The Clay Shaw trial testimony of James Phelan





1426 (30)

February 26, 1969


. . . . Pursuant to the adjournment of February 25, 1969, the proceedings herein were resumed on Wednesday, February 26, 1969, appearances being the same as heretofore noted in the record . . . .

JAMES R. PHELAN, a witness called by and on behalf of the Defendant, having been first duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows:

Q: Mr. Phelan, for the record, would you state your full name, sir?

A: James R. Phelan.

Q: What is your occupation, Mr. Phelan?

A: I am a magazine writer.

Q: For any particular magazine or magazines?

A: I am freelance. I was a staff writer with the Saturday Evening Post for six years.

Q: And the Saturday Evening Post is now shut down, right?

A: It's gone.

Q: How long have you been a magazine writer?

A: Since 1953, and before that I was a newspaperman for 15 years.

Q: What newspapers did you work for, sir?

A: I worked for the Glendale News Press in California, the Long Beach Crest Telegram in California, the Alton Evening Telegram in Alton, Illinois, and the St. Louis Globe Democrat in St. Louis.

Q: Did you receive an assignment to cover the Garrison-Kennedy assassination probe in 1967?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: By whom were you assigned to cover this story?

A: Saturday Evening Post.

Q: Do you know approximately when you came to New Orleans in connection with that assignment?

A: Probably late in February, 1967.

Q: What was your purpose in coming here to New Orleans at that time, sir?

A: I wanted to interview Mr. Garrison.

Q: Did you get to interview Mr. Garrison?

A: Yes, sir. I was here four or five days, and the press of the world was here, there were two or three hundred reporters, and I finally got a message to Mr. Garrison and he suggested --

MR. ALCOCK: Objection, it is hearsay.

MR. DYMOND: We submit this is not hearsay evidence, inasmuch as Mr. Garrison at this time was representing the Office of the District Attorney for the Parish of Orleans, and I think what a representative of the District Attorney's Office says is not hearsay.

MR. ALCOCK: I have never heard that exception to the hearsay rule.

THE COURT: Neither have I. I sustain the objection.

Q: Had you met Mr. Garrison before you came here?

A: Yes, sir. About four years earlier I had been down here and done another article for the Saturday Evening Post about Mr. Garrison.

Q: Did you meet him in connection with that article?

A: Yes, sir, and spent about ten days here and saw him frequently.

Q: After you came here to New Orleans in February, 1967, did you see Mr. Garrison, and if so, where?

A: I saw him first in his office here, later on his home and four or five days after I first saw him I met him in Las Vegas.

Q: Did you suggest the meeting in Las Vegas or not?

MR. ALCOCK: This is hearsay.

Q: Did you suggest it?

A: No, sir.

Q: Was it a prearranged meeting?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Are you acquainted with Mr. Andrew Sciambra?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: When did you first meet Mr. Sciambra?

A: After I returned from Law Vegas and after the Clay Shaw preliminary hearing.

Q: You have told us you met Mr. Garrison in Las Vegas, Nevada. Do you know on what date you went to Las Vegas, Mr. Phelan?

A: Yes, sir. I have my hotel bill, I believe. I went out on March 4 and met him at the airport on March 5. I met him when he flew in from New Orleans and I took him to his hotel, and he registered there under the name of W. O. Robertson.

Q: Who was registered under the name of W. O. Robertson?

A: Mr. Garrison.

Q: Do you have anything with you from the hotel showing the dates you were there, Mr. Phelan?

A: I have my own hotel bill. I stayed at the Dunes.

Q: May I see that, sir?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Mr. Phelan, you have identified this document --

MR. ALCOCK: May I see that exhibit?

MR. DYMOND: Surely. I will mark it for identification purposes as "D-54."

(Whereupon, the document referred to by Counsel was duly marked for identification as "Exhibit D-54.")

Q: Mr. Phelan, I submit to you the document which you just handed to me and which I have marked for identification as D-54, and ask you to identify this document.

