calls was from one dean of one law school. The other was from another. I have forgotten which schools they were, and I don't remember which called first with regard to the various deans, but he wanted to know from me whether or not the bar association was doing anything. Whether Oswald had a lawyer. And whether or not if he didn't have one, we should do anything about getting him one, and I told him I had, had a previous telephone
call from another friend of mine, and that I had made some inquiry, and at this time I did not know whether Oswald had a lawyer or was getting a lawyer, but that I was going to make some inquiry to find out about it. After talking to the second friend about it who called, I then called Mr. Henry Wade, the district attorney, to see whether or not he knew whether or not Oswald was represented by a lawyer or not.
I did not know for sure at that time whether he was, simply because I had no way of knowing whether he was represented or not. I hadn't talked to anybody who was really informed, and I called Mr. Wade. He said he didn't know for sure whether he was or not, as far as he knew he hadn't been contacted by any lawyer who purported to represent Oswald. I asked him whether or not either he or anybody in his office had been advised that Oswald wanted a lawyer, or had made a request for a lawyer, and he said as far as he knew he had not asked for a lawyer. I asked him too, as he was going up there, and I asked him if Oswald requested a lawyer and didn't have a lawyer would he tell him that the Dallas Bar Association would get a lawyer if he needed one.
By that time I had time to think about what I thought my obligation should be, and realizing that under the circumstances maybe some people might overlook the fact that Oswald had rights that needed to be protected at the same time, and if he didn't have a lawyer, regardless of what the legal obligation was to appoint him a lawyer, we, the bar association, ought to look into the matter.
Mr. Wade said he was going to go up there later on in the evening and he would talk to his assistants who were in closer contact than he was, and if Oswald wanted a lawyer--asked for a lawyer or wanted a lawyer appointed--he would tell him of my conversation. I then called Glen King, and a captain on the police force that I knew. I used to work for the city attorney's office, and still represent, the city credit union and have a brother on the police force, so, I have known many of these people for many years. I called Captain King and asked him whether or not Oswald was represented by an attorney, if he knew if there was an attorney up there, or anybody who had been up there representing him, and Captain King said that as far as he knew there had been no one representing him, and as far as he knew, Oswald had not asked for a lawyer. He had not asked for the right to call a lawyer, and or had not asked that a lawyer be furnished to him---and Captain King said, "If he does, I am certainly going to call you and let you know, because we want to be sure if he wants a lawyer he gets one. We don't want it to be a situation of anybody saying that we deprived him of the right to have a lawyer."
I said, "Well, Glen, if you know at any time that he asks for a lawyer, or wants a lawyer, or needs a lawyer, will you tell him that you have talked to me, as president of the bar association, and that I have offered to get him a lawyer if he wants one."
And Glen said, "Well, I'll just throw it back to you. You come down and talk to him. I would be glad to have you talk to him."
I said, "I didn't know whether I wanted to or not at this point." I hadn't quite decided at ,that point whether we could do something about it, and I didn't know whether Oswald had his own attorney, but I told Captain King if I decided to take him up on his offer I would come and see him.
It was about 3:30 or 4 o'clock. By that time I had talked to a criminal lawyer, I had talked to Mr. Wade, I had talked to these two lawyer friends of mine in trying to decide what, if anything I should do.
Up to that time I had not been told by any of these people that Oswald had asked for a lawyer, or been denied a lawyer, or even knew whether he had a lawyer. None of them knew for sure. I didn't--I then received a call from another lawyer who was a professor out at S.M.U. and he wanted to know whether or not the bar association was doing anything about getting a lawyer for Oswald. I told him what had transpired, what I had done, and I hadn't decided what should be done at this time, if anything by me, as president of the bar association.
He seemed to think that it would be advisable and would be helpful if I would go up and satisfy myself personally as to whether or not Oswald had any lawyer, wanted a lawyer or was asking for a lawyer and hadn't been able to get one, and I told him that I had not decided what to do, so, I sat around and
decided if it had to be done. It seemed like enough time had gone by, and enough uncertainty among the people I talked to as to whether or not he had a lawyer or had asked for a lawyer that I decided I might as well go up and talk to him, so, I cleaned up and went on up to the city hall. That was probably 5:30 or so in the afternoon.
