The Clay Shaw trial testimony of Charles Appel, continued



Q: Mr. Appel, in connection with your specialty, did you have occasion at any time during the investigation into the assassination of President Kennedy, to do any similar work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation?

A: No, sir, I have not been employed or had any connection with the Federal Bureau of Investigation since I retired at the end of 1948.

Q: Are you receiving any pension from the Federal Government at this time?

A: Yes.

Q: Mr. Appel, did you make your analysis of this handwriting on the questioned document from a photograph or from the original?

A: I made it from a photograph as far as the questioned Exhibit 55 signature is concerned. I only saw that this morning, the original.

Q: Approximately how many photographs did you see?

A: Twenty frames of film.

Q: Were these frames blown up?

A: No, they were reduced.

Q: Reduced?

A: Reduced in size, yes, sir.

Q: About what size?

A: This was 35 millimeter film, Leica camera.

Q: As a general principle, Mr. Appel, is it more desirable for a handwriting expert to have the original questioned document rather than just a photograph of the original questioned document?

A: It just depends on the kind of evidence present. For instance, if you are dealing with a traced forgery then you need the original, because evidence in addition to the design may be present on a paper adjacent to the signature which may not be recorded in a reproduction. It is always better to have the original, but in this case, of course, I have examined all the original example writings after my arrival here, and many of them, these requested examples, were forwarded to me in Washington before I left there.

Q: These again are just the examples used and not the original questioned signature, is that correct?

A: The only one I didn't see in the original before taking the stand was the questioned signature on Exhibit 55.

Q: And you stated it is generally better to see the original questioned signature or letter or whatever the particular thing is in making a determination rather than seeing a photograph?

A: It is not necessary at all if the evidence in the case you are dealing with concerns the design of the letters, the quality of the lines, because these show very well even in Xeroxed copies, and the copies I have were very good copies, so there was no problem here.

Q: Is it your statement it is only necessary to see the original when you are dealing with a possible forgery?

A: A particular type of forgery, a tracing. Because there it is impossible to trace the design of a genuine signature used as a model onto another piece of paper and move the pen continuously. Instead it has to be done very slowly and carefully and this produces tremor, none of which appears in the questioned entry number 55, and the pen is lifted from the paper and replaced, and the new movement is in a slightly different direction, but in addition to this the guidelines are present. If you use a ballpoint pen without any ink in it to use a model signature which is going to be used as a guideline and then filled in, there is no pigment but there is an indentation which can be seen and shown to the Court.

Q: Did you see the Defendant make any of these example signatures?

A: No, I did not. I asked that it be conducted in a particular way and I am sure it was.

Q: Which way was that?

A: The Defendant be seated in a normal position, there be no writing he could see of any kind, and he be asked to write the content of this entry on similar paper. As soon as the first sheet was completed it was removed from his sight. Another example was obtained in exactly the same way and this [sic] all of them were obtained.

Q: You mentioned he be seated; what was the reason for that?

A: A normal writing position. If he doesn't normally sit down to write you would use the normal position he does use.

Q: Do you know whether or not the individual or the person who made the signature Clay Bertrand in the book was seated or not, the questioned signature?

A: No. The purpose of obtaining these specimens in this way is to gain access to the most normal writing forms that the Defendant produces.

Q: Would there not be a slight difference in a person's signature when he or she is standing up rather than when they are comfortably seated?

A: Not necessarily.

Q: Why was it you requested he be seated then?

A: Only to gain the normal way that he does it, that's all. People learn to write seated. I don't recall ever hearing of or seeing a school that teaches a pupil to write when he is not seated.

Q: You would consider it abnormal for a person to sign something while standing?

A: That's right.

Q: Would your opinion vary at all?

A: Of course it would. But no matter what the questioned writing, like on a will, in fact just last week I had a case where the writing appeared on a will, but you nevertheless get the most normal writings you can. You get the most natural and normal way of writing so you can learn his natural variations and test those variations, you test the differences from one writing to the next against the questioned entry.

