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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Dr. Henry Lee, Star of "JFK: Destiny Betrayed"

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

One of the scientific stars of Oliver Stone's so-called documentary series, JFK: Destiny Betrayed, is Dr. Henry Lee, who is billed as one of the top criminalists in the United States.

James DiEugenio has repeatedly discussed why Dr. Lee was a star of the series:

However, Dr. Lee only features once in the series, in episode 2 at 50:28: (page 175 in the Kindle edition of the book JFK Revisited)

Henry Lee: The chain of custody doesn’t start in the laboratory, it starts at the crime scene. Each piece of evidence should be photographed, documented, and preserved properly. From the scene, evidence is collected, sent to the laboratory. We have to keep the chain of custody when they enter the lab. Who examined? Who did the closer analysis, and each step have to maintain and until submit to the court. If this chain broke, then my evidence become inadmissible.

That's it.

Supposed problems with the chain of custody are continually overplayed by James DiEugenio. The implication that much of the physical evidence has been planted is unpersuasive when you look at how events unfolded.

James DiEugenio would have you believe that issues with its chain of possession can only mean that somewhere, between Dallas and Washington, the conspirators changed the bullet. But Kenneth Rahn noted that the “the window of opportunity [to plant items] came well before anyone knew what kind of fragments to plant and where.” How would conspirators know the nature of the wounds of Connally and Kennedy? How would they know what kinds of fragments or bullets to plant? What if they planted an extra bullet?

The Mannlicher-Carcano rifle was found at about 1 PM on November 22nd. It was kept by the Dallas police until about 11:45 PM at which time it was released to the FBI. We know with certainty that CE399 was fired by Oswald’s Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. If the conspirators planted it at Parkland, they would have had to fire the bullet well before the assassination.

Perhaps the conspirators switched out the bullet in Washington. But CE399 was in the possession of the FBI on the evening of November 22nd, well before they took possession of the rifle. Does DiEugenio believe the Dallas police fired the rifle and sent the bullet to Washington?

Remember the prosecution is allowed to present relevant evidence to be considered by the jury. Is CE399 relevant? Of course it was! The bullet was a 6.5mm bullet that was examined by the FBI Lab and was determined to be fired from Oswald’s rifle. [Prosecutor Henry] Wade would have that FBI Lab report. Presented with that back-up evidence, no judge would rule that inadmissible. It is inconceivable that testimony by an expert witness firearms examiner that CE399 was fired by Oswald’s rifle was not relevant. Again remember, it’s the jury’s duty to weigh that evidence, not the judge. And it’s the prosecutor’s duty to prove CE399 was fired from Oswald’s rifle. Could the defense have had the bullet examined by their chosen expert firearms examiner? Of course, but in the intervening years, no one has suggested that another examination would have produced a different conclusion.

But does Dr. Lee know much about the JFK assassination? He was consulted once by the ARRB. James DiEugenio's book JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, contains an interview with Dr. Lee: (pages 430 - 431)

Stone: As a result of the JFK Records Act, it created the Assassination Records Review Board. I know they invited you to give them your opinion on the autopsy materials for the assassination.

Lee: Actually at the end of 1997, they contacted me. On January 22, 1998, I went to review this case.

Stone: And what was your opinion of the quality and the quantity of the work done in the JFK autopsy?

Lee: Autopsy protocol and autopsy procedure did not vary too much during those years. The autopsy is less than desired, the quality and quantity.

Stone: So is it reliable and complete?

Lee: The forensic scientist’s view is we need a complete autopsy to do the reconstruction, to do the analysis. Whatever the autopsy report, the photographs I got, I didn’t have enough material to do what I needed for the reconstruction of the shooting.

The ARRB brought in Dr. Lee and Dr. Vincent Di Maio for a specific reason: to examine the autopsy photographs and X-rays to help determine if they should convene a new forensic pathology panel to investigate the medical evidence. They were specifically not asked to "make any substantive judgments regarding what the autopsy materials reveal in the way of injuries."

