Milton Brener, R.I.P.
Updated: May 23
I was sad to learn today that Milton Brener, author of the essential The Garrison Case: A Study in the Abuse of Power, died on Christmas, 2022, at the age of 92. His book deserves a wide audience and should be in any JFK assassination collection.
I really didn't know much about this book until I was writing I was a Teenage JFK Conspiracy Freak. I wanted to learn more about Clay Shaw and Garrison's exploitation of homosexuality, and I thought that Brener's book might be helpful. Regretfully, his book was out of print, and I had to order it second-hand.
The Garrison Case is an eye-opener. Brener worked for Garrison in his early days as a District Attorney and then he left to work as a defense attorney. And so, he knew quite a bit about Garrison and about how the New Orleans D.A.'s office worked. He also had a good understanding of the grand jury system. Brener was the attorney for several people involved in the case (like Layton Martens), and so he had intimate knowledge of what was going on.
Brener wrote his book right after Shaw was acquitted, and so he does not deal with Garrison's charges of perjury against Clay Shaw and the subsequent quashing of those charges. This hardly matters as his account of Garrison's investigation is just superb.
Because Brener was so involved in the case, there is an 'inside baseball' feel to his book. He clearly had access to a lot of Garrison documents and he talked to all the important characters. I find myself continually referring to his book because he is so comprehensive.
James Kirkwood, in his book American Grotesque, also gets close to the key people in the case (like Clay Shaw), but he seems to be on the outside looking in. Both books are worthy accounts of the Garrison debacle.
I spoke to Brener once on the telephone. He told me the story of Pershing Gervais, who was Garrison's chief investigator in the beginning of his term as D.A.. Gervais would go around to all the Assistant District Attorneys and find out which cases were not going to be prosecuted. Before the potential defendants would be notified, Gervais would bribe them - he told them he could get their case dismissed if he got paid. Of course, he knew they weren't going to be prosecuted, but they didn't know that. He raked in quite a bit of cash.
Here is a review of The Garrison Case from the New York Times of November 30, 1969:
"The Garrison Case" might have been subtitled, "The Demagogue as D.A.," or "Joe McCarthy in Prosecutor's Clothing." It is a cautionary tale, and a terrifying one. It will send shivers up your spine, and thus performs a great public service.
Here is a comment from Tom Bethell (who worked in Garrison's office) on Milton Brener's book, taken from a letter to Sylvia Meagher: