The Clay Shaw trial testimony of James Phelan, continued



Q: Now, Mr. Phelan --

THE COURT: Just a second. I know we did not come from lunch because we were waiting on the official transcript of testimony, so I sent for some coffee, and rather than start your examination, I will call a recess, we will take the Jury upstairs.

(Whereupon, a recess was taken.)


Q: Do you recall in April of 1967 appearing by -- rather, interviewed by telephone on Close-up, WDSU Closeup, a radio program?

A: Not specifically. After my article came out I was interviewed by probably 20 different organizations.

Q: Do you recall when your article came out?

A: Yes.

Q: What date was that?

A: Oh, I think -- no, I don't recall the exact date. I think -- I think it was May 3, we have a copy there, is there a copy of it there I can refresh my memory from?

THE COURT: He can refresh his memory.

MR. WEGMANN: Just read it to him.

THE COURT: If he wants the article, he can have it. What is the date, Mr. Phelan?

THE WITNESS: May 6, 1967.

THE COURT: 1967?


Q: To further refresh your memory Bill Slater, Rick Townley and Dean Andrews were also in this program. Does that refresh your memory any more on this particular program?

A: No.

Q: Do you recall having made a statement on the program to the effect that Mr. Sciambra better watch out, that you taped your interview with Perry Russo in Baton Rouge?

A: I don't specifically recall that.

Q: You deny it?

A: No, I would not deny it.

Q: Did you tape it?

A: No, sir.

Q: Then if you made that statement on this program it was a lie, right?

MR. DYMOND: The witness has testified he does not remember making it.

MR. ALCOCK: He does not deny it either.

THE COURT: I will permit the question.

Q: If you made the statement on the program that you do not deny, that would have been a lie, is that correct?

A: If you wish to call it that.

Q: Now, Mr. Phelan, going back to the conversation you had with Mr. Garrison, I think you said Mr. Gurvich was present, Mr. Sciambra, at Mr. Garrison's home. Do you recall the conversation now? I am talking about the first conversation --

A: Yes.

Q: -- when you spoke to Mr. Sciambra. Is it your testimony that this is the first time that you called this discrepancy or alleged discrepancy to the attention of Mr. Garrison and Mr. Sciambra?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you recall whether or not Mr. Sciambra told you at that time that he, upon leaving Baton Rouge, February 27, reported verbally to Mr. Garrison that Perry Russo did in fact tell him about the party or gathering in which the assassination was discussed?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you recall that?

A: Mr. Sciambra said that.

Q: Did Mr. Garrison deny that in your presence?

MR. DYMOND: I object to this on the ground it would be hearsay, Your Honor. Mr. Garrison is available to testify, Your Honor, and this is asking in fact what did Mr. Garrison say at this time.

THE COURT: I sustain the objection.

MR. ALCOCK: Very well, Your Honor.

Q: Now, Mr. Phelan, Mr. Sciambra then did deny the fact that Russo did not tell him. Is that correct? In other words, you got the impression from reading the memorandum that Russo did not tell Sciambra in Baton Rouge about this meeting. Is that correct?

A: Yes, that is, I did not get the impression, I simply was not there.

Q: But, Mr. Sciambra said he did tell him about it. Is that correct?

A: Mr. Sciambra made a number of statements. He first said that I had incorrectly described the memorandum and then about three minutes later he said, "Well, if the material is not in the memorandum, then I must have forgotten to put it in."

Q: But he never denied, he never said or denied that he did not directly come back to Mr. Garrison and verbally relate the conspiratorial meeting to Mr. Garrison, did he?

A: He claimed that, yes.

Q: Now, was it not Mr. Sciambra who made arrangements for your going to Baton Rouge and interviewing Perry Russo?

A: Yes, it was, he did it on Mr. Garrison's instructions.

Q: I take it then as far as you know, Mr. Garrison did concur in the arrangement. Is that correct?

A: I would have -- I would say yes, and then I would have to --

Q: You can explain that.

A: -- qualify it. Oh, no, that is correct, certainly, yes.

Q: Now, did you feel at that time, did you, as you feel now, that that was inconsistent with their trying to hide something?