Jeremy Gunn wrote that Lee was impressed by the quality of the autopsy photographs:

Lee and Di Maio did not recommend that the ARRB name a new forensic pathology panel.

But one wonders just how much material was examined by Dr. Lee, for the ARRB, or at some other time.

Take this exchange on the Zapruder film: (page 433)

Stone: When you were doing this, did you have access, did you ever look at the Zapruder film in any detail?

Lee: We tried to use this information. But again, you have to find the exact location of Zapruder. The angle of the camera. The speed of the film. At that moment I do not have that information.

Lee could make no conclusions: (page 433)

Stone: What was your ultimate conclusion after looking at the records?

Lee: The ultimate conclusion is: I don’t know. I have no idea. …With Commission Exhibit 567 and 569, we made a recommendation to do a trace analysis and a biological analysis. For those two pieces in the front seat of the limousine.

As for the autopsy photos and the x-rays, they contain so many problems that the prosecution would have an uphill task getting them into evidence. Henry Lee, for one example, was shocked at how poor they were qualitatively and also the lack of essential photos that are standard practice.

One thing for sure, Dr. Henry Lee is not a forensic pathologist. This hasn't stopped him from commenting on the JFK assassination. Here is an article from the Hartford Courant from September 30, 1998:

I find this paragraph interesting:

Although finding nothing to cast doubt on the premise that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, questions will always remain because of unexplained problems with the president's autopsy and subsequent mishandling of evidence, he said.

All this article shows is that Dr. Lee concurs with the consensus view that there are problems with the autopsy.

Henry Lee's 2001 book, Famous Crimes Revisited, has a chapter on the JFK assassination. It's hard to believe that a world-class criminalist wrote this.

For instance, Lee and co-author Jerry Labriola write that "several legal scholars argued that by a careful interpretation of the head injuries and the Zapruder film, one should conclude that a second assassin had fired from in front of the Presidential limousine."

What legal scholars? What about the HSCA? Is this Lee's opinion or not?

Then they talk about ballistics and the head shot:

Even world authorities on gunshot wounds came forward to dispute the x-ray findings, noting that FMJ missiles are used by the military and stating categorically that such bullets tend to pass through the body undisturbed and do not discharge fragments in their path.

Surely Lee is not claiming that a FMJ bullet fired directly into a skull would not fragment?

Their next point is that one of the bullet cartridges found on the sixth floor was very different from the other two. "Unlike the other two, it was found to have a substantial dent in its lip, three sets of marks on its base and an absence of chambering marks. Taken together, these findings suggested to many that two of the cases had been ejected from Oswald's rifle but the third, possibly the one separated from the other two on the floor, was most likely an extra -- a deliberate plant."

We do know that one of the cartridges, Commission Exhibit 543, did have a dent. But this is the first I have heard that there was an absence of chambering marks. Note that the dent was probably made during the ejection process.

When discussing CE 399, they talk about "a major school of thought" that believes that it so pristine as to not be able to cause the wounds in JFK and Connally. But shouldn't have Lee discussed the other major school of thought -- that it was possible and that the HSCA concluded that the single-bullet theory was a fact?

At the end of their JFK chapter, they ask a number of questions:

Hardly an impressive list of questions. For instance, they ask why the spectrographic comparisons of CE 399 and some fragments "were never released." But these results were released, thanks to Harold Weisberg, and have been discussed by Vincent Guinn in his HSCA testimony.

Lee's #5 about JFK's brain is bizarre. The HSCA looked into this extensively, and concluded that RFK was responsible:

Consequently, although the committee has not been able to uncover any direct evidence of the fate of the missing materials, circumstantial evidence tends to show that Robert Kennedy either destroyed these materials or otherwise rendered them inaccessible.

Lee's most original point is about DNA testing of CE 399. Even here, his conclusion is erroneous -- if DNA was only found of one of the men, it would not prove that the other was not hit -- unless it can be shown that DNA would always be present.

Lee and Labriola's chapter on the JFK assassination leaves a lot to be desired. It reads like a high school essay, rather than something from an acclaimed criminalist.

