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Dallas—Two days after the shots rang out that claimed the life of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s alleged assassin, in the basement of Dallas City Hall. Memories of Ruby’s 1964 trial in Dallas County Criminal District Court No. 3 have come to life for Austin, Texas, attorney Dickie Hile as he reviews the files his father-in-law and former law partner, Joe Tonahill, kept on the case. Tonahill, a colorful Jasper, Texas, attorney who died in November 2001, served on Ruby’s defense team along with California attorney Melvin Belli and others. Ruby retained Belli to represent him and Belli asked Tonahill to be the Texas counsel, Hile said. Hile was a junior high school student in the small Texas town of Newton, located north of Beaumont, when Oswald allegedly shot Kennedy in Dallas, and was never involved in the Ruby case. He joined Tonahill’s firm in 1975, the year after he graduated from Texas Tech University School of Law, and married Tonahill’s daughter, Susie, two years later. When Hile left the firm in 1992, it was known as Tonahill, Hile, Leister & Jacobellis. Now a partner in Dies & Hile in Austin, Hile said he began reviewing Tonahill’s Ruby files last month in anticipation of donating many of the documents and other materials to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, located in the building that once housed the old Texas School Book Depository-the site from which Oswald allegedly fired the shots that killed the 35th president. Hile says the job of determining what to do with the files fell to him, one of three executors of Tonahill’s estate and the only lawyer among them. “It is a treasure trove,” Hile said of the six boxes filled with everything from a report on Ruby’s polygraph examination to Tonahill’s final argument to the jury during the trial. The documents show that Tonahill, a bear of a man at 6 feet 5 inches, and weighing 225 pounds, fought hard for Ruby, whom a jury ultimately found guilty and sentenced to die. Tonahill later submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which, in 1966 reversed Ruby’s conviction in Rubenstein v. State. The appeals court found that Joe B. Brown, the trial judge, erred by denying Ruby’s motion to move the trial out of Dallas County. Ruby, whose real last name was Rubenstein, died of cancer in prison before the state could retry him. A ‘sick man’ In his closing argument, presented on March 13, 1964, Tonahill accused the prosecution of being “so wrought up” by Kennedy’s assassination “that they have to get somebody as a substitute for Lee Harvey Oswald,” according to a transcript found in the files. “They would have you send a sick man, suffering with psychomotor epilepsy, to a penal institution, to gratify nothing but political ambition, embarrassment, humiliation, a need to satisfy, a desire to satisfy, an urge to satisfy an innate feeling of frustration, and it has all come out through this trial time and time again,” Tonahill told the jury in the closing argument. Also in the files are a number of drawings of the trial done by Walt Stewart, then an artist for WFAA-TV in Dallas. One drawing depicts Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander, who prosecuted Ruby along with DA Henry Wade, pointing an accusing finger at Ruby during the closing argument to the jury. The quote beneath the drawing reads: “Oswald was a living, breathing American citizen; whatever he did, he was entitled to be tried in a court of law before a judge and jury just like you, Jack Ruby.”

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