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Garrison’s Case

Russo’s testimony raises many questions which remain to be resolved one way or another at Shaw’s trial. Russo did not report the alleged meeting between Shaw, Ferrie, and Oswald until after Ferrie’s death on February 22, 1967. Russo says that it was the news accounts of Ferrie’s demise, and the reports that Garrison had been investigating Ferrie as a key figure in the assassination plot that prompted him to contact Garrison about the meeting. When Garrison questioned Russo, various tests were made to see whether Russo could identify Oswald and Shaw. Russo was unable to recognize Lee Harvey Oswald from the standard pictures of him. He insisted the man he had seen was called Leon Oswald, had worn a beard, and was very sloppy. (As I found out from talking to Russo, he is a stickler for detail.) He was only able to identify pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald as the Leon Oswald he had met after the pictures were retouched many times. On the other hand, he apparently identified a picture of Shaw as Clem Bertrand right away. He again identified him through a two-way mirror, and by pointing him out to detectives at Shaw’s house.

ONE OF PHELAN’S main allegations is that the hypnosis didn’t refresh Russo’s memory, but that “he began to remember when Dr. Fatter asked him a series of leading questions. Well, I would say it went beyond that. Dr. Fatter set the stage for him” (NBC program). NBC then interviewed Dr. Jay Katz of Yale, who had seen stenographic transcripts of two of Dr. Fatter’s hypnotic sessions with Russo (the court would not admit these transcripts as evidence, and did not examine them). Dr. Katz said “upon many occasions the hypnotist introduced very leading questions” and that “he [Dr. Fatter] made no attempt, as far as I can see, to press further, and at least attempt to find out what was fantasy and what was reality.” This tends to suggest that Dr. Fatter may have induced Russo’s story, and, as has been hinted, that Russo testified under post-hypnotic suggestion. Andrews made the charge stronger in his recusal motion that the story of a conspiracy “was planted in Raymond Perry Russo’s head through hypnotic techniques….”

The three judges who heard Russo testify for one day, and submit to cross-examination for two days, were legally obliged to evaluate Russo’s credibility according to what they had heard in court, and not according to the results of any tests performed on him. When the defense discovered Russo had been hypnotized, he was asked, “Are you under hypnosis right now?” (Transcript, p. 245). Later the question of a post-hypnotic suggestion was raised (Transcript, p. 252). Dr. Fatter was then called as a witness. The critics do not pay much attention to the doctor, apparently assuming he is part of Garrison’s plot. Yet his credentials seem impressive. The defense accepted him without challenge as a reputable medical expert, introducing no counter-experts of their own. The doctor claimed that Russo’s memory was refreshed by hypnosis. The defense successfully, and rightly, blocked both the clever attempts of the prosecution to get the details of the results of the hypnotic sessions into the record, and Dr. Fatter’s evaluation of the reliability of what Russo said under hypnosis. The doctor did testify emphatically that “Mr. Russo was, as far as I know, not under any hypnotic state while he was on this [the witness] stand” (Transcript, p. 418). After a long legal battle, Dr. Fatter was finally allowed to read into the record the exact post-hypnotic suggestions he gave Russo on March 12, 1967. These were read from his notes.

Anytime you want to, you may permit yourself to become calm, cool and collected. I want you to know that you have a task that you have voluntarily gone into. You can let yourself and you will be amazed at how acute your memory will be in the next few weeks. Days will seem to pop into your mind and it will be only the truth as you say it. And it will be nothing more and nothing less. And you can permit these truths to come into your mind exactly as you have seen them without fear and without remorsefulness. That’s right. Because all you will be doing is telling the truth, Perry, as you see it. Nothing more and nothing less….Remember…now you have a task which you yourself have elected to perform… [Transcript, pp. 421-2].

As Dr. Fatter insisted under cross-examination, his suggestion to Russo “was that he tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” (Transcript, p. 424. See also pp. 427-8). The critics so far do not seem interested in the transcript of these hearings, and do not refer to them. NBC quoted only the italicized phrases in the above statement.