The two authors use a strange mythical character, Sam Constant, who appears throughout the book. Even some fans were confused:

Dr. Labriola creates the fictional character of “Sam Constant," a travelling companion who expresses the sentiment of the time, while Dr. Lee intersperses modern-day comments (in bold print) using the latest scientific knowledge. This is a unique concept for sure, but a confusing read and not much actual participation from Dr. Lee. Critics have been luke-warm on this offering.

I felt my eyes open and scan incredulously across the semicircle of distinguished-looking men before me. Actually, they sat more in a reversed letter U, clustered at one end of two long oak tables juxtaposed for greater width....I didn’t recognize one person at the table who I later learned was the Commission's General Counsel, J. Lee Rankin. On some days, his assistant, Arlen Specter, was at his side....

Within moments of my arrival, I was certain security officials, guns drawn, would approach and search me, escort me away in handcuffs or worse still, arrest me as a trespasser and haul me off to jail. But no one noticed me that day — or on any succeeding day. I showed up for every session from a modest apartment within walking distance of the nation's capitol. Moreover, during each of those days, I was never questioned — and. I'm sure, never even seen! I had become a phantom like Sam Constant; I had become a member of the Warren Commission, but without participation or visibility.

Speaking of Sam, in the corner opposite me and to my left, there was a chair like mine. It was empty on that first day.

So, does Dr. Lee deserve his acclaimed reputation?

JFK Revisited notes that "Lee was a police captain in Taipei City, Taiwan, chief criminalist for the state of Connecticut, and also their Commissioner of Public Safety. In those functions, he supervised scores of criminal cases ... He is currently the distinguished chair professor in Forensic Science at the University of New Haven. He is a prolific author, a frequent expert trial witness, and has hosted his own show on truTV." (pages 38 and 430)

Several of his cases indicate that the substance of his analyses sometimes leaves something to be desired.

Let's start with the O. J. Simpson trial. Lee took photographs of the crime scene and identified shoe prints that he felt might belong to another suspect. Lee was blown up by William Bodziak, an FBI expert on shoe prints:

Bugliosi commented that "if Lee's testimony in the Simpson case is any indication at all of his abilities, he is nothing short of incompetent. At best, he's an example of how Mark Twain once described an expert, "Just some guy from out of town." The problem is that the jury couldn't see through the bloated reputation of Dr. Lee and the prosecution, in its summation, never exposed Lee so the jurors could see the emperor without his clothing on." (page 55 -56 in Outrage)

There are several other sources which question Dr. Lee's competency.

First there is the 2008 book, Forensics Under Fire: Are Bad Science and Dueling Experts Corrupting Criminal Justice?, in which author Jim Fisher has an entire chapter on Dr. Lee. He highlights several cases in which Dr. Lee's competence has been questioned:

  • William Kennedy Smith Case: Smith was charged with rape and Dr. Lee testified that because there were no grass stains on the accuser's pantyhose, she had not struggled. To support his argument, Lee showed a grass-stained handkerchief he had rubbed on his lawn. The Director of the FBI lab, John Hicks, said Lee's testimony was "outrageous," and "characterized Lee's handkerchief experiment as unscientific." Hicks "pointed out that the handkerchief was not made of the same fabric as the pantyhose and the conditions that had created the handkerchief stains did not necessarily replicate the environment of the alleged crime site.

  • Kathleen Peterson Case: Michael Peterson was accused of killing his wife, Kathleen. He had supposedly found her at the bottom of a staircase, but the autopsy found several scalp lacerations on the back of her head. Dr. Lee testified in Peterson's defense, and he testified that the blood spatter was not consistent with a beating. "When asked to explain how a fall down a flight of steps could have produced the seven lacerations on the back of the victim's head, Dr. Lee said that wasn't his job either. He was a death-scene reconstruction expert, not a forensic pathologist."

  • Phil Spector Case: Actress Lana Clarkson was shot once in the mouth at famed music producer Phil Spector's house. After the processing of the crime scene was finished, Dr. Lee and Dr. Michael Baden entered the house. They concluded that she had shot herself. It was later reported to the prosecution that Dr. Lee was seen taking something from the crime scene, like a fingernail. In 2007, Judge Fidler said "I find the following: Dr. Lee did recover an item. It is flat, white, with rough edges. I cannot say it is a fingernail. It has never been presented to the prosecution."

