The Clay Shaw trial testimony of Vernon Bundy (summary)



As Vernon Bundy's testimony in the trial of Clay Shaw was not transcribed by the private firm of Dietrich and Pickett, Inc., a summary by James Kirkwood is offered.

From James Kirkwood, American Grotesque, 1992 ed., pp. 224-9:

When Judge Haggerty had taken to his bench after lunch and the jurors were seated in their box, the name Vernon Bundy, Jr., was called out. A 30-year-old Negro and self-admitted heroin addict, Bundy was considered by Garrison to be an important witness, being one of two who had testified at the preliminary hearing. Although by this time both Miguel Torres and John Cancler had claimed that Bundy told them he had made up the story so he might get preferential treatment, and it was known by those who followed the case that a few of Garrison's advisers had urged him to drop Bundy from the cast of characters, here he was again, two years later, wearing dark gray slacks, a white shirt without a tie and a black cardigan, ambling down the aisle of the courtroom, eyes a bit puffy, looking like a sleek thin cat who'd been through his share of back-alley survival scrapes and scraps.

Under James Alcock's direct questioning and after the preliminaries -- address, occupation (clothes presser), and information about his attending a clinic and taking the methadone treatment in order to stay off drugs -- Bundy repeated in a husky-hoarse voice his story that on a Monday in June 1963 he had taken two caps of heroin, a bottle of water, a soft drink, his cooker -- "my outfit, as we refer to it" -- along on a bus ride to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, where he'd planned to give himself a fix.

"I was sitting on top of the steps of the seawall and was beginning to use my drugs, to empty two caps of heroin into the cooker . . . behind me I noticed a black limousine approaching. It was facing toward town on the other side of the street. A gentleman got out of the car and walked behind me, passing maybe thirty to forty feet from me. I didn't know if he was a narcotics officer or what. I didn't want him to run up on me with the heroin. I wanted to have time to throw the caps in the lake and let it dissolve. . . . I saw a man with a towel approaching from the white section of the beach. He came up to the gentleman already there. They must have stayed there only five or ten minutes, but to an addict it seemed like five or ten hours.

Alcock asked Bundy if he saw either one of these men in the courtroom. "I see one," replied Bundy. "This gentleman seated here." Vernon Bundy pointed to Clay Shaw, who sat in his chair, a cigarette in his hand, gazing calmly at his accuser. Alcock said, "Let the record show that the witness pointed out the defendant, Mr. Clay Shaw." Alcock then showed Bundy a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald and the young man identified him as the other man at the lakefront.

Bundy went on to finish his story, saying the two men talked for a while but the only words he could hear were from the man he claimed was Oswald. "What am I gonna tell her?" were the words. Bundy: "The gentleman here tried to make the smaller one quiet down." Bundy said the two men kept looking at him and he, in turn, kept his eyes on them. "The gentleman here," he said, once again indicating Clay Shaw, "gave the other gentleman what looked to be like money. He didn't examine it but put it in his back pocket. Some pamphlets or sheets -- I didn't know what -- fell out of his pocket. The gentleman here who came in the car said to me, 'It's a very hot day,' and adjusted his collar. He got into his car and drove off. The young fellow went back toward Pontchartrain Beach. I got my outfit and wrapped it in the sheets that the man dropped. It said something like 'Help Cuba' of 'Free Cuba.' The sheets were yellow and black and white and black."

Alcock then showed Bundy a picture of a car, which the witness said could have been the car Clay Shaw drove up in. It had taken Bundy approximately twenty minutes to run through his story on direct.

He was then turned over to Dymond. The defense lawyer, who had been expected to rip into Bundy, started off easily by questioning the witness about the methadone treatment and then asking how long he'd been a dope addict. "Off and on since I was thirteen," was the reply. Asked how he got money to support this expensive habit, Bundy replied that certain people in his family gave him money and he worked for the rest of it. Dymond then asked if it wasn't a fact that he stole regularly to pay for his drugs. Alcock objected and the judge sustained him, saying the witness did not have to incriminate himself. Dymond argued that Bundy had admitted at the preliminary hearing that he'd stolen, indicating that he was attempting to impeach the credibility of the witness by contradictory testimony. "Aren't you a convicted burglar?" Dymond persisted. "I am not," replied Bundy, going on to qualify his answer. "It was a theft of a cigarette machine, and it was not opened --"

Dymond stopped him, but Alcock quickly objected, saying he wanted the witness to have the right to explain his answer. Judge Haggerty agreed and then Vernon Bundy, with an indignant tone to his voice, looked at Irvin Dymond and said, "As I stated before you interrupted me --" a burst of laughter in the courtroom and a call for order -- "it was not a burglary, it was a cigarette machine from the Municipal Auditorium and it was opened by another party."

