The Clay Shaw trial testimony of John Nichols
CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT
PARISH OF ORLEANS
STATE OF LOUISIANA
STATE OF LOUISIANA vs. CLAY L. SHAW
EXCERPT OF THE TESTIMONY TAKEN IN OPEN COURT
February 19, 1969
THE COURT: I trust you Gentlemen had a nice Carnival. Is the State and the Defense ready to proceed?
MR. OSER: We are, Your Honor.
MR. DYMOND: Yes, Your Honor.
MR. OSER: I think we left off with a question being propounded to the Doctor.
JOHN NICHOLS, M.D., having been sworn and having testified previously, resumed the stand for a continuation of the DIRECT EXAMINATION BY MR. OSER:
Q: I will ask the Reporter to read the question where we left off the other day.
(Whereupon, the question was read by the Reporter.)
THE WITNESS: May I see the two exhibits again, please? I would like to correct the word "stimuli," that is plural. I should have used the word "stimulus."
THE COURT: I think Mr. Oser was using it plural. Originally you used the word "stimulus."
THE WITNESS: In answer to that question, I would say Governor Connally would have reacted almost exactly 7/5, 670 of one second later than President Kennedy.
BY MR. OSER:
Q: I show you what has been marked as "S-53-I," and I ask you if you would describe what is depicted in that photograph, please.
MR. DYMOND: The photograph speaks for itself.
THE COURT: Would you rephrase your question.
BY MR. OSER:
Q: Doctor, would you state for the Court as an expert, what is your opinion as to the body movements and reactions of President Kennedy as depicted in that photograph.
A: I cannot tell any body movements from this single photograph, I would have to compare it to the preceding photographs and subsequent photographs.
Q: I show you, Doctor, what the State marked as "S-53-H" and "S-53-M," and --
MR. DYMOND: Excuse me, Doctor. If the Court please, we object to this testimony on the grounds that it is beyond the scope of the expertise of this witness.
THE COURT: I overrule the objection.
MR. DYMOND: To which ruling Counsel reserves a bill of exception, making the entire testimony up until this point, the objection, the ruling of the Court, the reasons for the objection, the witness's testimony, parts of the bill.
THE COURT: The Doctor has examined all of the photographs, he can use any one of them to give his opinion on. You may proceed.
THE WITNESS: Comparing "S-53-I" and "S-53-M," it is apparent that the President's head and shoulders have moved to the rear in "S-53-M."
BY MR. OSER:
Q: Now, Doctor, as an expert, and having viewed those particular 8 x 10 enlargements and 35 MM slides, Frames 200 through 320, excluding those that are missing, 234 to 244, and having seen the Zapruder film, I ask you, Doctor, as an expert, what is your opinion if a stimulus was applied to the rear of President Kennedy's head, as to -- correct that, if a stimulus had been applied to the rear of President Kennedy's head at the time of "S-53-I," what in your opinion as an expert would have been President Kennedy's reaction to a stimulus applied to the rear?
A: If the proposed stimulus applied to the rear is the same magnitude as the stimulus apparently delivered from the front, then his head and body would have moved to the front.
MR. OSER: I tender the witness.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: Were you in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963?
A: No, I was in my research lab.
Q: You did not witness the assassination. Is that correct?
A: That is correct.
Q: Now, what is your usual procedure in conducting an autopsy where it appears that the death was caused as a result of a head wound?
A: In conducting the autopsy I would start by X-raying the body completely in two planes, anterior-posterior and lateral, and after these were developed and after I studied them, during this time of course I would be taking those photographs with black and white camera and with a color camera, and I would be making measurements of various points, I would be making measurements of various lesions which might have been involved, and having then studied the X-rays, I would have proceeded along the lines indicated, which would of course include a full, complete and total examination. We would dissect the body and get all of the disease or affected parts out, and make microscopic slides of these, make detailed drawings with measurements, and after all was put together, it would probably be a month before I would be able to issue a final diagnosis; however, in most gunshot wounds one is able to issue a provisional diagnosis shortly after you finish with the body, but to do the complete autopsy, it requires considerable time.
Q: So ordinarily it would take a month or more to perform an autopsy. Is that correct?
