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  • Fred Litwin

Jim Garrison's Grand Juries...

Updated: May 24

Few people realize just how much power Jim Garrison utilized in his position as District Attorney of the Parish of New Orleans.

Milton Brener, in his superb book The Garrison Case, wrote:

"By virtue of his office, the District Attorney is potentially the most powerful of the public officials domiciled at Tulane and Broad ... However, until 1962, the full extent of his strength had been convincingly impressed neither upon the community in general, nor upon the politicians themselves. It lay largely unused in the statute books. Not until the advent of Jim Garrison was the realization driven home of the large extent to which the DA's power had remained untapped."

Here are a few pages from his book on the grand jury: (pages 10-12)

One of Garrison's favorite maneuvers was to subpoena a person to appear before the grand jury, have them testify, and then charge them with perjury. They would then be unable to leave the jurisdiction; they would have to hire a lawyer, and they would have difficulty getting mortgages, a bank loan, or finding a job. Then right before the trial, he would drop the charges. Layton Martens and Kerry Thornley are two such examples. After Martens was indicted, he was not allowed to travel to New York to accept a position in an orchestra as a cellist. Sometimes the threat of just appearing before the grand jury was enough to get witnesses to cooperate - it's no wonder that witnesses were afraid of going before the grand jury.

An example of a grand jury subpoena.


Headline indicative of the feeling of grand jury power

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New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 25, 1968


One judge even went public with his concerns about the grand jury system:

New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 3, 1967


Indeed, one of Garrison's investigators, Lou Ivon, told staffer Tom Bethell that:

"It's a lot of power he's got. If all the DAs in the country were like Garrison, things would be in chaos."

In my book, On The Trail of Delusion, I wrote: (page 6)

"Last, Garrison used the grand jury system as his personal court by packing it with friends and colleagues, many of them from the New Orleans Athletic Club."

Conspiracy theorist James DiEugenio took exception to that:

Again, for the record, urban grand juries in Louisiana are chosen similarly to the way trial juries are chosen. They are picked randomly from voting rolls. (Louisiana Law Review, vol. 17, no. 4, p. 682) Further, Garrison did not choose or run the grand juries. He assigned that function to his deputies who ran them on a rotating basis. (1994 interview with ADA William Alford)

Let's see if this is completely true. Here is an excerpt of an interview of Irvin Dymond by author James Kirkwood, in which they are talking about the Albert LaBiche grand jury which took office on March 1, 1967:

Kirkwood: Oh, tell me something about the Labiche Grand Jury. That's really wild. Bill Gurvich was talking to me the other day, about the makeup of that.
Dymond: I can't really speak with any degree of accuracy on it, but as I recall it, there were several members of that Grand Jury who were really buddy-buddy from the New Orleans Athletic Club. Real close ...
Kirkwood: I think Gurvich said that he thought seven of them were.
Dymond: I think Gurvich has looked into that aspect of it more than I have.
Kirkwood: How is the Grand Jury picked here?
Dymond: The Grand Jury is picked very much the same as petit juries are picked. The basic names are picked out of the jury (wheel?) by the jury commission. Then the judge who is in charge of the Grand Jury for the particular session involved interviews prospective grand jurors and chooses the ones --
Kirkwood: And HE chooses?
Dymond: Correct.
Kirkwood: That's wild. Now --
Dymond. Now that is not necessarily the judge who is going to try the case. It is the judge who has charge of the grand jury for that session.
Kirkwood: I understand it was Haggerty, though.
Dymond: I believe it was . . . check on it.
Kirkwood: Now when a judge is in charge of a grand jury, how does that work with his relationship with the grand jury? Like if there's -- if there are points of law or something that they want to check, they go to him?
Dymond: That's correct. And they also report their findings. In other words, if they return an indictment, they come into that judge's court and return the indictment to him. Or if they want to return a no-true bill, they would do it in that judge's court.
Kirkwood: Somebody - oh, I talked to - well, like Gurvich told me when he went before the grand jury, they had two witnesses in there to disprove him before he went in.
Dymond: You know, that reminds me of something in which you'll be deeply interested. You should interview Burt Klein, in regard to his experience when he went before the grand jury in connection with the Beauboeuf ... Do you want me to call Burt now and arrange that?
Kirkwood: Yes, I'd love to have you ...
BREAK IN TAPING
Kirkwood: . . .that's wild, because then you've got a perjury thing set up for you, if you take witnesses - like two witnesses, to tell the story, and then you bring the main guy who's being called. And then, it's so tilted by the time he comes in. He's working against something.