Now Dymond asked Judge Haggerty to have Bundy's police record retrieved. A recess was called . . .

After recess, Dymond read into the record that Vernon Bundy had pleaded guilty to theft on May 25, 1966. The lawyer then asked Bundy if it wasn't his testimony a few minutes earlier that he had secured money to support his heroin habit from relatives and from working. "That's right," Bundy said. Now the lawyer began reading from the transcript of the preliminary hearing. This brought forth an objection from Alcock, and a lengthy hassle ensued, during which Judge Haggerty told the witness he should not have had to give up his constitutional rights during the preliminary hearing, that he should have been so informed by the three-judge panel, adding that if he had been one of the judges, Bundy would have been so informed.

After a while, however, Dymond was permitted to continue reading from the transcript. Dymond: "You were asked, 'Where were you getting the money?' Your reply was 'By working and other little hustles here and there.' Do you deny that?"

Bundy: "No, I don't. I didn't understand the question. If I saw something around and no one was looking, I would take it. I didn't steal every day." "You did steal on occasion to satisfy your habit?" Dymond then asked. "Yes," answered Bundy. And that little detour was ended.

Then Dymond returned to the morning of his fix back in 1963. It turned out Bundy's family lived in a large house, twenty or twenty-five rooms, with three bathrooms. They took in eight or ten roomers, and he shared a room with his brother. He had taken a cap of heroin Sunday night, he said, and saved the other two caps for Monday, adding, "I had planned to goof off." When Dymond delved into the trip to the lakefront and the arrival of the black limousine, Bundy suddenly made a request to the court, asking that he be allowed to give a demonstration in proof of his identification of Clay Shaw.

. . . Standing up from the witness chair, he asked to have Clay Shaw step to the rear of the courtroom. . . . "Would the gentleman approach me?" Vernon Bundy asked. . . . Bundy seemed satisfied and returned to the witness chair while Clay Shaw reoccupied his seat. When the courtroom had settled down Bundy said, "I watched his foot the way it twisted that day." Vernon Bundy wiggled his own foot. "This is one way I identified this man the next time I saw him." Bundy told of coming into the courtroom with an assistant district attorney and observing Shaw before he'd testified in the preliminary hearing, adding, "The twisting of his foot had frightened me that day on the seawall when I was about to cook my drugs."

Clay Shaw, because of his bad back, does have, at times, a labored, slightly stiff walk.

While the twisting of a foot might have frightened Mr. Bundy, there was another aspect of his experience on the seawall that did not seem to alarm him at all. And this Irvin Dymond got into, questioning him about the logic of a seasoned dope addict leaving the safety of his twenty-room home and taking a trip out to a public beach to give himself a fix, the harsh penalty for which he was well aware, and, then, to compound this recklessness, remaining on the seawall with his drugs and equipment within hearing distance of two strangers, one of whom he even thought might be a narcotics agent, when the rest of the beach, he testified, was virtually deserted. This, the defense lawyer indicated, did not add up. Anyone with common sense, especially with the suspicious self-protective nature of a veteran narcotics addict, would presumably have made fast tracks out of there -- or certainly would have dropped, thrown into the lake, or swallowed the heroin.

The witness merely said he'd simply decided to go to the lake that Monday and goof off and that's what he'd done.

Now the defense lawyer asked Bundy if he'd known [John Cancler, aka] John the Baptist. Bundy, immediately on the defensive, said they'd been on the same tier in the Parish Prison but denied ever having a conversation with him. Dymond asked, "Do you deny telling him that you knew nothing of the Clay Shaw case, that you were going to say you did so you could get a better break on your sentence?" To this Vernon Bundy replied, almost like an angry child, "I didn't say boo to John the Baptist!"

The lawyer the asked if he knew Miguel Torres, the other prisoner who claimed Bundy had spoken to him about false testimony. "No, I don't know about him," the witness declared. "Do you deny," Dymond continued, "having told him you couldn't make up your mind about placing Clay Shaw on Esplanade [a street bordering the French Quarter] or the lakefront?"

"No, I didn't," Bundy answered. "I didn't even want the District Attorney's officer to know about it. I had become friendly with a certain judge, he had helped me and got me to the hospital at Fort Worth, Texas, and I wanted him to know about it."

Bundy was soon excused. . . .


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