A: Well, with a gunshot wound it is reasonable, and if there are no complicating factors otherwise, it is reasonable it could be done within a month, yes.
Q: How would you go about determining the point of entrance and the point of exit of a gunshot wound in the head?
A: It depends an awful lot upon the nature of the gunshot wound, if it is a small 22 it is relatively simple, if it is something such as a 6.5 Mannlicher Carcano, it is a little more difficult, but you use every bit of evidence that you have on hand.
Q: Well, tell us some of the procedures which you would ordinarily follow in doing that in conducting an autopsy.
A: Oh, if motion pictures had been taken of the subject during the assassination, I would study those first, and I would have eyewitness testimony, and then sometimes a small caliber --
Q: We are talking about 6.5 --
A: Every situation is different, and I have to go with what we have at hand.
Q: Ordinarily, now, Doctor, is it your testimony you would not examine the remains of the person shot in connection with determining the point of entrance and exit?
A: No, I didn't say that at all, I say we do a complete total autopsy.
Q: Now, what does this complete total autopsy consist of which you would perform under these conditions?
A: It consists of first X-raying the body completely, anterior-posterior, front and back, and then side pictures, from the side, localized missiles, and then for the sake of completeness it requires taking gross photographs of the body for identification, for the position of wound, such things as that, and then it involves a dissection, getting out all of the parts involved, and it includes fixing the tissues in formaldehyde to allow them to become hard, and after they become hard we dissect these very carefully using sometimes a low-power microscope, and we separate and submit the appropriate parts to technicians to make slides, and after the slides come back we study them under a microscope. In the case of a brain, it is necessary to fix the brain in formaldehyde for two weeks until it becomes hard, to dissect, and if you try to dissect a fresh brain it falls apart, putting the whole thing together at the end.
Q: Would you examine and take into consideration the physical characteristics and condition of the remaining parts of the skull of someone?
Q: Now, Doctor, did you examine any X-rays of the remains of President Kennedy?
A: I requested to do so, sir, but I have been denied that privilege. I have requested on many occasions to do so in telegrams and registered letters.
Q: But you have not examined these X-rays. Is that correct?
A: Not yet.
Q: Doctor, have you ever before performed an autopsy without having reviewed the remains of the person upon whom the autopsy was being performed?
A: I have expressed opinions on such autopsies to some lawyers who come to my office.
Q: You have never actually performed one without having examined the subject?
A: Your cannot perform an autopsy by remote control.
THE COURT: Never mind, proceed.
BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: Doctor, when was the first time that you saw the Zapruder film in its entirety?
A: I suppose it was about two weeks ago.
Q: Two weeks ago, where did you see that?
A: At the Townhouse Motel in Kansas City.
Q: And you saw a complete --
A: I beg your pardon, I saw it in the Pathology Department in Kansas City, in the projection room.
Q: You saw a complete running of the Zapruder film at that time?
A: Yes, the Zapruder film that I saw here was complete as compared to the one I saw in Kansas City, yes.
Q: When was the first time that you examined blown-up slides or prints of the Zapruder film?
A: I suppose it was about 11:30 Monday morning.
Q: Now, Doctor, the opinions which you have expressed here in your testimony, is it not a fact that you expressed the same opinions in an article offered by you in the Archives of Pathology back in 1967?
A: Oh, no, not at all.
Q: In what way does the opinion differ?
A: May I see the article, please?
Q: I don't have the article.
A: It does not exist, sir.
Q: You haven't written any article for the Archives of Pathology?
A: Yes, I have written --
Q: None pertaining to the assassination of President Kennedy?
A: None, sir, I have never written an article pertaining to the assassination of President Kennedy anywhere.
Q: You never have?
Q: You have no published work --
A: No published work on the assassination of President Kennedy.
Q: Doctor, do you hold yourself out as a ballistics expert?
A: In the case of the assassination of President Kennedy, I have conducted experiments, yes, this consisted of purchasing 6.5 Mannlicher Carcano ammunition, I have fired this into human wrists and into human ribs, I have recovered the bullets, yes, I proclaim a degree of proficiency in ballistics to this extent.
Q: What formal training have you had in the field of ballistics, Doctor?