Towards the end of his book, American Grotesque, James Kirkwood sits down for an interview with Judge Haggerty, and the topic of the grand jury came up: (page 645-646)

Haggerty: [On the subject of the LaBiche grand jury]: That was Judge Bagert's grand jury ... it was the LaBiche grand jury where Al LaBiche was foreman. Now that has been attacked in my court and in many other courts by the claim that Judge Bagert picked his crones [sic] from the New Orleans Athletic Club and the American Legion.
Kirkwood: That's what I heard.
Haggerty: I belong to the club for over eighteen years - up till two years ago. All my buddies have left there, they don't go there. They got mostly Jew people - that play cards and gin rummy and it has no attraction for me. I still belong to the American Legion, pay my dues. But you can't belong to the post unless you belong to the club. I'm going to get back into the club. It's just a political help to belong to it ... Bagert, he had about seven or eight friends of his from the New Orleans Athletic Club and the American Legion, and a lot of people were suspect that of all the people in this city, why suddenly - Well, it did look bad!

William Gurvich was quoted by James Kirkwood: (page 177)

"There were twelve members of the LaBiche grand jury, hand-picked by Judge Bagert. Ten were white and two were colored. Of the ten whites, seven were members of the same athletic club. The same athletic club that Jim Garrison used as a second office. All of them were Legionnaires. The two colored were not eligible to belong to either the Legion or the club. In the judge's chambers, behind his desk, is a large framed photograph, black and white, taken in the White House. In the center is John F. Kennedy, President. On one side is Judge Bagert in his Legion uniform. On the other side is Albert LaBiche, the foreman of the grand jury, in his Legion uniform. So he selected his Legion buddy as foreman."

So, it's easy to see how a grand jury can be stacked - the judge in charge interviews and picks the jurors. In normal situations, that might be ok, but Garrison waged a battle against the judges in the early 1960s. They took him to court and he eventually won. Then, he started to actively campaign for certain people to win judgeships. In 1963, he campaigned for Frank Shea for an open judgeship and he won. As Milton Brener noted, "This was the first public test of Garrison's popularity. The significance was not lost on the judges, as was soon to be demonstrated." In the summer of 1964, Rudolph Becker ran for a judgeship, and Garrison actively campaigned for him. He became Garrison's second judge. In 1966, judge George Platt retired and Governor McKeithen filled the seat with Matthew Braniff, a friend of Garrison's. He became Garrison's third judge.


And so, a buddy-buddy system was created, and Garrison got grand juries that were extremely amenable to his powers of persuasion.


There was a definite lack of diversity in the grand jury. Walter Sheridan addressed this in two sections of one of his legal filings:


And the lack of women:


Aaron Kohn, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of New Orleans, wrote this in a memo dated May 31, 1967 about a conversation with Brigadier General Raymond Hufft and formerly the Louisiana Adjutant General of the National Guard:


There are many examples of Garrison controlling the grand jury. Here is a sampling of stories from the diaries of Richard Billings and Tom Bethell:


Tom Bethell entry for September 26, 1967:

"Lane then made an made an indiscreet remark about Aaron Kohn's grand jury statement -- revealing that he knew what Kohn said before the grand jury, which he is not supposed to know -- and also mentioned Billings, Garrison and he having dinner together. I'm afraid Lane sees things purely in terms of public relations, TV appearances, etc."

Tom Bethell, entry for February 8, 1968:

"1969: P.S. I never saw a transcript of Marina Oswald's testimony. Of course, Grand Jury testimony is technically secret, but the fact that Garrison largely conducted his investigation in the secrecy of the Grand Jury raises some questions about the validity of his criticisms of the Warren Commission. This would be analogous to the Warren Commission having heard testimony in closed session. It seems that Marina's testimony before the Warren Commission will go down to posterity -- albeit under a great deal of criticism -- but her testimony before the "Garrison Commission" will not even see the light of day. It will be analogous to one of the Commission's classified documents, which Garrison got so much mileage out of. As far as I know, nobody has ever raised this criticism of Garrison. When is he going to publish his 26 volumes?"

Tom Bethell diary, February 20, 1968:

"Papers being drawn up on Kerry Thornley, which both [Assistant D.A.] Alcock and [Assistant D.A.] Burnes refuse to sign. There is no doubt in my mind that Thornley is completely innocent of perjury and everything else."

Richard Billings Journal, March 3, 1967:

Giant admits Russo is his only link now . . . But there's the girl . . . And Peterson and Carter have also made [identified] Oswald . . . He plans to arrest Andrews as an accessory . . . Then again, he may charge Dean with perjury . . . Can use Grand Jury . . . "We'll give the Grand Jury a picture, and we'll communicate to them we know about Bertrand . . . They can then ask Andrews if he knows Bertrand . . . Any statement Andrews makes to the Grand Jury that conflicts with what he told the Warren Commission is automatic perjury . . ."