MR. DYMOND: I object, Your Honor, that calls for a conclusion and opinion of this witness.

THE COURT: Would you rephrase your question.

Q: Did Mr. Sciambra in directing or assisting you in getting in touch with Perry Russo appear to be hiding anything from you?

MR. DYMOND: Objection, it calls for a conclusion and opinion, Your Honor.

THE COURT: I think he can still rephrase the question.

MR. ALCOCK: Well, I will go on to something else, Your Honor.

Q: Now, during the course of your -- How long was your interview with Perry Russo, sir?

A: Repeat that, please.

Q: How long was your interview with Perry Russo?

A: Oh, between two and three hours.

Q: Two and three hours?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you discuss the content of the memorandum the entire time?

A: No, sir.

Q: When did you start discussing the content of the memorandum?

A: Near the end of the interview.

Q: Was there any particular reason since you were so concerned about this memorandum that you did not discuss it at the outset of the interview?

A: Oh, he wanted to tell me the whole background on the thing.

Q: But you did not?

A: I also asked him about other statements that he had made and other interviews that he had given prior to Mr. Sciambra's arrival up there.

Q: Would not you say, Mr. Phelan, that your principal concern on that occasion was the so-called Sciambra memorandum?

A: Yes.

Q: And yet it's your testimony now that you did not approach the subject until just before leaving. Is that correct?

A: No, I left, I left after he finally read it.

Q: I don't understand your answer.

A: He wanted to talk to me. He talked to me at great length and there were some other people there.

Q: He did not call you, did he?

A: No, sir.

Q: The arrangements were made for you to see him, weren't they?

A: Yes.

Q: About this memorandum, weren't they?

A: Yes.

Q: What was your reason for not brining up this memorandum that you felt so critical until the latter part of the conversation or just before you left?

A: I told you he wanted to talk to me. He is a very talkative boy, and he felt that he was sort of the center of a lot of attention and he kept telling me the background, his own background and so on. When he got through talking, and there were other people there, and some general conversation, and when he got through talking, he knew I came up there to discuss this, I said, "Here is the memorandum," and I gave it to him.

Q: Was there a lot of confusion, would you say, there?

A: No, sir.

Q: Were there many people in and out?

A: There were -- Perhaps besides Mr. Herron, four or five people.

Q: And what had you brought Mr. Herron along for?

A: As a witness.

Q: Did you give Mr. Herron an opportunity to read the memorandum before you questioned Perry Russo about it?

A: I believe he did.

Q: You are not sure?

A: I am not certain. I knew -- He knew the main point in the memorandum, and that was the lack of any incriminating matter regarding Mr. Shaw, he knew that this was the thing that I was concerned about, but whether he read the entire memorandum I can't say.

Q: Now, you say that you gave the memorandum to Mr. Russo and he read it word by word. Is that your testimony?

A: That is correct.

Q: How long did it take him to read it?

A: Oh, quite a while, he sat on the recliner and he went through it and he would stop and make a comment on a portion of it, and he made his corrections, it took him quite a while.

Q: How many comments did he make?

A: He corrected four statements and then made one, he made a comment on another section of the memorandum where it said he had seen Shaw twice, and the he responded to my final question --

Q: In other words, it took him a long time to make his four corrections and one comment. Is that your testimony?

A: It took him quite a while to read the memorandum, sir.

Q: You said you discussed it, did you discuss it at the time he was reading it?

A: No, we were not discussing, we were not discussing the memorandum, I mean, he made the comment to me, he sat there and read it and made the comments on the four corrections that he wished to make.

Q: The twice should have been three times, is that your testimony?

A: Yes, and then his response to my final question, I asked him only one question.

Q: One question the entire day?

A: Only one question about the entire memorandum.

Q: One question about this memorandum that you felt so critical, is that what your testimony is?

A: Yes.

Q: When was the question posed?

A: Right at the end when he finished reading it.

Q: As a matter of act, weren't you going out the door?

A: No, sir.

Q: How long before you left was it before you posed this question?

A: Oh, probably five or ten minutes, merely a general conversation.

