The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald for the Murder of John F. Kennedy: The Prosecution Perspective
For the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of President Kennedy, my law partner Toby Shook and I were asked to participate in the “the trial of the century that never was” — the trial of Lee Harvey Oswald for the murder of John F. Kennedy. Toby defended Oswald during three separate mock trials and Oswald was never convicted. (Each trial ended in a hung jury.) I participated in two of the trials playing the prosecutor in one and defense attorney in the other. I have been asked to share some of the arguments from these trials and the closing argument for the prosecution is below. I believe this argument would be a fair approximation of what a Dallas jury would have heard from the District Attorney in 1964.
Jury duty is perhaps the most important civic duty required of a citizen. Whether you good folks like it or not, you are jurors in the most important jury trial in the history of our republic. Indeed, your decision today is of the utmost importance—you owe a duty not only to the law but to history.
But by acknowledging the importance of your verdict, this is not to say that your decision today is a difficult one. Sometimes, as in this case, important decisions are clear ones—maybe not easy—but clear—crystal clear.
The law and the evidence demand that you find LEE HARVEY OSWALD guilty today —guilty for the sake of the Kennedy family, guilty for the sake of Dallas, OUR NATION, and guilty for the sake of history. LEE HARVEY OSWALD, and LEE HARVEY OSWALD alone, is guilty of assassinating our late president, John F. Kennedy.
As I said, the evidence in this case is clear, compelling and overwhelming.
Let’s start by examining motive, means and opportunity.
Means — LEE HARVEY OSWALD a marine-trained sharpshooter bought the murder weapon, practiced with the murder weapon, becoming intimately familiar with its operation, he carried the murder weapon to the crime scene that day disguised as curtain rod. Science tells us beyond any doubt that this weapon, this very rifle, to the exclusion of all other weapons, found with LEE HARVEY OSWALD’s prints on it, was the weapon that took the life of our president. He certainly had the means that day.
Opportunity — in a tragic, horrible coincidence, and nothing more, our larger than life president entered LEE HARVEY OSWALD’s small and volatile world that day, He passed within a rifle-shot of this man’s place of work, the Texas School Book Depository. This afforded him a clear shot from a sniper’s perch he had assembled on the sixth floor, found covered with his fingerprints and littered with 6.5 caliber cartridge casings from his rifle, which he hastily attempted to secret as he fled the scene of his crime. A fluke of fate gave him his lethal opportunity.
Motive — Will we ever know for sure? Was the murder motivated simply by the communist beliefs of comrade Oswald as he sought to strike a fatal blow against U.S. capitalism?
Or was it more mundane? Some other indecipherable, muddled motive making sense only in the twisted mind of this man? A mind beset by demons and furies unknown to us, now and forever.
Or was it a product of his own misguided delusion of grandeur—his inflated sense of self? An insignificant man trying to achieve significance for once in his bleak existence by taking the life of the leader of the free world.
We will probably never know his exact motive with any certainty. Not like we know with the certainty, absolute certainty, that it was him, LEE HARVEY OSWALD, and only LEE HARVEY OSWALD, who drew a deadly bead, pulled a trigger three times, and literally blew the brains out of our 35th president. And just a surely as a grieving widow had her husband’s blood on her pink dress that day at Parkland, this man sits in this courtroom today with our president’s blood on his hands.
How can we be so sure? Beyond a reasonable doubt? Beyond any shadow of a doubt?
Consider more of the evidence you heard:
Flight and fight. Flight as he ran away from Dealey Plaza and his crime that day. Fleeing as only a guilty man would do. Fight as fought to avoid capture at the Texas Theater that day. He fought to take another life and avoid this day — his day of judgment in a court of law by a jury of his peers.
And consider his words when he was finally subdued by the brave officers. These words confess his sins and confess his crime s— “This is it—it’s all over now!” These words betray his guilt.
A guilt so obvious, so apparent, that his wife, Marina, maybe the one person who ever loved him, maybe the one person you might expect to profess his innocence, must acknowledge his dark deed. Remember her words when she heard it happened at the Texas School Book Depository and she found his rifle gone — “My heart sank, it was clear it was Lee.”
This is the evidence ladies and gentlemen, And Mr. Shook in his remarks had no more desire to look at it directly than one would have to look directly into the midday Texas sun.
Instead, Mr. Shook wants you to chase ghosts and look for shadows on the grassy knoll. He wants you to conjure up out of thin air sinister conspiracies conceived by dark cabals. Murderous and complicated conspiracies hatched by unseen and unknown enemies either foreign or domestic. He invites you to abandon logic and reason and substitute unsubstantiated speculation in its place.
Let’s scrutinize his spurious invitation. Let’s consider the nature conspiracy theories for a moment. Why are some of us seduced by them? Why do they appeal to us in times of terrific tragedy?
It is repugnant to some minds that great, significant events can be explained merely by routine, ordinary and banal causes. How can just one insignificant man accomplish the greatest political assassination in history? That such a great man can have his life snuffed out by one lone deranged assassin in some respects boggles the mind. Yet that is very obviously the case. We yearn to think our president died for something more than one man’s inexplicable beliefs. We yearn to think he died by more than one man’s inexplicable actions. In disbelief, our minds seek out some complex explanation, when only the simple truth is sufficient. Do not be tempted into speculation. Do not stray from the evidence. Do not allow yourself to indulge in some defense attorney fantasy conspiracy that has no basis in fact. This was a simple act of murder that happened only because our president had the tragic and completely random misfortune of visiting Dallas November 22, 1963, and crossing paths with LEE HARVEY OSWALD.
This was not a conspiracy. This was LEE HARVEY OSWALD. Remember it was his gun, with his fingerprints, he fled to evade capture, and he fought to escape arrest and trial. His guilt, his sole guilt has been entirely self evident during this trial.
50 years from that dark day here in Dallas, when the story is told to future generations of the murder of our president, history will look to your verdict, and a true verdict you must render for those who were not in this courtroom. Your verdict will say we heard all the evidence, in a court of law, subject to the searching scrutiny of cross examination by able and competent counsel, and that evidence without a doubt convicted LEE HARVEY OSWALD as the lone assassin of President John F. Kennedy. A guilty verdict is not a verdict of vengeance, but one of truth. Only a guilty verdict serves justice and history.