Mr. STERN. City hall is where he was confined?
Mr. NICHOLS. City hall in Dallas, where Oswald was confined. Having worked there I knew where the chief's office was.
I knew Captain King, the administrative assistant to the chief, and his office was in the same place so, I went to the third floor of the city hall, now called the Police and Courts Building.
The building in which the police department is located and the jail is located, and where I assumed Oswald was at that time. I went up to the third floor, and when I got off the elevator there was just a whole mob of re-porters and photographers and television cameras and cables and so forth stretched out on that floor. Cables running in both directions, and I went down into the chief's office, which is the eastern end of .the building, and when I went in there, there were a number of people in his office, in the reception room, three or four people back in the chief's office, Chief Curry's office, a number of people, and I asked one of the officers in the reception room if Captain King was there and he said, "Well, he didn't think so."
About that time Chief Curry looked up and saw me, and he knew me and motioned me in, and I went in there and he introduced me to one of the FBI agents who was there, and I told him I was up there as president of the bar association looking for Captain King. I had talked to him earlier and I had come up :there to see whether or not Mr. Oswald had a lawyer, or needed a lawyer, or wanted the Dallas Bar Association to do anything.
The chief said that he was glad to see me and would take me up to see Oswald himself and, so, we immediately left his office and started to another part of the building, and he asked me where I wanted to talk to him. If I wanted to be taken to a room or some place, or what would be convenient with me, and I told him that any place would be all--I just wanted to visit with the man and see what his situation was with regard to him having a lawyer. So, we then went through a door on the third floor and got into the elevator and went up to the sixth floor, and the chief again asked me where I wanted to talk to him. I said, "Well, just any place."
By that time we had gotten to a portion of the jail that was separated by bars and a door. Beyond that door were three separate cells, and there was an officer seated outside one, and then we went through the first door and got to that point and Mr. Oswald was in the center of the three cells, no one being in the other two, and there was an officer seated outside there. The chief had the officer open the door, and he introduced me to Oswald, and told him my name and said that I was the president of the Dallas Bar Association and had come up to see him about whether or not he needed or wanted a lawyer, and then the chief stepped back and--I don't really know how far away. He was at least--he was far enough removed where I couldn't observe him or see him there in the cell. The officer stayed just right outside the door there. I reintroduced myself to Oswald and told him my name, and that I was president of the Dallas bar, and that I had come up to see him about whether or not he had a lawyer, or needed a lawyer, or wanted a lawyer, and suggested that he sit down.
So, he sat on one bunk and I sat on the other. Maybe 3 or 4 feet apart. When I got there he was lying on a bunk, and then he stood up when I came in and then he sat on one bunk and I sat on the other, much as you and I are seated here, only actually, a little bit closer, and I asked him if he had a lawyer, and he said, "Well, he really didn't know what it was all about, that he was--had been incarcerated, and kept incommunicado, and I said, "Well, I have come up to see whether or not you want a lawyer, because as I under-stand--" I am not exactly sure what I ,said there, or whether he said some-thing about not knowing what happened to President Kennedy, or I said that I understood that he was arrested for the shot that killed the President, and I don't remember who said what after that. This is a little bit vague.
I had covered that point in detail, and I don't recall exactly, but in any event, our conversation was such that I informed him that I was there to see whether or not he had a lawyer, or wanted a lawyer, and he said--he asked me first did I know a lawyer in New York named John Abt, and I don't know if it is A-b-t, or A-p-t.
Mr. STERN. I believe it is A-b-t.
Mr. NICHOLS. I believe it is. In New York City, I said I didn't know him, and he said, "Well, I would like to have him to represent me," and at some period I believe prior to that, either in talking to the police, or talking to--must have been talking to either Captain King or the chief---I had been told that some effort had been made to get hold of Mr. Abt, and that he was in Connecticut at his home, and maybe, and I have forgotten who said who was trying to get ahold of him. At least, I did vaguely know that someone was trying to get ahold of him, but I told Mr. Oswald I didn't know him. He said, "Well, that is the man he would like to have represent him." Then he asked me if I knew any lawyers who were members of the American Civil Liberties Union, and he said, "Well, I am a member of that organization, and I would like to have somebody who is a member of that organization represent me." And I said, "I'm sorry, I don't know anybody who is a member of that organization."