A: Well, this consisted of a one-hour lecture, I suppose it was a lecture in Medical School and I have attended ballistics experts examining other bullets at the College of Virginia, I have talked with many police officers, I have identified bullets and have testified to them on those points, yes.
Q: On the basis of that, you consider yourself a ballistics expert?
A: I consider myself an expert in the field of ballistics as I have testified in this Court.
Q: What formal training in the field of ballistics have you had on the ballistics points in which you have testified in this Court?
A: I have created my own, sir, my experience. I chronographed the speed of a bullet emerging at 1,890 feet, at a distance of 30 feet, then I would catch these bullets and I would also shoot through human wrists and ribs and catch the bullets and I would compare them, sir. The bullets coming through the wrists and through the rib, injuries similar to Governor Connally's, were mutilated whereas bullets otherwise -- bullets traversing a rib and a wrist producing wounds similar to that sustained by Governor Connally are mutilated bullets whereas bullets that are merely shot into a mattress in which I checked them, they are pristine. I have, sir, copyrighted results of my work here. May I show them to you, please?
Mr. Oser, do you have the --
THE COURT: Do you have them?
MR. OSER: We can send for the Doctor's briefcase, which is down in my office.
MR. DYMOND: Actually, Your Honor, I am not interested in these.
THE WITNESS: I have them right here, though.
THE COURT: I think he has a right to give an answer.
THE WITNESS: Perhaps we can give a better answer to the Jury if I could set up the slides and project them onto the screen.
MR. DYMOND: If the State wants him to do that --
MR. ALCOCK: This is in response to his question, Your Honor.
MR. DYMOND: Anybody can copyright anything that is unique and original.
THE COURT: I think the Doctor can give you a yes or no answer and tell you and show you what training he did have.
MR. DYMOND: Training, yes.
THE COURT: That is what he is trying to do.
MR. DYMOND: I am willing to hear testimony about training, that is what I have asked for, but a man writing an article does not constitute training.
THE COURT: Wouldn't the articles denote yes or no, whether he did have any training in the subject?
MR. DYMOND: I have never heard or seen of the articles.
THE COURT: Tell of your training without going into the articles.
THE WITNESS: No such article exists, it is a figment of somebody's imagination. My training, sir, in the field of ballistics consists of a one-hour lecture, conferences with ballistics experts in the office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Richmond, Virginia, it consists also, sir, of my own studies, which is training, with a Mannlicher Carcano Rifle, 6.5 ammunition, being fired into human wrists and ribs and collecting the bullets, this is training, sir, and this is the result of it, and with Your Honor's permission, I would like to show these to the Jury in detail.
THE COURT: I think you have answered the question. I say he has answered the question.
MR. DYMOND: I think so.
BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: In other words, Doctor, your training consists of a one-hour lecture that you have attended, having spoken to police officers about ballistics and some experiments that you yourself conducted. Is that right?
A: That is partly [sic].
Q: What else is there to it?
A: Well, discussing the matter and a rather extensive course of self-taught ballistics in this particular matter extending over a period of two years, sir.
Q: Have you ever qualified as a ballistics expert in any court in the country?
A: To the extent that I would identify missiles removed at autopsy.
Q: What do you mean, identifying missiles which have been removed from a body by you or by someone under your direction?
A: By myself, sir.
Q: You call that being a ballistics expert?
A: No, that is the extent I have qualified in court.
THE COURT: It would depend on the Judge whether or not you would have been qualified, it is not what a person himself thinks he would be. It is what his qualifications are assessed in court by the court.
BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: Do you hold yourself out as a photograph expert?
Q: Would you tell us the extent of your training in photography.
A: The extent of my training started, sir, I suppose, when I was about ten years old, I purchased or was given a camera and I had many cameras since then, I have access to a far range of cameras within the pathology department of the University of Kansas and they are used for the specific purpose of identifying wounds on human bodies, living persons or dead persons, and I teach this to medical students and residents and I take the pictures myself of my own autopsies and on other autopsies I supervise, the residents take their pictures.
Q: What formal training in photography have you had?
A: I have never had a minute of formal training as far as anybody giving me lectures, but the results speak for themselves.
