Art Kevin Looks Back at the Garrison Investigation
Journalist Art Kevin was invited by Jim Garrison to sit at the prosecution table for the preliminary hearing regarding Clay Shaw. Here is his report from 1997 looking back at the investigation. (Kennedy Assassination Chronicles, Volume 3, No. 2)
THE JOLLY GREEN GIANT
by Art Kevin
A LOOK BACK AT THE CASE AGAINST CLAY SHAW BY D-A JIM GARRISON
In February, 1967, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison told the world that his office had solved the plot to murder President Kennedy. In March Garrison announced the arrest of businessman Clay Shaw. Garrison said that Shaw (also allegedly known as Clay or Clem Bertrand) and David W. Ferrie (who died 4 days after Garrison said he was involved) and Lee Harvey Oswald (then deceased), had meetings (with others) in Ferrie's apartment during which time the plot to kill JFK was hatched. Shaw calmly denied all of Garrison's charges.
Like many Americans I too disbelieved the Warren Commission (WC) report. I had taken the time to read the 26 volumes and found too many facts distorted or ommited, too many questions unanswered. My distrust was further fueled by the great work of seminal critics of that time. People like Mark Lane, Harold Weisberg and Penn Jones, Jr. In addition I'd had some run-ins with some WC personnel that led me to believe that the single bullet-single assassin theory was all they were willing to consider. But that's another story.
After the Garrison story broke it was my critic friends who told Garrison that I could be trusted and urged that he speak to me. One day out of the blue, Garrison called me at KHJ radio in Los Angeles. We formed a quick friendship on the phone. "Big Jim", or, "The Jolly Green Giant", as he was sometimes dubbed, stood 6'6. He had a powerful smile and a resonant voice with a distinct southern drawl. He was very articulate and convinced that the Warren Commission report on the death of JFK was a coverup. Garrison told me there were several suspects in Los Angeles where I worked. He said he would let me have the first word on who they were so I could be the first newsman to find and interview these men. I was exhilerated. This was the story of the century and I had an inside track. A seat on the 50 yard line shared by few others!
When I arrived in New Orleans Garrison warmly welcomed me at his office and introduced me to his staff. "Art thinks like we do", said Garrison, adding, "he's to be given open sesame to any and all information needed or requested whether or not it's been introduced in court. I asked Garrison's chief investigator Andrew Sciambra, a clean cut collegiate looking young man (just a year out of law school) for a witness list and a background summary as to where they fit into the larger picture. Sciambra promised me the materials the next day and some private time with him to weave it all together. Then Garrison offered me the best carrot of all. "Art how'd you like to sit with us", he asked, "at the prosecution table instead of the public section"? "I'd be honored", I replied.
The next day Sciambra gave me the prosecution "hot list" and we casually discussed their roles in the New Orleans scenario. I spent days tracking down the players still alive and interviewing them myself. The cast of characters proved to be eminently bizzare. Garrison's key witness, Perry Russo, was quite unusual. Even though he seemed a good witness, Russo had to be administered Sodium Pentathol and interviewed under hypnosis on 3 occasions to recall a meeting at Ferrie's apartment where the plot to kill JFK was alledgedly discussed by Ferrie, "Leon" Oswald , "Clay" or "Clem Bertrand "and others".
A narcotics addict who assertedly saw Clay Shaw and Lee Harvey Oswald at the waterfront was unavailable to me since he was already in jail. Then there was a flamboyant attorney named Dean Andrews. He had told the Warren Commission that a Clay Bertrand whom he'd met once or twice had called him the day after President Kennedy was shot and asked him to represent Oswald. Andrews said he declined. When asked by the WC to describe Bertrand, he said Bertrand was about 5'8 with sandy hair. Clay Shaw was about 6'3 with a dark Cajun complection and solid grey hair. Andrews refused to say that Shaw and Bertrand were the same man. Garrison, angered, went on to have Andrews indicted for perjury.
I also tracked down a private investigator who'd alledgedly given Garrison names and "hot tips". He turned out to be an alcoholic and tried to get me to pay for his story.