Although, as it turned out later, a number of lawyers I know are members. Two or three of them called me later. He said, "Well, if I can't get either one of those, and if I can----"
Mr. STERN. That is either----
Mr. NICHOLS. "Either Mr. Abt or someone who is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and if I can find a lawyer here who believes in anything I believe in, and believes as I believe, and believes in my innocence"-then paused a little bit, and went on a little bit and said, "as much as he can, I might let him represent me."
I said, "What I am interested in knowing is right now, do you want me or the Dallas Bar Association to try to get you a lawyer?"
He said, "No, not now."
He said, "You might come back next week, and if I don't get some of these other people to represent me, I might ask you to get somebody to represent me."
I said, "Well, now, all I want to do is to make it clear to you, and to me, whether or not you want me or the Dallas Bar Association to do anything about getting a lawyer right now."
And he said, "No."
I was satisfied in my own mind that he knew what he was doing, and that he didn't want me or the Dallas Bar Association to do anything right now. So, I left, and as I left the chief asked me whether or not I wanted to make a statement to the press, and I said, "Well, I don't know whether I do or not. I don't know whether it is the thing to do or not." And he said, "Well, they are going to be right outside the door there, and if you want to say anything this would be an opportunity to do it."
He said, "Incidentally, I am very glad you came up here. We don't want any question coming up about us refusing to let him have a lawyer. As far as know, he has never asked for one. He has never asked to call one."
And I believe the chief mentioned that Mr. Abt's name, but he said, has never asked us to call him."
He said, "Do you think we have an obligation?" And I said, "I don't know."
He said, "I am glad that you came down and talked to him. At least that takes a problem off of us about not furnishing him a lawyer."
And so, we about that time we stepped out of the door and there was just a whole swam of photographers and cameramen standing right there. Right outside the door on the third floor. They came out in the third floor, reached back down in the third floor, and the chief told them who I was, and what I had been up there for, and oh, for 4 or 5 minutes, what turned out to be live television interview, whether or not--they asked me if I thought he was guilty, and if he had admitted anything, and I told them that I didn't ask him, and he didn't tell me, and they merely wanted to know the reason I was up here, and
that interview is something, I assume, that you have, or will be made available. I don't remember exactly what transpired, and then--but they asked me what his attitude was, whether he was belligerent and--or scared, and to me, he appeared to be neither belligerent nor scared. He appeared to be a man that was pretty calm, I thought, under the circumstances. He appeared to me that he knew where he was and pretty much what his rights were with regard to being represented, and he knew apparently--at least the conversation was that if he didn't get somebody to represent him that he wanted that he could always fall back on the bar association, or somebody, and I had told him that I would see him next week if he wanted me to, and I satisfied myself at least, to the extent, that the man appeared to know what he was doing. He did not appear to be irrational. He appeared to be calm. He turned down my offer of help, and I felt like at that point that was all I needed to do, and this was later Saturday afternoon, and I had no inkling that anything else, except maybe that the next week if he didn't get a lawyer I might hear from him, or check into it, and that's all I know about Mr. Lee Harvey Oswald.
Mr. STERN. That's quite a complete statement. Let's just cover a few details. What was his physical condition, as you observed it?
Mr. NICHOLS. Well, he had a little scratch, or bruise over one eye. I have forgotten whether over the left or right, ,but other than that, as I recall, there were no indication of any other injuries or marks on him that I could tell. He was dressed, I believe, in a white T-shirt and slacks, and appeared to me to be in normal condition. I mean, there was nothing obviously wrong with him from a physical standpoint, as I could observe.
Mr. STERN. Did he seem well rested, or tired?