Q: Now, do you know how many frames per second are run by the Zapruder film?
A: I think it was described to me in the courtroom as being 18 and 3/10ths, sir.
Q: Was that the first time you knew the speed of the Zapruder film?
A: I don't know what the speed is yet, sir.
Q: You don't, you don't know how many frames per second?
A: I am assuming that is correct.
Q: When did you start assuming that, Doctor?
A: Well, I really don't know, I suppose a couple of years ago.
Q: Didn't you say that you had learned here in this courtroom it was 18.3 per second?
A: I think it was confirmed to me, I am not sure it is 18.3.
Q: Have you ever seen the clothing which was worn by President Kennedy at the time he was assassinated?
A: I am suing the Federal Government to obtain possession of that.
Q: You are suing the Federal Government.
A: Yes, I am.
Q: Did you know he was wearing a back brace at the time of the assassination?
A: I am keenly aware of that, sir, that prevented him from falling to the side, that was why he stayed erect.
Q: You are suing for that too or not?
A: No, I am not suing for that.
Q: Doctor, do you know whether or not at any time after the shot depicted in Frame 313 of the Zapruder film was fired, the Presidential limousine accelerated sharply at any time?
A: I did not know the speed of the limousine, sir.
Q: Was that ever taken into account by you in any of your calculations?
A: As far as Frames 313, 314 and 315, I have assumed that the speed of the limousine was practically constant, I did not know, sir.
Q: You said practically constant?
A: Within those three frames, yes. I do not think it had accelerated or any deceleration in those three frames.
Q: Do you know what the speed of the limousine was?
A: No, sir.
Q: Do you know whether it was going fast or slow at the time of the assassination?
THE COURT: I am not trying to assist the witness, but can you tell us what you mean by "fast," or what you mean by "slow"?
MR. DYMOND: If the Court please, I am talking to an expert here.
THE COURT: But your question is confusing.
MR. DYMOND: I am trying to find out whether he has any idea as to the speed, Your Honor, which apparently he does not.
THE COURT: If the State objects, I will sustain the objection that the question is not properly before the witness. It is not a proper question, was he going fast or slow.
BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: Do you know how fast the limousine was going?
Q: Do you know how fast it was going in frame 310?
A: No, sir.
A: Nowhere do I know how fast the limousine was going.
Q: Nowhere in the Zapruder do you know how fast the limousine was going?
A: No, sir.
Q: Do you have any idea as to the relative speed as between given frames of the Zapruder film?
A: No, sir.
Q: Doctor, would you testify the sudden acceleration of a vehicle would not throw an occupant back?
A: It did not throw the other occupants back, sir.
Q: It did not?
A: It did not.
Q: You are sure about that?
A: It is demonstrated with the Zapruder film it did not, sir.
Q: And you did not take into account any acceleration or speed?
A: I assume it did not because the other occupants retained their relative positions.
Q: Are there any other assumptions upon which your testimony has been based?
A: Not at the present time. You might drag out some that I am not aware of.
Q: Well, Doctor, it's your testimony, don't you know whether it was based on assumptions?
A: Well, the sun striking the object from the camera, I don't know whether it was Kodachrome film, I don't know the details of the development, no, I don't know these things.
Q: What was the speed and direction of the wind in Dallas at the time of the taking of Frame 313?
MR. ALCOCK: The man said he was not in Dallas.
MR. DYMOND: I will change the form of the question.
BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: Did your calculations take into account the speed and direction of the wind in Dallas at the time Frame 313 was taken?
A: The speed and direction of the wind as related to the traversing of the bullet path are insignificant, sir.
Q: Doctor, please answer the question, and if you didn't understand it, I will have it read back.
A: No, I did not take those into account. If you will tell them to me, I will take them into account.
Q: You have not taken them into account up until now, right?
A: No, but, if you will, I will do so.
Q: That's up to you, sir. Now, Doctor, is there such a thing as a delayed reaction to pain?
A: If a person is unconscious or under anesthesia, yes.
Q: Would you say that is the only condition under which that could occur?
A: It depends on your definition of "delayed" sir.
Q: Have you ever heard of a person having been stabbed or shot and not realizing that anything happened to him?