Another controversial case was that of Shawn Henning. Everett Carr, 65 years old, was found stabbed 27 times in December 1985 in New Milford, Connecticut. The local police believed he had been killed when he stumbled across burglars. A fence in Danbury gave the police the names of two men: Shawn Henning and Ralph Birch, who had been committing burglaries in the area. Henning was interviewed two days later and talked to Birch the next day. They had stolen a car and it was found full of trash, food, clothes, blankets and electronics. The car had not been cleaned.

They were arrested in late 1988 and early 1989, respectively. The main problem in the case was that "despite the substantial amount of blood on the walls and throughout the house, investigators found no biological evidence on Henning, Birch, or the stolen car."

"Lee testified that although Carr had been brutally stabbed numerous times, including a cut to his jugular vein, the blood from his wounds had spattered in an "uninterrupted" fashion, meaning there was nothing between Carr's body and the wall. Asked whether the assailants would have had blood on their persons, Lee said, 'My opinion is maybe.'"

The prosecution said the two men had cleaned themselves up before leaving. And Dr. Lee testified that two towels by the sink had tested positive for blood. Both Henning and Birch were convicted, and they received 55 years and 50 years respectively.

In 2008, the towel was tested, and no blood was found. The lawyers for Henning and Birch claimed that Dr. Lee had testified falsely "and that prosecutors had compounded that false testimony by using his misstatement in two separate closing arguments." The case then reached the Connecticut Supreme Court:

In separate opinions, the Connecticut Supreme Court granted both men new trials on June 14, 2019. The opinion said that Lee had an obligation to review records and other material before taking the stand to ensure the accuracy of his testimony. Similarly, the prosecutor had an obligation to be familiar with the material evidence. The fact that neither Lee nor the prosecutor didn’t know Lee was not telling the truth was immaterial. “To conclude otherwise,” the court said, “would permit the state to gain a conviction on the basis of false or misleading testimony even though the error readily could have been avoided if the witness merely had exercised due diligence.”
The court also said that this error by the state wasn’t harmless. The challenge in this case, the court said, was for prosecutors to explain how Birch and Henning violently killed Carr but didn’t get any blood on themselves or the stolen Buick. The towel offered one theory, and without it, the court wrote, “the state’s entire case … could very well have collapsed."

The charges against Henning and Birch were dismissed in July 2020. In December 2020, Henning and Birch filed lawsuits against New Milford, several police officers, and Dr. Lee.

O'Neil's article covers the cases mentioned above and has details about the murder of Janet Myers. The 26-year-old was found dead inside her home beaten by baseball bat. Dr. Lee testified that her husband's pants were spotted with his wife's blood type. This was later disputed by a detective, Robert Masson, who insisted her blood type was never found on his pants.

Masson wrote that "I was never convinced Myers was guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. This case still causes me to have concerns. It is the only case I have ever handled where I have doubt about the guilt of someone." Masson had this to say about Lee:

He was going to come up with the conclusion the state wanted regardless of what the evidence showed. He ambiguously twisted things. He started with theoretical -- 'they could have done this' or 'they could have done that' -- and he went way outside his scope of expertise.

Kerry Meyers spent 26 years in prison but was freed in 2016.

Kerry Myers, whom Lee helped to send to prison for decades, is still seething. "Henry Lee is caught up in his own ego and loves being a forensic expert to the stars. I don't think he cares about people -- they're objects he can use to promote himself," said Myers, 62 who was set free two years ago. "It's frustrating that he's still doing it, and nobody is questioning him."

Dr, Henry Lee might well be generally competent, but he is certainly not infallible.