Mr. NICHOLS. No; he seemed all right. When I went in there he was lying on his back and he got up and he didn't--he looked like he was calm, and was rested, and it---didn't appear to have now this is a guess, and my own observation, did not appear to me to have been mistreated. I was interested in observing whether or not he---it looked like he had been mistreated, because, as a lawyer, I anticipate perhaps that he if he had been mistreated, or might claim he had been mistreated it was something I should have observed at that time, and I observed nothing to indicate that.
Mr. STERN. He, I gather, used the word "incommunicado" to describe----
Mr. NICHOLS. Yes; that was his word.
Mr. STERN. Did he elaborate on that, or any---or indicate to you that he had not been able to see members of his family or other people of his choice?
Mr. NICHOLS. No; he did not say that he had been refused anything. Just didn't elaborate, and I really didn't ask him at that point. My inquiry was intentionally very limited. I merely wanted to know whether he had a lawyer, if he had a lawyer then I had no problems.
If he asked for a lawyer and they did not offer him one, that was contrary to what I had been told, because I had been told, as far as the police were concerned, and Mr. Wade, as he recalled, that the man had never asked for a lawyer. Nor had he asked to call a lawyer, for the right to call a lawyer, so that I was interested in knowing whether or not he had a lawyer and whether or not he had requested a lawyer and been refused, because the story up east was that he couldn't get a lawyer to represent him, and I knew that that wasn't true, because I know Dallas lawyers, and I know that if the man had to have a lawyer, we could have gotten one for him. So, I didn't go into the other questions, or whether or not he wanted to see his family and hadn't been permitted. I really was concerned about whether or not he had a lawyer or wanted a lawyer, or whether we had any obligations to furnish him one.
Mr. STERN. Yes; I see. Did he elaborate on his statement to you that he preferred a lawyer who believed in what he believed in, or was this as----
Mr. NICHOLS. Not at all. He said--I didn't ask him, because I didn't know any lawyers--and I didn't know what he believed in, and I really wasn't concerned at that stage in' the man's beliefs or what he had done or not done, actually, I just wanted--the man was in jail, and it occurred to me that it would be easy to overlook his fights at that time in view of the great emotion and somebody ought to determine whether or not he wanted a lawyer, and I decided
as president of the bar association maybe that was my job to do it, so, I went up there to see about it.
Mr. STERN. You say he said he wanted a lawyer who believed in his innocence?
Mr. NICHOLS. As much as he could.
Mr. STERN. As he could?
Mr. NICHOLS. Yes.
Mr. STERN. Did he elaborate?
Mr. NICHOLS. No; and I didn't ask him to elaborate on it because at that stage I didn't know to what extent I would, or wanted to, or should become embroiled in the facts. I wanted to know whether he needed a lawyer, and I didn't anticipate that I would be his lawyer, because I don't practice criminal law. They asked me, the newspapers did, and I honestly don't know what my answer would have been if they had asked me, "Well, will you represent him?"
We can debate about that now until doomsday. All I know is when I went up to talk to him I did not anticipate being the lawyer, because I don't practice criminal law, although, when I talked to Henry Wade he said, jokingly, I hope it was jokingly, and if the guy wants a lawyer he was going to request the judge that he appoint me and the president of the criminal bar association to represent him. I took that to be not a serious suggestion, because he knows that I don't practice criminal law, although, on reflection that probably would have been a good recommendation, since generally, I suppose, that if they appointed the president of the bar association they couldn't say that he was getting inferior representation. I am not bragging about that, but normally, I think that would be the normal reaction that if they appointed the president of the criminal bar association and the president of the local bar association then at least the man would be represented.
Mr. STERN. What is the practice in this jurisdiction regarding the appointment of counsel for indigents accused in criminal cases?
Mr. NICHOLS. Basically, I think that would follow the statutes which provide that where it comes to the attention of the court, that a man charged with a felony is not represented by an attorney that the court will appoint an attorney to represent him. The statute further provides that the attorney appointed to represent indigents be paid $25 a day for each day actually present at the trial of the case in court, and not to exceed $100 for the handling of an appeal. The usual procedure is, I believe, when it comes to the attention of the judge that an accused in jail is not represented by an attorney--I am talking about a felony case now---or a man, whether he is in jail or not, if he makes requests of the court to appoint him a lawyer, the judges of the criminal district court will, and do appoint lawyers to represent those people.