A: It is a paid hotel bill from the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas for the room I occupied from March 4 to March 7.

Q: Of what year, sir?

A: 1967.

MR. DYMOND: If the Court please, in connection with the testimony of this witness, I would like to offer, file and produce in evidence the document marked for identification as "D-54."

MR. ALCOCK: No objection.

THE COURT: Let it be received.

Q: Mr. Phelan, you have testified you arrived in Las Vegas on the 4th, of what month was that, sir?

A: March.

Q: The 4th of March, 1967. Was that before or after the holding of the preliminary hearing in this case?

A: That was prior to the preliminary hearing.

Q: After arriving in Las Vegas on March 4, 1967 when did you first see Mr. Garrison in Las Vegas?

A: March 5.

Q: Where did this meeting take place, sir?

A: I met him at the airport then I talked to him at the Sands Hotel.

Q: At the time you talked with Mr. Garrison at the Sands Hotel on March 5, 1967, in Las Vegas, did Mr. Garrison give anything to you?

A: He gave me two documents, but I don't believe it was March 5, I think it was the day after, March 6. We had a series of conferences before he gave me the documents

Q: Mr. Phelan, I show you a document which has been introduced in evidence and marked for purposes of identification as State and Defense 20, and ask you to examine this document and tell me whether it was one of the documents given to you by Mr. Garrison on the 6th of March, 1967? That is, whether that is a true and faithful copy of it, not necessarily the same paper?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Now, Mr. Phelan, after this document was given to you by Mr. Garrison, what did you do?

A: I went back to my hotel. He gave it to me late, I went back to my hotel and read the two documents, and reread them and reread them.

Q: Could you tell me approximately how many times you read them on that occasion, sir?

A: I read this one about six times.

Q: What was your purpose in reading it so many times, Mr. Phelan?

A: Because there was a wide discrepancy --

MR. ALCOCK: I object to this. He cannot testify as to the nature of the document. The document speaks for itself. It has been read to the Jury.

MR. DYMOND: I am entitled to know why this man read it an unusual number of times.

MR. ALCOCK: He is going into inconsistencies.

MR. DYMOND: Try to answer the question without expressing an opinion, if you can.

THE COURT: That is almost impossible.

MR. DYMOND: Yes, I am afraid it might be.

THE WITNESS: It is very difficult, sir.

Q: Be that as it may, you say you did read it about six times?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: After having read this document numerous times, Mr. Phelan, what did you do?

A: The next morning I Xeroxed a copy of it and a copy of the other document and returned the original to Mr. Garrison.

Q: Did you tell him anything at that time?

A: No, sir.

Q: Was the last you saw of Mr. Garrison at Las Vegas on that occasion?

A: I think I talked to him one more time. I talked to him a total of about four or five times.

Q: Mr. Phelan, when did you eventually leave Las Vegas on this trip which commenced on March 4, 1967?

A: March 7.

Q: Where did you go from Las Vegas after leaving there?

A: I went to my home in Long Beach and then returned to New Orleans.

Q: Approximately, sir, when did you return to New Orleans?

A: A couple of days later.

Q: Upon your arrival here what did you do?

A: I covered the Clay Shaw preliminary hearing.

Q: When you say you covered it, were you here on behalf of a publication?

A: I covered it for the Saturday Evening Post.

Q: Were you sitting in the courtroom during the testimony elicited at this preliminary hearing?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: After hearing the preliminary hearing proceedings, what did you then do, Mr. Phelan?

A: After the preliminary hearing?

Q: Right.

A: I believe it was the next day I called Mr. Garrison and told him I was tremendously disturbed by the testimony of Perry Russo.

MR. ALCOCK: I am going to object to this line of questioning and the answers, because the Court has repeatedly said the preliminary hearing forms no part of this case, and what this man is saying now is as a result of him listening to the testimony at the preliminary hearing.