Q: Five or ten minutes. Is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: Now, did you consider this question a very essential part of what you were up there for?

A: Yes.

Q: And you waited that long to pose the question?

A: I could not pose it until he read the memorandum.

Q: But you gave it to him toward the end of your interview?

A: Yes.

Q: Isn't it a fact, Mr. Phelan, that Perry Russo never denied telling you that in fact he did tell Mr. Sciambra about this party or meeting or conspiratorial meeting?

A: His whole comment was what I testified to.

Q: Well, tell me what that is again.

A: He said when he hit that line, when he hit the line that I underlined, he said "I should have said three times, and I am usually pretty careful about what I say," and he started to shrug and he said, "But maybe I said only twice," and then went on reading the rest of the memorandum.

Q: I see. Now, what was the question that you asked him, is that the question?

A: Oh, no, no.

Q: Go on with the question. What was the question?

A: When he finished?

Q: Right.

A: And I said "Other than the corrections that you have made, is the memorandum accurate," and he said "Yes," and I said "And you first told about the assassination plot when, Perry," and he said "After I went down to New Orleans."

Q: Now, did you ask him to explain when he corrected the twice to three times, did you ask him to explain that?

A: No.

Q: You didn't ask him any questions?

A: No.

Q: You weren't interested?

A: When I got there, when he finished reading the memorandum, I asked him the critical question, and I had my answer.

Q: And you had your answer.

A: Yes.

Q: Now, when did you start writing this article for the Saturday Evening Post?

A: About two or three days after I had the interview with Mr. Russo.

Q: Did you consider his statement to your last question highly important and critical?

A: Simply confirmed what was in the memorandum.

Q: Did you consider it highly important and critical that in effect he said that Sciambra was a liar?

A: I don't understand the question.

Q: In other words, Mr. Sciambra assured you before you left while he was making arrangements for you to see Mr. Russo that Mr. Russo had in fact told him about the party or the gathering where the plot was hatched. Is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: All right. Now, you say Russo said that the first time he mentioned anything about it was in New Orleans. Is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: Now, my question is did you not think that this was in effect saying that Mr. Sciambra was a liar if he said otherwise?

A: Yes.

Q: All right. Now, how many words was your article, do you recall?

A: Oh, probably around 6,000.

Q: Would say that is an article critical of the investigation?

A: I certainly do.

Q: Now, do you have mentioned in that article anywhere where Russo in effect called Mr. Garrison a liar and Mr. Sciambra a liar?

A: No.

Q: You don't mention that in your article?

A: That Russo called him a liar?

Q: In effect by making the statement that the first time that he mentioned anything about the plot was in New Orleans.

MR. DYMOND: We object to that, asking this witness to pass upon and interpret an article. If the State wants to introduce it, the article speaks for itself.

MR. ALCOCK: We are not introducing the article, Your Honor.

THE COURT: I overrule the objection. I think it is legitimate cross-examination.

Q: Is there any reference in your article to Mr. Russo saying that he did not say that -- he did not tell Mr. Sciambra in Baton Rouge anything about the meeting with Leon Oswald, the Defendant, and David Ferrie?

A: No, sir, there is not.

Q: There is not in your article anything about that?

A: There is not.

Q: Well, can you explain that for us?

A: Why, certainly. It merely confirms what I learned from Mr. Sciambra's memorandum, and I made the statement in the article that Perry Russo had told two different stories and this information confirmed it, and I said it in small words in the article.

Q: And you did not put in your article that Perry Russo confirmed that when you went to him in Baton Rouge?

A: I did not.

Q: And that is your explanation?

A: Oh, you want an explanation?

Q: I want an explanation as to why you did not put that critical thing in your article since your finding fault with Mr. Sciambra's memorandum.

A: Because the information that Mr. Russo gave me confirmed the accuracy of what I printed. Now, I talked to many people, I covered the whole range of the investigation, there was only a small portion of this devoted to the Sciambra memorandum, and it was simply an editorial judgment. We had confirmed the truth of what I was printing, and the article ran much longer than the space given for it, it had to be cut, it was put in the Post, and there was a matter that I had evidence of the statements that I made in this article and I kept this in reserve in case the article should be challenged or if we were to be sued, which we were not.