Q: Now, did you see any samples allegedly made by the Defendant other than the signature sample?

A: Yes, there was the letter he wrote to Mr. Wegmann in 1966.

Q: Do you have that with you?

A: I don't have it, I think Counsel has it. Yes, I do.

Q: May I take it, Mr. Appel, this is the only sample you were given that was not limited to just either a signature of Mr. Clay Shaw or signature of Clay Bertrand?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Do you know under what circumstances this letter was written?

A: No, sir.

Q: Did you know the health of the individual at the time he wrote this letter?

A: No, I do not, other than through the writing itself. It appears completely normal from beginning to end.

Q: From what did you conclude the letter was written in 1966?

A: I was told, sir. I was told it was taken from the files of Mr. Wegmann.

Q: There is nothing intrinsic to that letter which indicates it was written in 1966?

A: That's right, there is nothing.

Q: Whether or not you received any writings in 1966?

A: Yes, I have in my hand various additional exhibits that were submitted which bear the date 1966.

Q: Are they letters or signatures?

A: They are signatures on letters and one on a post office receipt.

Q: May I see those please?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Mr. Appel, other than the signatures, some of which are merely "Clay," and this letter you have just shown me, and the State Exhibits 30 through 43, did you have any other examples of the Defendant's handwriting?

A: No, I did not.

Q: Did you make a conclusion prior to receiving any of these documents?

A: No, sir. Well, prior to receiving the original I did.

Q: The original what?

A: Documents. As I explained, I had a film, a copy of many of these documents, and the questioned entry.

Q: And you had made a conclusion prior to receiving the original, is that correct?

A: That's right.

Q: In other words you made a determination or judgment from the photograph of the original questioned documents as well as photographs of samples?

A: That's true.

Q: Is that generally the best procedure in handwriting analysis?

A: This is purely a practical matter. As I say, it depends on the evidence present in the specimens themselves. The questioned entry shows in the quality of the lines in the photograph as received by me that it was not carefully constructed by manipulation of the pen. Instead, it was normal writing. The pen was moved forward at normal writing speed. It is consistent from one part to the other.

Q: Speed seems to be one of your principal criteria, is that correct?

A: Yes, speed and modification of letter form. When this becomes much a change as for instance in the letter R, as much as in this writing, in which there is just a movement up and down which represents R, it is actually an I staff form, it is by such abbreviations that a person gains speed. If a person who uses normally this amount of writing speed were to slow down he would without even realizing it revert to the more normal R form to a certain extent.

Q: Do you know at what speed the Defendant wrote the examples you have used?

A: I know though they were written at a very skilled and automatic speed.

Q: What do you mean by "skilled"?

A: I mean by that when this act becomes this automatic, the man could write the name in the dark. He would not have to control with his eyes each formation because it is habitual.

Q: You don't know that any of these were written in the dark, do you?

A: No, I don't.

Q: You told Mr. Dymond on direct examination you saw no difference, or was it significant differences, within the Defense Exhibit D-30 through D-43? Were there any differences at all in the signature?

A: Of course, there are no two signatures, no two writings exactly alike, even though one is written right after the other.

MR. ALCOCK: May I request the Court to have its 10:00 o'clock break at this time so I can have a chance to look at these?

THE COURT: Very well.

(Whereupon, there was a short adjournment at this time.)

THE COURT: Is the State and the Defense ready to proceed?

MR. DYMOND: We are ready, Your Honor.

MR. ALCOCK: The State is ready, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Very well, proceed.

Q: Mr. Appel, did you blow up any of the other exhibits, State or Defense 30 through 43 and juxtapose them with the questioned signature as you have done it with this exhibit? A: As to those exhibited afterwards I don't know what they represent.

Q: The signatures of Clay Bertrand.

A: That he wrote on request?

Q: Yes.