THE COURT: I overrule the objection. He is testifying as to the fact he made a statement to someone.

Q: What did you tell Mr. Garrison, Mr. Phelan?

A: I called him at his home and told him I was tremendously disturbed by the testimony of Perry Russo.

Q: Did you tell him why?

A: Not on the phone.

THE COURT: Don't tell us what he told you.

Q: Can you tell us how long after the preliminary hearing this telephone conversation took place?

A: I think it was the next day. It couldn't have been more than two.

Q: What was the next contact, if any, you had with Mr. Garrison concerning this?

A: Shortly after the telephone call I went to his house.

Q: Was that here in New Orleans, sir?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Daytime or nighttime?

A: Evening.

Q: Approximately what time?

A: I would have to guess. Maybe 6:00 or 7:00.

Q: Upon your arrival at Mr. Garrison's home, did you find him there?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Who else, if you know, that is who that you know of in addition to Mr. Garrison was there when you arrived?

A: Mrs. Garrison and their children.

Q: At this time did you tell Mr. Garrison anything?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: What did you tell him?

A: I told him that there was a complete discrepancy between what Mr. Russo had told as related in the Sciambra memorandum and what he testified to on the stand here.

Q: What, if anything, was Mr. Garrison's reaction to this?

MR. ALCOCK: Objection.

MR. DYMOND: I didn't ask what he said. The reaction could be physical.

THE WITNESS: His jaw dropped a little bit.

THE COURT: I haven't ruled on it yet. I think he can testify to a reaction.

Q: What, if anything, was Mr. Garrison's reaction to your statement?

A: His jaw dropped a little bit.

Q: After he picked his jaw up, what happened?

A: He made a telephone call.

Q: As a result of this telephone call did anyone else come to Mr. Garrison's home?

A: Yes, Mr. Sciambra.

Q: Was he accompanied by anyone else from the DA's Office?

A: No, but before he arrived Mr. William Gurvich came to the house.

Q: So I take it Mr. Sciambra, Mr. Gurvich, you and Mr. Garrison were there, is that correct?

A: Yes, sir, in his study.

Q: During the course of this visit did you have occasion to say anything to Mr. Sciambra?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Will you tell us what you said to Mr. Sciambra, please?

A: I told Mr. Sciambra that in his interview, in his report of the interview with Mr. Russo in Baton Rouge, there was no information whatsoever about an assassination plot, about Mr. Shaw knowing Lee Oswald, and there was nothing about Mr. Russo saying that he knew Clay Chaw as Clay Bertrand or Clem Bertrand.

Q: What was Mr. Sciambra's reaction of his reply to that statement?

MR. ALCOCK: I object to that.

THE COURT: I sustain the objection.

MR. DYMOND: May I be heard on that?

THE COURT: Not in front of the Jury.

MR. DYMOND: Then I would like to be heard outside of the presence of the Jury.

THE COURT: I think I anticipate what you are going to say.

MR. DYMOND: If I may suggest, we can argue this matter before the Jury comes back for lunch.

THE COURT: Gentlemen, do not discuss this case amongst yourselves or with anyone else until it is finally given to you for your decision. Sheriff, take charge of the Jury and have them back here for 1:30.

(Whereupon, the Jury was removed from the courtroom.)

THE COURT: You may proceed, Mr. Dymond.

MR. DYMOND: If the Court please, with regard to what Mr. Sciambra said at this time, we now get into an area which is completely different from having one person testify as to what another has said, for the reason at this point in the trial Mr. Sciambra has testified as a witness, has denied making certain statements to Mr. Phelan in the course of some conversation about which we are talking right now. So we have here a conflict in the testimony as between two witnesses which is certainly relevant to the credibility of both of those witnesses.

THE COURT: Wasn't Mr. Sciambra refused permission to testify what Mr. Phelan told him? Now we have the other side, Mr. Phelan saying what he said.