Q: You kept what in reserve?

A: The statement that Mr. Russo made in Baton Rouge.

Q: And you relegated this most important memorandum to a small portion of your article. Is that your testimony?

A: No, sir.

Q: That is what you just testified to, was it not?

A: I said I had the -- to cover the entire investigation in 6,000 -- this article is about the whole investigation, sir, and the background on it, my conversations with Mr. Garrison, and the background on the whole assassination story and I had to tell quite a long story in 6,000 words. This is not an article about the Sciambra memorandum.

Q: But this is a critical article of the investigation. Is that not your testimony?

A: Indeed it is.

Q: I see. And don't you, did you not deem this an extremely important and critical piece of evidence for your article?

A: No, sir, it simply confirmed the statements that I made there.

Q: Oh, I see. You had a time and space problem. Is that essentially it?

A: No, that is not essentially it.

[page missing from transcript]

A: I worked five weeks.

Q: You worked five weeks on that paper?

A: Yes.

Q: On the White Paper?

A: Yes.

Q: And who hired you for that?

A: The producer.

Q: Did you work with Walter Sheridan during the course of that?

A: He was working on -- He was a part of the White Paper team and he was working on the same story, yes.

Q: And what was the purpose of this White Paper?

A: It was a report on the Garrison investigation.

Q: A report on it or to wreck it?

A: To report on it.

Q: When you came to New Orleans and you were employed by NBC. Is that correct?

A: The second time, yes.

Q: Now, where did you stay when you came down here?

A: At the Maison deVille.

Q: Did you come down here with anyone?

A: No, I came alone.

Q: And what was your assignment in New Orleans when you came down here?

A: To explore the discrepancies in Mr. Russo's story.

Q: To what?

A: To explore the discrepancies in Mr. Russo's story.

Q: Hadn't you already done that in Baton Rouge?

A: Yes.

Q: In other words, you still had that in reserve, that --

A: No.

Q: Had that been printed by that time?

A: I did not understand the question.

Q: I said did you still have that little piece of evidence in reserve at this time?

A: Well, it still existed.

Q: Now, did you work with anybody in this particular area, that is, exploring the statements of Perry Russo?

A: I did not understand that question.

Q: Did you work with anyone down here besides Mr. Freed, did he come down here with you?

A: He was here.

Q: Did you work with anyone?

A: Mr. Freed and Mr. Sheridan.

Q: Do you know where they were staying at the time?

A: I think they were staying at the Maison deVille -- excuse me, Mr. Freed was staying at the Maison deVille, Mr. Sheridan was staying, I believe, at the Bourbon Orleans.

Q: Now, just what was your purpose in talking with Perry Russo?

A: First of all, he invited me to come down here and he invited me to come here before I was employed by NBC. He said that -- I called him from New York after the article came out --

Q: You called him?

A: I called Mr. Russo, I called him at the suggestion of Mr. Matt Herron and Mr. Matt Herron had received a call from Perry Russo and he said "If Phelan is ever around here, I would like to see him," and he asked me if I would, he asked -- related the message through Mr. Herron for me to call hm, so I called Mr. Russo, he told me that he thought it was a pretty good article I had written in the Post and he said he could not understand what all of the hullabaloo was about, and if I was ever down here to be sure and give him a ring and come and see him.

Q: Did you remind him at the time that you had the statement from him in reserve?

A: I did not need to remind him, he knew it.

Q: Had you heard of anyone by the name of Guy Banister at that time?

A: I heard about him later.

Q: From whom did you hear about him?

A: From Mr. Freed and Mr. Sheridan.

Q: And where was that?

A: Sir?

Q: Where was that that you heard about it?

A: Down here.

Q: Was that on the same occasion?

A: Yes.

Q: In connection with this White Paper?

A: Yes.

Q: Had you ever head of the name of James Lewallen before that time?

A: No, sir.

Q: When did you hear of the name of James Lewallen?

A: When we were down here working on the White Paper.

Q: Did you have a picture of either one or both of these men?

A: No, sir.