Now, my argument is pretty simple. When I meet Dr. Lee, I did not expect him to say what he did about not being able to do a trajectory analysis. But after thinking about it, and considering his experience and credentials and his record, I came to think he was correct on this. That since the back wound was not dissected, there could not really be any trajectory analysis of any authority. Especially when one adds in all the other problems in doing so eg. the placement of the back wound, Perry's statement about the anterior neck wound being one of entrance, the "reverse trajectory" out of Connally's left thigh, the significant question of the bullet being found on Ronnie Fuller's stretcher etc. I could have added in the testimony of Wright's widow, about other nurses finding bullets on several other stretchers that day.

I believe there is some confusion between the concept of a path through JFK's body and the concept of a trajectory. A dissection of Kennedy's upper back/neck would have yielded firm evidence of a path; but might not have helped with the trajectory of the bullet which traversed Connally and Kennedy. A dissection of JFK's neck would add little information to a trajectory unless it found firm evidence of an internal deflection.

One of the Croft photographs backs up their conclusion:

Dr. Lee also doesn't believe he can offer an opinion on the head wound because it wasn't dissected. But the autopsy pathologists found clear evidence of entry and exit wounds, and thus knew that there was a clear path:

Here is a transcript of James DiEugenio at the 2022 CAPA conference:

James DiEugenio: And so, I asked him, what do you think about doing a reconstruction of what happened to Kennedy in Dealey Plaza? He shot back, didn't even think about it for a second. "Can't do one, Jim, you can't do one of the JFK case." And I said, well, how come? And he says, "neither wound was dissected. Neither the head nor the back wound was dissected. So, anything you do is going to be guesswork. I don't know what guesswork. If I can't do something accurately, I'm not going to do it."


What he has to say about the skull wound, he goes, because Oliver asked him about this. He goes, "look, you've got this bullet coming in. On a right to left angle. Okay, then in the middle of Kennedy's brain, it abruptly changed direction and starts going left to right. Okay, and then it exits out. And so, Oliver says, "well, what kind of angle was it?" Ninety degrees! Because, and so at the end of the interview, he said, "look, I can't give you an opinion on how Kennedy was killed. Because 50% of the jobs I do, I can give an opinion. About 30 to 40%, I can give a partial. In his case, because the material is so rotten. Okay, I can't give any opinion on what the hell happened to Kennedy." That's how bad it is.

Ninety degrees?

Dr. Lee's answer is music to DiEugenio's ears. He wants someone of authority to say, we just can't determine anything. But when forensic pathologists examine the autopsy x-rays and photographs, they have no problem determining that only one shot hit JFK's head, from behind. As for the trajectory, the best reconstruction is the one done by Larry Sturdivan from his book, The JFK Myths: (page 210)

Unfortunately, viewers of JFK: Destiny Betrayed will not see these diagrams nor will they hear from the many forensic pathologists who believe that JFK was shot from behind.

DiEugenio's continued focus on what would be and would not be admissible in a trial of Oswald has to confront the fact that the prosecution could argue that Dr. Henry Lee should not be considered an expert witness. His 'opinion testimony' would not have been based on sufficient facts or data and it is clear that he has not "reliably applied the principles and methods [of his specialty] to the facts of the case."

James DiEugenio would have you believe that Dr. Henry Lee deserves his outsized reputation. However, they could only find room in JFK: Destiny Betrayed for one short clip of an interview with Dr, Lee. Perhaps someone with better judgment than DiEugenio realized that he added little to the JFK case.

Paul Hoch contributed a considerable amount of research for this blog post.

Over the past several months, I have shown in multiple blog posts how Oliver Stone's documentary series, JFK Revisited and JFK: Destiny Betrayed, misleads viewers. In fact, despite months of work, there are still many more misleading segments that need to be addressed. It's no wonder that the fact checkers of Netflix nixed the airing of the films.

There is a choice between four hours of tendentious nonsense (JFK: Destiny Betrayed) and two hours (JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass). As a handy guide for viewers, here are all those posts in order of their appearance in JFK: Destiny Betrayed and JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass, preceded by some general critiques.

The Viewer's Guide has now been updated to include the sources from my new book, Oliver Stone's Film-Flam: The Demagogue of Dealey Plaza.


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