Mr. STERN. But, ordinarily, the appointment is handled by the judiciary?
Mr. NICHOLS. Yes.
Mr. STERN. And there is no, I take it, organized system of the bar association to represent indigents?
Mr. NICHOLS. Well, the criminal--there are two bar associations in Dallas. One is the criminal bar association, the other is the Dallas Bar Association, and you may belong to both, or neither, or either one. The criminal bar association did, last year, attempt to create and establish a fund to defray some investigative expenses of lawyers appointed to represent indigents. One of the programs which I had hoped to get really underway last year when I was president was to, and we had a committee working on it, was to provide more lawyers who would be willing to accept appointments to represent indigent defendants in the criminal cases. My idea was that if we had 100 or 200 lawyers who would say, "If I am requested to, or appointed by the court, I will represent these people." And it was my desire to have a large number of lawyers who would do that. The committee, unfortunately, bogged down and I got involved in other matters that I guess I considered more urgent to me, and didn't pursue that, but I did go down and talk to one of the judges last year just to see what the procedure was because I was interested, and the judges do appoint these people, I mean, do appoint attorneys to represent these people, and I talked to one of the judges and he said that they have never yet had an occasion where he needed a lawyer to represent a defendant that they haven't been able to get one. So, although some of these lawyers may do this more than others, as
far as I know, none of them have refused because it was too much of an imposition on them.
Mr. STERN. Your activities with respect to Oswald were unusual, though, and not pursuant to any established arrangement?
Mr. NICHOLS. That's right.
Mr. STERN. Something you did because of the nature of the case, and the questions that had been raised, and your own questions about his treatment?
Mr. NICHOLS. That's correct.
Mr. STERN. Did you, Mr. Nichols, make any notes of your activities on November 23, 1963, either at the time, or did you at any later time have occasion to prepare a written report of your activities?
Mr. NICHOLS. I did not make any notes at the time, and I didn't make any notes as such, subsequently, after Mr. Oswald was killed. And why, I don't know. It didn't, occur to me to do so. Later Mr. Leon Jaworski, a Houston, Tex. attorney, called me and said that he was going to go to Miami, Fla., to the meeting of American Trial Lawyers, and had been asked. to make a report of some sort on the Oswald matter and he asked me if I would write him a letter outlining what I had done in connection with interviewing Oswald, and attempting to see whether or not he wanted the Dallas Bar Association to provide counsel. I did, at that time, write a letter to Mr. Jaworski outlining as I recalled at that time exactly what transpired. Later the president of the Houston Bar Association, George Barrow, called me and said he was going to make a little talk in Houston, or write a little article in a publication and would like to know what I had done, and he knew about the letter I had sent to Jaworski, and wanted to know if I would send him a copy of my letter to him, or outline what I had done. I said it would be easier to give him a copy of the letter I had written to Leon, because I have it, so I sent him a copy and those are the only notes I made or statements that I have made in writing regarding this transaction except I did reproduce a copy of the letter to Mr. Jaworski, which I furnished to you.
Mr. STERN. I show you now a copy of the letter dated February 10, 1964, to Mr. Jaworski. Is that the copy you furnished to me?
Mr. NICHOLS. That is the copy I furnished to you, and the copy of the letter which I wrote to Mr. Jaworski on that date.
Mr. STERN. Would you initial each of the four pages of that photostatic copy, please, which we'll attach to your deposition as Exhibit A.
Thank you, sir. I believe that completes all the questions I have, Mr. Nichols. Thank you very much for coming in today.
Mr. NICHOLS. You certainly are welcome.
Mr. STERN. The court reporter will transcribe the deposition and we can furnish a copy of it to you for your review and signature, or the reporter can send the transcript directly to the Commission without your review, if you care to waive----
Mr. NICHOLS. I would like to have a copy of it, if I may do so, and I understand that it will be available at some expense, whatever it costs--I want to furnish it to the bar association for their records.
Mr. STERN. Fine.