MR. DYMOND: The record will reflect we did not object to Mr. Sciambra testifying to what Mr. Phelan had said during the course of that conversation. Mr. Sciambra was examined as to what he said during the course of that conversation. When he denies he said something we are entitled to show by another witness what he said.

MR. ALCOCK: Is Defense Counsel saying they are putting this man on the stand to impeach specific statements made by Mr. Sciambra? I don't recall his attention being called to specific statements and him denying it. This is the only way this witness could testify about anything Mr. Sciambra said.

MR. DYMOND: From memory I can point out one specific statement that was denied.

THE COURT: Did you lay a predicate as to time, place, and --

MR. DYMOND: Yes, we did. It was set forth as to where it was, what took place and the circumstances.

THE COURT: We can look it up.

MR. DYMOND: Mr. Sciambra was specifically asked whether he engaged in a conversation with Mr. Phelan with regard to a bet about what was contained in this memorandum and he denied it.

THE COURT: I recall that. If there is a question on exactly what was said we are going to have to get in touch with Mrs. Dietrich and find out who was the court reporter who took Mr. Sciambra's testimony. If you can show me you laid a predicate, then I will rule you have laid a proper foundation. Unless you can show me you have done that I will sustain Mr. Alcock's objection. Is that the legal situation?

MR. ALCOCK: That is as I understand it. The only thing this man can testify to as to what Mr. Sciambra said or what Mr. Russo said, is if their attention was called to a specific statement at a specific time and they can be impeached. In testifying what he is doing is going into the Sciambra memo which is already in evidence and it speaks for itself. Now he is putting his interpretation on the Sciambra memo, which is contrary to the earlier ruling of the Court, which said the Sciambra memo should be read to the Jury and no interpretation put on it.

THE COURT: I wouldn't say he is putting an interpretation on it.

MR. ALCOCK: These things were admitted by Russo and Sciambra. What are we impeaching? I know the newspaper reports have not been very -- well, perhaps I had better not say that. There may possibly be some report in the press as to what was said.

THE COURT: Mrs. Dietrich is here now. Mrs. Dietrich, we have come to a point where we find it necessary to go over Mr. Sciambra's testimony. I don't know who took it. I don't know if you have expedited that particular testimony at the request of any person, but we have reached a point where we have to have someone read through Mr. Sciambra's testimony for this specific point. What was the point you wanted to check?

MR. DYMOND: It is our contention that Mr. Sciambra was specifically asked about this meeting at Mr. Garrison's house after the preliminary hearing, the meeting being attended by Mr. Gurvich, Mr. Sciambra, Mr. Phelan and Mr. Garrison. We contend that he was asked whether at that time he had any conversation with Mr. Phelan in connection with a bet which was offered as to what was or was not contained in his memorandum to Mr. Garrison under date of February 27, 1967, and that Mr. Sciambra denied there having been any conversation pertaining to a proposed bet.

MR. ALCOCK: For the sake of expedition, is this the only point you want looked up?

MR. DYMOND: I can't say at this time whether it is the only point. However, I think once we locate the general area in the record where this subject matter is covered we are not going to have any problem.

THE COURT: Suppose the reporter who took it is out of town? Who took it, Mrs. Dietrich?

MRS. DIETRICH: May I get my notes, Judge?


MRS. DIETRICH: Mr. Neyrey took it on Wednesday, the 12th of February, and I don't have a notation that Mr. Sciambra continued the next morning, so Mr. Neyrey must have all the notes.

THE COURT: Is there a way you can reach Mr. Neyrey?

MRS. DIETRICH: I will try right away.

THE COURT: Could you ask him to be here at 1:30 with his notes of Mr. Sciambra? Meantime, I will ask Mr. Jacobs if he can get us a noon edition of the 11th or 12th. It may have something we can use in that edition. Mr. Phelan, you are excused for lunch. The Court is adjourned until 1:30 p.m.

(Whereupon, a luncheon recess was taken.)


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