It’s been 49 years since the Warren Commission issued a report finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when assassinating President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Six lawyers who worked for the commission remain convinced of that finding’s validity.
“There was one shooter. He acted alone … Today, 50 years later, there’s still no doubt,” said Stuart Pollak during a panel discussion on Oct. 11 in Dallas. He was a staff member on the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, which is known as the Warren Commission because it was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Pollack, now an associate justice on the 1st District Court of Appeal in California, appeared on the panel discussion at Southern Methodist University with five other lawyers who helped the Warren Commission conduct a criminal investigation into the Nov. 22, 1963, JFK assassination. “The Work of the Warren Commission, Half a Century On: Its Methods, Successes & Questions” was sponsored by the SMU Dedman School of Law, the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies and The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
The panel discussion is one of many events in Dallas this fall marking the 50th anniversary of the dark day in Dallas when Kennedy was assassinated.
“I don’t have any doubt Oswald did it and was the lone gunman,” said Jay M. Vogelson, a former commission member and Dallas arbitrator, during the panel discussion.
Vogelson said that as part of his assignment, he reviewed the Zapruder film — a home movie by Dallas clothing manufacturer Abraham Zapruder that showed the fatal bullet striking Kennedy in his head — numerous times on a 12-foot screen at various speeds and frame by frame. He said he saw no evidence of another shooter.
Howard Willens, a panelist who was an assistant counsel on the Warren Commission, said there’s been “no credible evidence” since the commission issued its report of any conspiracy involving Oswald or Jack Ruby, the Dallas bar owner who shot Oswald.
Burt Griffin, an assistant counsel at the Warren Commission and a retired judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas in Ohio, told the audience that commission members were a product of the post-World War II era of “intense patriotism.” Therefore, they were determined to find a conspiracy if one existed.
Griffin conceded he had political aspirations, and “if I could have found a conspiracy here, I would have been a senator from Ohio, not John Glenn.”
More to the Story?
Some in the audience aren’t as convinced the Warren Commission got it right. In response to questions from Griffin, a few of the 150 people in the audience on Oct. 11 raised their hands to signify that they believe Oswald did not shoot JFK. A handful of others raised their hands to show they believe Ruby was involved in a conspiracy to see Oswald killed.
W. David Slawson, a retired law professor from the University of Southern California School of Law who also was an assistant counsel on the commission, said his job was investigating conspiracy angles. He said the Cuban government was a prime suspect, but “we could not find any evidence that implicated Cuba.” In fact, Slawson said, there is evidence that Cuba was not involved, but that evidence is still “secret.”
Willens, whose behind-the-scenes book on the Warren Commission investigation will be released on Oct. 31, noted that the commission interviewed 552 witnesses during the 10 months between Nov. 29, 1963, when President Lyndon B. Johnson formed the Warren Commission and Sept. 24, 1964, when the commission submitted the findings to Johnson.
In his book, “History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Investigation into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” Willens asserts that the commission made the right call about the JFK assassination.
Willens says he hopes Americans now believe the commission’s conclusion is “rational.” However, he acknowledges there will probably never be a time when everyone will agree that there was no conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy.
Related sidebar: Seven reasons people doubt the Warren Commission’s findings