Richard Billings Journal, April 25, 1967:

Garrison says that his present Grand Jury is very aggressive, and not above issu[ing] subpoenas to Earl Warren or Ramsey Clark, or anyone else, for that matter. He takes great confidence from this, and is educating the Grand Jury by bringing before them members of the cult of critics, like Ray Marcus or Harold Weisberg or Mark Lane, and he even suggests the possibility of sending a subpoena to the US Attorney General, for the purpose of getting documentary evidence of the US Government's investigation of Clay Shaw, and to further determine what a government spokesman meant when he said, as reported in the New York Times, that the Department of Justice had information that Bertrand and Shaw were the same person.

Jim Garrison did not like any independence from grand jury members. Here is one example (from Patricia Lambert's book, False Witness, page 271 - 272) - Garrison gets upset when a grand juror asks Perry Russo a tough question:


Grand Juror: Let me see if I understand here. You heard all this and you know JFK was killed a few days later, just the way you heard it planned. Yet, you were too busy to get involved. Is that what you're saying, Mr. Russo?


I mean I don't know how you could have slept at night. Mr. Garrison has explained in great detail that you are now making an almost supreme sacrifice to come forward, to stand tall against some elements in our government who have covered this whole horrible thing up, but why didn't you say something?


Russo: It isn't easy to tell a secret of such great scope. And I didn't know for sure that they did it. I guess Oswald was there, at least, but Ferrie was somewhere else. Mr. Garrison told me he had four strong witnesses that could place Ferrie, Clay Shaw and Oswald together, after I heard them planning it, so maybe what I saw and heard isn't that important. I've been assured that I was just the first one who got involved with 'em. Mr. Garrison has a former Dallas police officer, a CIA guy and some others. Why don't you ask them why they didn't come forward before this too? Mark Lane, you know him, who was once a senator, has told me he uncovered information three days after the assassination that put Shaw and Ferrie in the midst of it. Why isn't anybody asking him why he kept it secret for so long?


Garrison: I don't think it's called for to jump on this witness, the one man who had guts to come here and jump into all this mess. He has been hounded by the go-along press, has been followed by private detectives, has been bribed by TIME magazine to change his story and has been ridiculed for the truth he has told us. If you want to cast some blame, I think maybe you'll have ample opportunity when I get people like Walter Sheridan, James Phelan, Hugh Aynesworth and Gordon Novel up here ... and I will. All of them will be subpoenaed. And you haven't seen a criminal until you talk to Regis Kennedy and William Gurvich. I've told you all about Carlos Quiroga and Layten Martens. We have evidence tying Quiroga to Dallas, Sheridan and Phelan to taking bribe money from the CIA and a tape recording of TIME trying to bribe his witness. And you jump on him! If that's the way an honest grand jury is going to handle the most important investigation in U. S. history, I may not want to be a continuing part of this whole show. When we began, I told you I knew who the real assassins were and would haul them to justice. You gave me your assurance you would keep an open mind and work with me. So I want that cooperation or I'll go to Judge Bagert and quietly shut this whole investigation down. Perry, I have a couple of other questions to ask, then if any more jurors want answers, I'll open it up again, okay?



DiEugenio also mentioned his 1994 interview with William Alford, who worked for Garrison. Yet, Alford resigned from the D. A.'s office in 1971, and one of his issues related to the grand jury:



The article notes that "He said that about "one month" following the grand jury probe, he was removed as advisor to that body ... When he resigned, Alford said he learned recently that Garrison was the person who removed him (Alford) as advisor to the grand jury when it was investigating pinball gambling about one year ago."


The proof of the pudding is in the eating. There are many examples of Jim Garrison's misuse of the grand jury system. Here is an excerpt from a legal filing by Walter Sheridan regarding the grand jury:


I'll close this post with another excerpt from James Kirkwood's American Grotesque: (page 177)

"Jim Phelan and I spoke of the LaBiche grand jury and of the dangerous homogeneity of the group. The imagination can easily picture the results of such a body, composed as it was, and activated at the same time Garrison's investigation into the death of the President was launched. James Alcock, defending charges of extreme bias against the LaBiche grand jury, said, "Whenever this jury or any grand jury is deliberating on whether or not to return an indictment, the assistant D.A.'s leave the room." This would seem to be a pure technicality, in view of the highly publicized series of long and expensive lunches provided for the LaBiche grand jury, with drinks served, and often attended by Garrison or other members of his staff. Add to this the personal friendship of many of the jurors with both the District Attorney and Judge Bernard Bagert, who presided over the preliminary hearing, and the situation was perilously cozy. As another lawyer said, "So they leave the room for five minutes - big deal!" (It is interesting that at the end of the LaBiche grand jury's six months, Garrison investigated every possibility in hopes of extending their term. This was too obvious a move even for New Orleans and he was advised to leave well enough alone.)
No one knows how many indictments, if any, the LaBiche grand jury refused to hand down in connection with Garrison's investigation but the indictments they and other grand juries under Garrison's direction did bring in are legion and they netted many who failed to cooperate with the District Attorney's office or who criticized him in any way."

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