A: I made a negative that contained a number of the signatures that he wrote as well as the questioned signature, but when it came to putting it on this enlarging paper, this was all done in about an hour or an hour and a half on the morning when I had to leave Washington, that was Monday morning. There was no opportunity to see any other ones.

Q: Those were the only blowups you have?

A: Of those specimens it is. I have one made from the original films which I had received at an earlier time of the questioned entry, that's all.

Q: Is there any particular reason why you chose D-30 rather than any of the other exhibits?

A: No, it was just picked at random.

Q: Did you have occasion to view all of them before you picked that one?

A: I did.

Q: Is it your testimony you just picked at random after viewing them all?

A: That's right.

Q: Do you feel that substantiated your position more readily than the others?

A: No, sir.

Q: Mr. Appel, is your specialty an exact science?

A: It depends on what you mean by "exacting."

Q: Is it as exact as mathematics?

A: No, that is the only exact science there is.

Q: I take it yours is not an exact science?

A: It is quite exact. The same as in chemistry, you put one solution with another and it turns blue and you know it is that substance. In this case certainly the comparison of the designs is scientific. It is necessary to have a minimum number of features which are particular to the individual and which are the same as in the questioned writing as the sample writing before reaching a positive conclusion.

Q: Did you reach your conclusion within an hour and a half, is that your testimony?

A: No, I wouldn't say that at all.

Q: Approximately how long did it take you?

A: Actually, the average case takes about two hours of analysis time, the technical time you are actually comparing designs. I am not talking about clerical time. But I had the film. I spent the whole day with that when I received it. I had to develop it myself and go through all the procedure, photographic procedure, to get it to where I could see it. My first examination was made of it through a microscope, 18 times enlarged.

Q: Again your judgment was made based upon photographs rather than the original?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: As a matter of fact, are there not mistakes made in this science of yours?

A: Mistakes are made in any kind of endeavor I have ever heard of that a human engages in.

Q: Have you ever made a mistake in this science of yours?

A: Of course, but I have not been proven wrong in court.

Q: Do you recall a case in the 1950's, a will case of May Hart here in New Orleans?

A: No.

Q: You don't recall testifying in that case?

A: No. I don't recall the name, that's all. I may have.

Q: do you recall whether or not the verdict substantiated the opinion you gave?

A: No, I don't, because I don't even remember the case.

Q: But it is your case at any time you have testified the verdict always substantiated your evidence?

A: I didn't say that. I said no one has ever proven the position I have taken was wrong. The Jury may have decided against it because of a lot of other evidence in the case.

Q: Then you do admit to the possibility of making a mistake?

A: Of course I do, but in this work, as in any scientific work, you adopt a means of examination, a technique of handling it, like for instance a matter of copying the writing forms in notes. You do this to make sure you are not guessing. If you reproduce these forms accurately you know you are proceeding accurately.

Q: Do you recall testifying in the Civil District Court here in New Orleans in the 1950's in a contested will case, irrespective of the name of the person?

A: Yes, I recall testifying in the succession of France, but this had nothing to do with the identification of writing but with what kind of fee an examiner should charge.

Q: Do you recall testifying in a case where you rendered an opinion as to whether or not the will was the writing of one individual as opposed to another in the 50's?

A: I think so. This was a woman who had written an olographic will.

Q: Do you recall whether or not your position was substantiated by the Jury?

A: I do not. My testimony not only concerned the design of the writing in that case but also the existence of disease in the physical condition of the decedent.

Q: Do you recall in that case you had based your judgment on a photograph of the questioned document rather than the original document?

A: I don't think so. I think I may have examined the photograph first, but I examined the original, as I did in this case, after being here.

Q: The original questioned document?

A: Not the questioned one. The first I saw of that was in Court this morning, but from what I see it verifies what I found from examining the copy.

Q: Do you recall in this case whether or not you said the signature of the will was authentic and the Jury verdict was to the contrary?

A: I don't recall.

