Henry Wade’s Case Against Oswald

Mark Lane:
Oswald Innocent? A Lawyer’s Brief

In all likelihood there does not exist a single American community where reside 12 men or women, good and true, who presume that Lee Harvey Oswald did not assassinate President Kennedy. No more savage comment can be made in reference to the breakdown of the Anglo–Saxon system of jurisprudence. At the very foundation of our judicial operation lies a cornerstone which shelters the innocent and guilty alike against group hysteria, manufactured evidence, overzealous law enforcement officials, in short, against those factors which militate for an automated, prejudged, neatly packaged verdict of guilty. It is the sacred right of every citizen accused of committing a crime to the presumption of innocence.

This presumption, it has been written, is a cloak donned by the accused when the initial charge is made, and worn by him continuously. It is worn throughout the entire case presented against him, and not taken from the defendant until after he has had an opportunity to cross–examine hostile witnesses, present his own witnesses and to testify himself.

Oswald did not testify. Indeed, there will be no case, no trial, and Oswald, murdered while in police custody, still has no lawyer. Under such circumstances the development of a possible defense is difficult, almost impossible. Under such circumstances, the development of such a defense is obligatory.

There will be an investigation. No investigation, however soundly motivated, can serve as an adequate substitute for trial. Law enforcement officials investigate every criminal case before it is presented to a jury. The investigation in almost all such cases results in the firm conviction by the investigator that the accused is guilty. A jury often finds the defendant innocent, notwithstanding.

That which intervenes between the zealous investigator and the jury is due process of law, developed at great cost in human life and liberty over the years. It is the right to have irrelevant testimony barred. It is the right to have facts, not hopes or thoughts or wishes or prejudicial opinions, presented. It is the right to test by cross–examination the veracity of every witness and the value of his testimony. It is, perhaps above all, the right to counsel of one’s own choice, so that all the other rights may be protected. In this defense, Oswald has forfeited all rights along with his life.

The reader, inundated at the outset with 48 solid television, radio and newspaper hours devoted to proving the guilt of the accused and much additional “evidence” since then, cannot now examine this case without bringing to it certain preconceived ideas. We ask, instead, only for a temporary suspension of certainty.

An examination of the evidence against Oswald — for a trial that can’t be held

Long before Oswald was shot to death in the basement of the Dallas courthouse, the Dallas officials had concluded that Oswald was “without any doubt the killer.” On Saturday, the press was informed that “absolute confirmation as to Oswald’s guilt” had just arrived but that the “startling evidence” could not then be released to the press.

Immediately after Oswald was slain, the Dallas district attorney, Henry Wade, announced that the “Oswald case was closed.” Despite the deep belief that prevailed throughout the U.S. as to Oswald’s guilt, doubts raised throughout Europe escalated with Oswald’s murder into almost absolute rejection of the prosecution case.

The Justice Department then announced that the case was not closed. Wade called a press conference to “reopen” the case. In a radio and television statement, publicized throughout the world, Wade presented “the evidence, piece by piece, for you.”

Wade is not new to the ways of law enforcement and prosecution. He has held the post of district attorney in Dallas 13 years. He has a staff of 80, and an annual budget of almost $500,000. For more than four years he was an FBI agent before becoming district attorney.

He boasts of obtaining the death sentence in 23 of the 24 capital cases he has prosecuted. It can be assumed that the Oswald case was by far the most important matter that he ever handled, and that his appearance on Sunday to present the evidence was the high point of his career. This was an appearance for which he had abundantly prepared himself.

In that light, we now examine the “airtight case,” the “absolute confirmation of Oswald’s guilt.” Wade presented 15 assertions, some mere conclusions, some with a source not revealed, some documented.

Here are the 15 assertions:

  1. A number of witnesses saw Oswald at the window of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository.
  2. Oswald’s palm print appeared on the rifle.
  3. Oswald’s palm print appeared on a cardboard box found at the window.
  4. Paraffin tests on both hands showed that Oswald had fired a gun recently.
  5. The rifle, an Italian carbine, had been purchased by Oswald, through the mail, under an assumed name.
  6. Oswald had in his possession an identification card with the name Hidell.
  7. Oswald was seen in the building by a police officer just after the President had been shot.
  8. Oswald’s wife said that his rifle was missing Friday morning.
  9. Oswald had a package under his arm Friday.
  10. Oswald, while taking a bus from the scene, laughed loudly as he told a woman passenger that the President had been shot.
  11. A taxi driver, Darryl Click, took Oswald home, where he changed his clothes.
  12. Oswald shot and killed a police officer.
  13. A witness saw Oswald enter the Texas theater.
  14. Oswald drew a pistol and attempted to kill the arresting officer.
  15. A map was found in Oswald’s possession showing the scene of the assassination and the bullet’s proposed trajectory.

Perused lightly, the list seems impressive. But in capital cases evidence is not perused lightly. It is subject to probing cross–examination, study and analysis. The most effective tool available to any defendant, cross–examination, is not available in this case. We rely instead upon press reports of statements made, not by witnesses for the defense, not by the defendant, but by the district attorney, police officers or FBI agents. With this oppressive restriction in mind, we move on to an analysis of the evidence.