Q: You did not have a picture of them?

A: No, sir.

Q: Did you ever see a picture of either one or both of these men?

A: I saw one of -- one or two of Mr. Banister, but I don't believe I saw any of Mr. Lewallen, I might have.

Q: Did you show any pictures to Perry Russo during any of your interviews with him?

A: No, sir.

Q: None whatsoever?

A: No.

Q: Did you mention the name of Guy Banister during any of your interviews with him?

A: Yes.

Q: For what purpose?

A: I told him that there was some speculation that perhaps the man that he had identified as Mr. Clay Shaw had actually been Mr. Banister.

Q: And where did you hear this speculation?

A: From Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Freed.

Q: And do you know where they got it from?

A: No.

Q: In other words, you suggested to this State witness that he was wrong and it might have been Mr. Banister?

A: Mr. Alcock --

Q: Answer the question and then you can explain it.

(Whereupon, the question was read by the Reporter.)

THE WITNESS: I would answer yes with a qualification.

Q: Go ahead.

A: From the first time that I talked to Perry Russo until the day that I left, I repeatedly told him over and over and over again that if his story that he had told at the preliminary hearing was true, that he should get up on the stand and tell it exactly the same way, and I never once suggested to Mr. Russo the he change his story. We discussed it, he was uncertain about himself, he was looking for other explanations, he was not certain of his identification of Mr. Shaw, and he was a boy who was tortured and in real agony.

Q: So why did you suggest Guy Banister?

A: Because of his similarity to Mr. Shaw.

Q: You think there is a similarity? Have you ever seen Guy Banister?

A: No, sir.

Q: Now, did you ever mention the name of James Lewallen to Mr. Perry Russo?

A: No.

Q: Did you ever tell Perry Russo that you would get him a lawyer in New York or a group of lawyers in New York?

A: I told him that a lawyer would be provided for him, not that I would get him one.

Q: Provided for him?

A: Yes.

Q: For what?

A: When Mr. Russo, when I first talked to Mr. Russo from New York, one of the first things he stated to me was "everybody down here thinks that I ought to have a lawyer," he said "What do you advise" and I said that "I have only one piece of advice for you, Perry, that is to tell the flat out truth."

Now, when we came down here he raised the issue of a lawyer again, he thought he was in trouble, and he said he could not afford a lawyer.

Q: And you would provide him with a lawyer?

A: Not I would provide him, I will explain this --

Q: NBC provide him?

A: I don't know that, sir.

Q: Well, who are you talking about?

A: I relayed the information that Mr. Russo was interested in getting a lawyer to Mr. Freed, and Mr. Sheridan told me after Russo raised this and said he did not have enough money for a lawyer, he said that there was a well-known lawyer who would take his case without a fee, and this was what I was referring to when I spoke to Mr. Russo. Now, when I told him this I said, "Perry, you're going to have to do it yourself," I obtained the phone number of the lawyer, I said, "I can call the lawyer and I will tell him my name and I will say this is Mr. Russo and I will hand the phone to you and you will have to ask for his help."

Q: What particular case had you suggested he need a lawyer for?

A: Sir?

Q: What particular case had you suggested that he needed a lawyer for?

A: I did not suggest that he needed a lawyer, he told me that he thought he needed one.

Q: Now, did you have occasion at any time you were talking to Perry Russo at this time for NBC to have any conferences with the Defense Counsel in this case?

A: Yes.

Q: How often?

A: Once.

Q: Well where did this take place?

A: Mr. Wegmann's office.

Q: Who was present?

A: Mr. Shaw.

Q: Who else?

A: Mr. Edward Wegmann, Mr. Dymond.

Q: When was this, do you recall that?

A: It was between one and three days after I came down here, it was the day after my initial conversation with Perry Russo when he said he wanted to see Mr. Shaw to check on his identification of him.

Q: Did you have any other meetings with them?

A: With whom?

Q: With Defense Counsel.

A: No.

Q: Any telephone conversations with them?

A: Not to my recollection.

Q: Now, do you recall Perry Russo telling you anything about he wanted to be 1,000 percent sure other than 100 percent, do you recall anything like that?