Courts, for good reasons do not allow the results of polygraph tests, sodium pentothal, or hypnosis to be taken as measures of the reliability or accuracy of testimony, since they have yet to be proven sufficiently reliable to grant them evidential status—although both Garrison’s office and the critics are using them widely as investigative and corroborative techniques. Russo was on the witness stand for three days, two under severe cross-examination. The defense did not manage to shake his story nor apparently did they convince the three judges that he was untrustworthy. They were unable to discredit or disprove any of the elements of his story. The full transcript of Russo’s testimony runs to 256 pages. On the basis of the evidence presented, three judges unanimously voted to indict Shaw. The points later raised by Phelan and others, if legally admissible, and if substantiated, may lead to other evaluations when Shaw comes to trial. Up to now, however, the only legal test of Russo’s testimony by the adversary procedure (a test which was not given to testimony accepted by the Warren Commission) has resulted in its acceptance by the judges, and presumably by a Grand Jury.

RECENTLY I SPENT over two hours interviewing Perry Russo. I explored his testimony and his knowledge of events relevant to Garrison’s investigation at great length. Russo is quiet-spoken, careful, quite unexcitable (except with regard to charges that relate to his mental stability or truthfulness), and annoyed at the way his life has been changed since he became a witness. His story and his explanations of it all seemed to me consistent and plausible. We ranged widely over many topics and aspects of his testimony. At no time in the interview was I able to find any gap between what he told me or what he had said previously and what is known about the events he described. Events for Russo seem to be related to a central feature of his life, his baseball activities (he is the coach of a semi-pro team), and he places past occurrences by the dates of sports events. In February, before he had approached Garrison, he told a TV interviewer in Baton Rouge that Ferrie never mentioned Lee Harvey Oswald to him, and that “I had never heard of Oswald until the television of the assassination” (Transcript, p. 487). He told another interviewer, “I don’t know Clay Shaw” (Transcript, p. 219). Russo’s explanation at the hearings and to me is that the friend of Ferrie’s was Leon Oswald, and that he had never heard of Lee Harvey Oswald until the assassination. The man he met at Ferrie’s party was Clem Bertrand. Russo seemed anxious to be extremely exact about what he had seen. He is emphatic in maintaining that his story was always the same, and that what he has said at various times is completely consistent. I find it very hard to believe that his story was, as Phelan and Andrews say, planted in his mind by Dr. Fatter. Nor does Russo seem a likely person to have been chosen to fabricate a case, as Andrews and others have claimed.

NBC devoted a good deal of time to interviewing Niles Peterson, a friend of Russo’s and a fellow baseball player, who attended the party at Ferrie’s house that is the central feature of Russo’s story. Peterson did not appear at the preliminary hearings; until now his testimony has not been examined in court. Peterson partly confirmed Russo’s story. He says he attended the party in September 1963 for between twenty and twenty-five minutes. Peterson’s description of Ferrie’s roommate fits pretty closely with Russo’s description of the character there who looked like Oswald. But Peterson said he did not see anyone who looked like Shaw at the party. Sandra Moffitt, who is also supposed to have been at the party, appeared on NBC, but was not asked anything about the event. She has refused to return to New Orleans for questioning. The value of the testimony of the people who attended the party in confirming or discrediting Russo’s account can only be assessed when that testimony is presented and examined in court.

Until now Russo’s testimony is the main data offered publicly by Garrison, and it has so far stood up whenever it has been presented in court. A major criticism of Garrison is that he hasn’t offered more, and possibly more convincing, information than the testimony of Russo and Bundy. Garrison’s early claims that he had solved the case, and his suggestion that sensational revelations were imminent, led many people to expect him to present much more public data by now. But he hasn’t had to, nor should he. His case is to be presented in a court. He has had many people called before the Grand Jury, some of whom have been indicted for perjury. In order to have a fair trial, the District Attorney (as well as the defense counsels) has been ordered not to discuss the case and the evidence in public prior to trial. In view of the recent decision in the Sheppard case, Garrison must be extremely wary of making public statements that could influence public opinion about Shaw’s innocence or guilt. He was not so careful at the outset and this has hurt his case with the public.

But in view of the fact that Garrison is now required not to give his evidence before the trial, why do people feel that rather than suspend judgment, they have to prejudge? So far every judicial step—the preliminary hearing, the Grand Jury hearing, the various motions heard and still being heard by Judge Haggerty and other—seems legally in order, and has not been decried by the defense. No suggestion has been made that Shaw’s trial will be unfair. No one has challenged Judge Haggerty’s honesty, integrity, or judicial manner. No jury yet exists. Shaw is still legally innocent till proven guilty; there is no reason to believe that he won’t be given a fair trial. Andrews’s trial appears to have been a fair one.

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