MR. ALCOCK: No further questions.

Q: Mr. Appel, you stated you have seen the original questioned signature here in court this morning?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Having seen the original questioned signature does that in any way change the opinion which you have rendered in this case?

A: No, it confirms it.

Q: Mr. Appel, could the difference which might be created by the writer sitting or standing be responsible for the differences which you pointed out in the two signatures on D-44?

A: No, sir, that would concern a different aspect of the writing entirely.

Q: As an expert in the field of questioned documents, Mr. Appel, did you have specific material furnished to you in order to form a firm and proper opinion as to the authenticity or lack of authenticity of the questioned signature in this case?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: Mr. Appel, are you being compensated for your testimony in this case or for the work you have done in connection with your examination?

A: No, I am appearing in this case because I feel it is a civic duty to do so, as I have in the past in other cases. I don't take criminal cases at all unless I make an exception to this policy, because I don't wish to break down law enforcement, but occasionally there comes a time when there is reason to believe that without my services an injustice will occur. In that case I will not only accept the case but I will also do it as a civic duty.

MR. DYMOND: Thank you, that's all.

Q: I take it you said you are not being compensated in this case?

A: That's correct.

Q: You made some statement about justice or injustice, is that also correct?

A: Certainly it is correct. This has to do with whether I will accept a case or not. I say I will not accept a case to appear against the prosecution -- well, many times I am employed by the State's Attorneys such as here, I testified in New Orleans in a case involving graft of police officers for the State's Attorney and those cases I will take any time I can help law enforcement, but I won't appear as an expert for the defense. I feel I am not needed for that unless there is some particular circumstance which convinces me --

THE COURT: Let me interrupt. I think, gentlemen, you are going into a field where you are permitting the witness to give an opinion which belongs to the Jury and not the witness, so I am going to stop it.

MR. ALCOCK: I want to find when he formed the opinion, whether it was before or after making the analysis. His credibility is involved here.

THE COURT: You are going beyond the field of his testimony. He is giving a dissertation about something of which he is not an expert.

MR. ALCOCK: This was introduced by Defense Counsel, not the State.

THE COURT: I wondered why you didn't object to it.

MR. ALCOCK: I have the right to explore it now and find out when he formed this opinion of his, and if it was prior to him making the analysis I think the Jury should know he had a preconceived opinion.

THE COURT: You may proceed.

Q: When did you form an opinion as to justice in this case?

A: I didn't form the opinion you are now inferring to me at all.

Q: What did you form?

A: I formed the opinion it was necessary for me to intervene in this case upon request of Counsel. Mr. Lloyd Cobb called me in Washington and asked if I was free to accept this case and what would I charge. I had previously had on other cases worked with Mr. Cobb. He said, "What fee are you charging now?" I said, "$250 a day." He said, "This man doesn't have any such money as that."

THE COURT: Why are we going into that?

MR. ALCOCK: I didn't ask him.

Q: When did you receive the phone call from Mr. Cobb?

A: The 14th of this month.

Q: Did you discuss with him the merits or lack of merits of the case?

A: Not at all. The question was that the man was substantially indigent as far as I am concerned, and couldn't pay me fee, and stood a chance of an injustice occurring. That is why I accepted it.

Q: Do you know if the man who called you had been a witness for the Defense in this case?

A: No, I did not. I don't know anything about the case.

Q: And yet you formed the opinion there may be an injustice done?

A: That's right.

MR. ALCOCK: No further questions.

MR. DYMOND: That's all, thank you.

THE COURT: You are excused, Mr. Appel.

MR. DYMOND: In connection with the testimony of this witness we would now like to offer, file and produce in evidence the exhibits which have been identified as D-45 through D-52.

MR. ALCOCK: No objection.

MR. DYMOND: We ask the Jury be permitted to see the exhibits.

THE COURT: They may see them. They are received.

(Whereupon, the documents offered by Counsel were received into evidence.)

(Witness excused.)


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