A: Absolutely not, never once.

Q: You don't recall that at all?

A: I do not.

Q: How many times did you mention your ability to get Perry Russo a lawyer to him?

A: Oh, we discussed it four or five times.

Q: Four or five. Do you feel that is the most?

A: He kept bringing the subject up.

Q: Did you tell Perry Russo that if the Defendant were not convicted, he would be a patsy?

A: Sir?

Q: Did you tell Perry Russo that if the Defendant were not convicted, he would be a patsy?

A: Yes.

Q: You did tell him that?

A: Yes, he is the man that made the accusation against Mr. Shaw, and if Mr. Shaw was acquitted -- this whole case rests on Perry Russo.

Q: And that Mr. Garrison would turn on him in the event the Defendant was acquitted?

A: Yes, with an explanation.

Q: Go ahead.

A: Mr. Garrison told me in Las Vegas 10 or 12 days before the hearing that he was going to get Dean Andrews, he did not -- he did not use the name, he said I'm going to get a lawyer who is a good friend of mine, and I am going to wreck him, and immediately after the Preliminary Mr. Andrews was arrested and I told Perry Russo that Mr. Garrison had a way of busting on anybody who didn't go along with his theories.

Q: I see. And Dean Andrews was also indicted and convicted by a Jury. Is that correct?

MR. DYMOND: Counsel well knows that conviction is on appeal at this time and that cannot be properly brought out as long as a conviction is not final.

THE COURT: The subject matter was opened by Mr. Andrews himself and he stated to the Jury he was convicted, and, as I say, we are all aware of the fact that he is appealing that conviction. Mr. Alcock's question to Mr. Phelan, is it not a fact that a Jury convicted Mr. Andrews, not Mr. Garrison.

MR. DYMOND: I will ask that the question be read back.

(Whereupon, the question was read by the Reporter.)

THE WITNESS: I have no first-hand knowledge of that.

Q: After your article appeared, do you recall Mr. Sciambra inviting you down to New Orleans?

A: No.

Q: You don't recall that?

A: No, someone told me he got up on television and said something about my coming down here before the Grand Jury, but I received no communications from the Grand Jury, from Mr. Sciambra, from Mr. Garrison's office, although they all knew my business address in New York and my home address in California. When I came down here for NBC Mr. Sciambra had made this statement, the first thing I did was to let Mr. Garrison know I was in town. I was advised by Mr. -- by my lawyers not to come down here because of Mr. Garrison's ruthlessness with people who criticized him, but I came anyway, and the first thing I did was to go to Larry Lamarca at the Gunga Den, a long-time personal friend of Mr. Garrison's, I said, "Tell Big Jim I am in town," and I went to Pershing Gervais at the Fontainebleau and I said "Tell Big Jim I am in town and I am not hiding from anybody."

Q: Did you interview anybody when you were down here for this NBC White Paper?

A: One or two other people.

Q: Can you recall their names?

A: I talked to Layton Martens, I talked to a Marilyn -- I think it is Marcuso [Marlene Mancuso], she was identified to me as the former wife of Gordon Novel.

Q: Anyone else?

A: Not that I recall right now. Mr. Alcock, further on the matter of Mr. Sciambra inviting me to come down here where I would be in reach of the Grand Jury, Mr. Russo informed me, I think it was the second time that I saw him, that he had told Mr. Sciambra that I was in town, and Mr. Russo also told me that he knew my hotel and no one came around.

Q: Did you know, as a matter of fact, that during the conversations with Perry Russo that you were being led on?

A: Absolutely not.

Mr. ALCOCK: No further questions.

MR. DYMOND: No further questions.

THE COURT: You may step down.

MR. DYMOND: You may step down, sir, that's all.

THE COURT: Do you have any need from Mr. Phelan under the obligations of this subpoena?

MR. DYMOND: No, sir.

THE COURT: You are released from the obligations of the subpoena, sir.


Back to the top




Back to Shaw trial testimony

Search trial database chronologically

Additional resources on the trial of Clay Shaw


Search this site
    powered by FreeFind

Back to JFK menu

Dave Reitzes home page