Mark Lane:
Oswald Innocent? A Lawyer’s Brief

by the Editors of the National Guardian

This is a special eight–page, tabloid–size pamphlet published by the National Guardian newsweekly as a public service. It is based largely on a five–page brief on the Oswald case, published in the Dec. 19, 1963, issue of the Guardian, written by attorney Mark Lane.

Few issues of the Guardian in recent years — and the Guardian has been involved in many stirring crusades in its 15 years — have created as much comment as the Dec. 19 issue with the Lane brief. An extra press run distributed to newsstands and offered to readers both old and new was quickly sold out. The demand was so heavy that this pamphlet was produced to meet it.

The doubts and confusion in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy have brought to mind the situation that was created by the Sacco–Vanzetti case and the case of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg — and the continuing case of Morton Sobell. Nor will the doubts be set at rest until genuine efforts are made to get to the bottom of the events that took place the tragic weekend of Nov. 22, 1963.

New readers will be interested in the reaction to the publication of the Lane brief.

The press reaction was interesting. Except for the Times, no New York newspaper printed a line on the Lane brief. The United Press International got proof sheets in advance and announced it “wouldn’t touch it.” The Associated Press was offered the proofs, but said it was not interested; after the Times story appeared, AP became interested.

Abroad the reaction was quite different. In Rome the Lane brief was scheduled to be printed in full in Paese Sera, the largest in the evening field, and in Libération in Paris. Oggi, an Italian magazine with a circulation of one million, sought permission to reprint. The Japanese press and news agencies also were on top of the story. Several Mexican papers picked it up, too.

This experience with the Lane brief leads to the conclusion that there is widespread doubt and incredulity in the public mind both at home and abroad over the handling of the assassination of President Kennedy by the police and investigating agencies. Unlike most of the U.S. press, the Guardian shares this feeling and will continue to gather and to present every pertinent piece of information it can. It deplores the fact that not one leading newspaper in the country is alarmed enough by the implication of the double assassination to apply its full resources to a crusading effort to get to the bottom of the case — even if it means a muck–raking job on the FBI, the CIA, the Secret Service and any agency of government — local, state or federal — that needs looking into.

Among the honorable exceptions in the field of journalism, in addition to the Times (which has been following the developments in the Oswald case in its news columns) are the New Republic, which in its issue of Dec. 21 carried a most disturbing article on the assassination called “Seeds of Doubt,” by Jack Minnis and Staughton Lynd; and the St. Louis Post–Dispatch, which had given its Washington correspondent, Richard Dudman, a free hand in his coverage of the assassination aftermath.

At this writing, the atmosphere in Washington remains troubled and tense. A reporter who has been particularly zealous in tracking down leads in the Oswald case and asking questions has been called “unpatriotic” for his efforts. In Dallas, Mrs. Marina Oswald, widow of the slain suspect, at this writing was being held incommunicado by the Secret Service and the FBI. All attempts by newspapermen to obtain interviews with her have been thwarted, despite the fact that she is perhaps the only person who can shed light on the nagging questions that will not be downed in the case. A “business representative” was chosen, on the advice of the Secret Service, to act as her spokesman.

The Warren Commission has a formidable task, but one which, if pursued with integrity, could help elevate justice in the United States to a more honorable estate. It goes without saying that the extreme Right in America will attempt by every means to make the job harder for its favorite target, Chief Justice Warren. But there are many elements within the Establishment itself which have a big stake in relegating the assassinations even now to dead history. In this category are the federal agencies previously named and the politics–as–usual crowd both in the Congress and the White House which do not want to disturb the profit–and–plunder pattern of our way of life with any revelations that might disclose the underlying ugliness of the pattern.

Lane’s Defense Brief for Oswald

In an analysis of the civil liberties aspects of the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the American Civil Liberties Union said the “public interest” would be served if the commission named by President Johnson were to make “a thorough examination of the treatment accorded Oswald, including his right to counsel, the nature of the interrogation, his physical security while under arrest, and the effect of pretrial publicity on Oswald’s right to a fair trial.”

In the public interest the Guardian has devoted one–half of the issue of Dec. 19 to a lawyer’s brief in the Oswald case which has been sent by the author to Justice Earl Warren as head of the fact–finding commission inquiring into the circumstances of the assassination of President Kennedy. The author is Mark Lane, a well known New York defense attorney, who has represented almost all the civil rights demonstrators arrested in New York. He has also served as defense counsel in a number of murder cases involving young persons.

In 1959, he helped organize the Reform Democrats in New York, an insurgent movement within the Democratic Party, was the first candidate of the movement to be nominated to the New York State Legislature and was elected in 1960.

In his letter to Justice Warren accompanying the brief, Lane urged that defense counsel be named for Oswald so that all aspects of the case might be vigorously pursued, particularly since Oswald was denied a trial during his lifetime. It is an ironic note, as the ACLU statement said, that “if Oswald had lived to stand trial and were convicted, the courts would very likely have reversed the conviction because of the prejudicial pretrial publicity.”

The Guardian’s publication of Lane’s brief presumes only one thing: a man’s innocence, under U.S. law, unless or until proved guilty. It is the right of any accused, whether his name is Oswald, Ruby, or Byron de la Beckwith, the man charged with the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi. A presumption of innocence is the rock upon which American jurisprudence rests. Surely it ought to apply in the “crime of the century” as in the meanest back–alley felony.

We ask all our readers to study this document, show it to as many persons as you can (extra copies are available on request) and send us your comment. Any information or analysis based on fact that can assist the Warren Commission is in the public interest — an interest which demands that everything possible be done to establish the facts in this case.

A Lawyer’s Brief

Four weeks after the murders of President Kennedy and Lee Oswald, the National Guardian published an extended essay by Mark Lane, who pointed out that the existing evidence was not sufficient to have convicted Oswald at trial. Soon afterwards, the essay was expanded and published by the magazine as a pamphlet.

This Version

The National Guardian no longer exists, and copies of Lane’s pamphlet are now collectors’ items. The text has been available online for many years at It is available here for the first time in correct HTML, and has been split into sections for ease of reading online.

Half a Century Later

Lane’s text stands up well. He makes the original case against Oswald seem very weak, despite the fact that some of the strongest evidence of Oswald’s innocence was still to be discovered:

  • The paraffin tests were yet to be subjected to a controlled neutron activation analysis, which proved that Oswald had not fired a rifle on the day of the assassination.
  • Edgewood Arsenal had not yet tested the effect of bullets striking bone. These tests showed that the so–called magic bullet could not have broken Governor Connally’s ribs and wrist, and proved that more than one gunman had been involved in the assassination.
  • The Zapruder film, which by disproving the single–bullet theory also confirmed the existence of more than one gunman, would not be widely seen until 12 years later.

Errors of fact are very few, and trivial. For example, there were no other employees with Oswald in the second–floor lunch room when, according to the official account, he was seen drinking a Coke.

Lane wrote his essay before the Warren Commission had begun its work. He expressed confidence that Earl Warren would perform an honest investigation of the crime. Sadly, the Warren Commission became a by–word for a whitewash.

One aspect of the case has, unfortunately, remained constant. Lane describes the willingness of the media in 1963 to assume without question that because someone in authority states that Oswald was guilty, Oswald must have been guilty.

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22 November 1963

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