A: Not realizing it in the cerebral cortex of his brain, that is correct.
Q: Have you ever heard of a person stabbed or shot and not showing any immediate reaction to it?
A: Not in a normal person riding in an automobile with the attention of a crowd, waving to the crowd, no, sir, I do not.
Q: Have you ever seen a person waving in an automobile to a crowd shot?
A: No, I haven't, sir.
Q: Have you made any investigation into the normalcy of the people shot on November 22, 1963, in Dallas?
A: In relation to the President I have, sir, yes.
A: He was normal, sir.
Q: In all --
A: His doctor had examined him and approved him taking this visit to the City of Dallas and riding in the automobile, sir, his doctor had taken this into account.
Q: And from that you would conclude his reaction to pain, trauma, would be normal. Is that correct?
Q: Was that the only information upon which that assumption is based?
Q: Prior to November 22, 1963, did you ever have occasion to meet President John Kennedy?
A: I think I shook hands with him, sir.
Q: How about Governor Connally?
A: Not Governor Connally, I tried several times to get an appointment with Governor Connally and he rejected me.
Q: Governor Connally rejected you, you say?
A: Yes, he did not answer my letters.
Q: Now, Dr. Nichols, have you ever heard of differences in thresholds of pain, that is, some people being able to stand or endure pain better than others can?
A: I am quite well aware of that. I have conducted experiments on that myself.
Q: You have? Did you feel that that was a consideration which should be taken into account by you at arriving at your conclusion?
A: Yes, and I did so, I took that into account when I assumed the President was in good health and Governor Connally was in a state of good health, they were not intoxicated.
Q: Is good health and intoxication, are those the only two factors that would have anything to do with the threshold of pain?
A: They are the two most important things.
Q: What other factors are there?
A: Let me modify that and say they are the only factors.
Q: What other factors did you have in mind?
A: I have changed --
Q: What did you mean when you say they were the two most important?
A: I can't think of anything now.
Q: You changed your mind, you say, Doctor?
A: At the present time, sir, I can only think of one thing, as a matter of fact, that changes the threshold of pain, physical health.
Q: That is the only one, right?
A: That is the only one, sir.
Q: All right, I see. Now, Doctor, have you ever attempted to determine the direction of the shot from photographic evidence only prior to this time?
A: Yes, I have, sir.
Q: Can you tell us about that, please.
A: It is very tricky and very misleading. With a low caliber bullet, it can be done, with a low velocity bullet -- speaking of the brain, sir, the head?
Q: Any shot.
A: Any shot?
A: Certainly if you established the bullet entering in one part of the anatomy and emerging in another part of the anatomy and you assume the person is in an anatomical position, I have written this on autopsy articles, it is reasonable sometimes to arrive at an approximate angle that a bullet was fired, and this is very helpful to the police.
Q: What is the best way to determine a point of entrance and point of exit of a bullet?
A: To see the offender fire the shot.
Q: You would not want to examine the body of the victim?
A: You asked me the best, sir.
Q: The best is to see the shot fired?
Q: Let's assume you do not see the shot fired, what would then be the best way of determining where the bullet entered or exited?
A: The bullet hole enters, sir, in soft tissue of the human body, is a small affair, it is smaller than the bullet is itself, and as the bullet hits, enters, and the speed of the bullet rubbing against the skin produced a small burn, this appears blackened, I am assuming we are at a distance of ten feet now, then on the other side where it emerges the bullet hole is larger, usually, not always, but usually, and the edges are averted and when you study the bullet hole entrance under a microscope, you can see a little rim of burned tissue that almost conclusively pinpoints it, but you can never be certain.
Q: Now, Doctor, wouldn't some of the same factors apply to a head wound --
A: I am suing --
Q: -- with a high velocity rifle?
A: I am suing the Federal Government for permission to look at the X-rays and the pictures of the head in order to find out more exactly than I have at the present time.
Q: Would I be correct in saying then that you consider it very important from a pathological standpoint to be given access to the photographs and films of President Kennedy for the purpose --
A: It is very important.
Q: It is very important?
Q: And you feel that you could add to the exactness of your opinion were you able to examine these things. Is that right?