Lee Harvey Oswald was dead of course but I heard constant reminders from Garrison that Oswald was likely bi-sexual which is what brought him into contact with David Ferrie. Even Jack Ruby who'd killed Oswald on national TV was alledgedly gay or at the very least bi-sexual! As for Ferrie, he had been fired from a major airline for homosexual activity. He was a strange man, an ex-pilot, hairless, who often wore glued on eyebrows and similarly attached pieces of hair.
When I pointed out to Sciambra that thr witness list seemed shaky at best, he went quiet. Why can't Russo remember without medical and psychological help, I asked? Wouldn't his questioning under hypnosis be suspect because of the possibility of recall being implanted? Wouldn't the drug addict be suspect of trying to deal down for a lighter sentence? Wouldn't it seem that Garrison went after Dean Andrews on perjury because Andrews refused to cooperate with Garrison? And what about Andrews refusal to tie Shaw and Bertrand together as the same man? And what about the disparity of Bertrand-Shaw's physical appearance as Andrews told it to the WC? Sciambra, clearly looking as if a ton of bricks had come down on his shoulders, told me to take it up with Garrison. I did.
When I confronted the Jolly Green Giant alone in his office with my doubts, he too seemed truly crushed. He cradled his head in his hands as I recited chapter and verse of much of what I'd reviewed with Sciambra. When I concluded, I also asked for comment on the rumors circulating around town that he'd once hit his wife in public and that during his military service he'd been subject to psychiatric counseling. First he got mad. "Look", he said, "who the hell do you think would be involved in the murder of the President of the United States? Bankers? No! The scum of the earth, that's what. I did what I did with Russo just to make sure he was telling me the truth. Art, I'm sorry if you're disappointed. But you just wait until we get into court. I've got some things up my sleeve. Now as for those personal assaults on my integrity...". Garrison paused, stood up, looked me right in the eye and said, "I did get mad at my wife one time in public. Doesn't every husband and wife get that way sometime? And yes, I did have some problems in the military. I was very young. And I told you Art, the closer I get the more shit they dig out on me". With that, he turned and left me alone in his office.
I sat down and contemplated what I'd just heard. I couldn't help but feel real sympathy for the man and the weight he was carrying.
In the days that followed, though I continued to sit with the prosecution, cooperation sank to zero. No more coffee chats with key staff. No more inside scoop.
Even Penn Jones Jr. and comic Mort Sahl told me the "Big Guy" was miffed at me. They wondered why. Frankly, so did I.
Then one day I had a message at my hotel room to come to Garrison's office at a specified time that evening. I did, joining Garrison and Sciambra. "Tomorrow morning", said Garrison, "I will show the American people for the first time how the President of the United States was murdered. They will see without a doubt that there had to have been more than one shooter. I will show the "Z" film, the Zapruder film". With that, he shoved a copy in my hand. "That's for you Art. Now Andrew", he told Sciambra, "turn off the lights and let's show Art the film that will prove once and for all in an open court of law that the Warren Commission lied to the people of the United States".
We saw the film several times. he was right. It was dynamite. When I asked Garrison what effect it might have on the populace in general, he thought for a moment and said, "I don't know. Revolution? They might even make me Vice President!". Garrison had a wide ear to ear grin as he looked at me.
As we know, the trial was short and fast. The jury took less than an hour to determine Clay Shaw was not guilty. They obviously didn't buy Garrison's cast of oddball characters or even the devastating Zapruder film. I knew in my heart that had the Warren Commission Report been on trial, the verdict would have been "guilty". But it was Clay Shaw who was on trial and based on the evidence presented, there was no doubt he was innocent. I have often wondered if, in his heart of hearts, Jim Garrison didn't know the same thing and decided to gamble anyway?
Art Kevin understood that Garrison had no case against Shaw:
"But it was Clay Shaw who was on trial and based on the evidence presented, there was no doubt he was innocent. I have often wondered if, in his heart of hearts, Jim Garrison didn't know the same thing and decided to gamble anyway?"