A: I feel there is a reasonable possibility that I might.
Q: Now, Doctor, from the standpoint of a pathologist, which is the better tool in determining the point of exit and the point of entrance of a bullet, the examination of the victim or a photograph of the shooting?
A: If the victim is available, the examination of the victim, a complete examination of the victim, a total examination of the victim, including X-rays and dissection of the part.
Q: X-rays and dissection of the brain, did you say?
A: Of the part involved.
Q: Now, as an expert in the field of pathology, Doctor, would you dispute the point of exit and entrance of a bullet on the basis of photographs as opposed to an opinion as to the entrance and exit based upon photographs plus an actual examination of the body of the victim?
A: It depends on who examines the body, sir. Yes, I would, and many occasions I have.
Q: When you say who examines the body, are you speaking from the standpoint of honesty or the standpoint of ability and qualification?
A: Ability and qualifications and previous experience. Previous experience is very important.
Q: I take it then, sir, that assuming that such a determination were made by a patholo- gist of your ability and with your experience, after having examined the remains of the victim, you would not dispute his findings on the basis of mere photographic evidence such as you have had. Is that correct?
A: In which case, in which particular case are you speaking, sir?
Q: In any case.
A: I can't talk about any case.
Q: Why not?
A: I have to know all of the details of the case. Yes, I do not know whether I would or not, I would have to know the details, because this other fellow, although experienced and skilled and honest, he might overlook something. I might pick up something that he overlooked, yes.
Q: Wouldn't it be fair to say that you are very curious to see these X-rays and the pathological reports in order to determine for yourself whether you opinion is correct?
A: I want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Q: And you want to see whether your opinion is correct. Isn't that right, sir?
A: I would like to confirm it.
MR. DYMOND: That's all, sir.
REDIRECT EXAMINATION BY MR. OSER:
Q: Doctor, I show you what the State has marked as "S-18," and I ask you if you have ever seen this particular rifle before, sir.
A: May I step down from the witness stand, sir?
THE COURT: Yes.
THE WITNESS: May I refer to my notes, sir?
THE COURT: You can refresh your memory from your own notes, but you cannot read from your notes.
MR. OSER: Do not read from your notes themselves.
THE WITNESS: Yes, I purchased this rifle from Smitty's Gun Shop in Kansas City on October 10, 1968, sir, it is my rifle, I own it.
BY MR. OSER:
Q: And what type of gun is this, Doctor?
A: This is an Italian Army rifle, it is more commonly known as a Mannlicher Carcano Rifle, Caliber 6.5.
Q: During your research and experiments, did you have occasion to use this particular rifle in your research?
A: Not this particular rifle, sir, but I have used six other rifles similar to this in my research.
Q: Will you identify the particular type of scope that is on that rifle, Doctor?
A: Yes, this scope, I purchased it from Mr. Martin Redding in Culver City, California, along about two months previously, I believe, at a price of $11.00. The mount I purchased at a price of $1.00, it was mounted for me at -- by a firm in Kansas City at a cost of $9.00, and the gun was blued for me at -- by another firm.
MR. OSER: That's all.
RECROSS EXAMINATION BY MR. DYMOND:
Q: Doctor, are all Mannlicher Carcano Rifles 6.5 millimeters?
A: No, sir, there are those that are 7.2 and 7.5, and there is a toy gun that Mussolini had cut down to train the 14-year-old children, also a Mannlicher Carcano that shoots blanks.
MR. DYMOND: No further questions.
THE COURT: Is there any further need for Dr. Nichols under his subpoena?
MR. OSER: No, sir.
C E R T I F I C A T E
I, the undersigned, a Deputy Official Court Reporter in and for the State of Louisiana, authorized and empowered by law to administer oaths and to take the depositions of witnesses under L.R.S. 13:961.1, as amended, do hereby certify that the above and foregoing deposition is true and correct as taken by me in the above-entitled and numbered cause(s). I further certify that I am not of counsel nor related to any of the parties to this cause or in anywise interested in the event thereof.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, on the 21st day of May, 1969.
/s/ Paul W. Williams
Deputy Official Court Reporter
State of Louisiana
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