Perry Raymond Russo
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's Star Witness
Against Clay Shaw Recants
On January 26, 1971, the day before he was expected to testify in Jim Garrison's defense in the civil suit, Clay L. Shaw v. Jim Garrison, Perry Raymond Russo approached a family member of one of Clay Shaw's attorneys and requested an opportunity to speak with Shaw's defense team. In the first of several meetings, most of which were tape-recorded, Perry Raymond Russo came clean. Here is the memorandum written from this first session.
FROM THE FILES OF EDWARD F. WEGMANN
January 27, 1971
Perry Raymond Russo came to our office last night at 7:00 o'clock [sic] sharp by prearrangement.
I told him that I wanted the whole truth about what went on and gave him my promise that I would not put him in the middle if he gave me the whole truth. Whereupon, he agreed to do so.
First of all, in answer to my question as to whether he now thinks that Clay Shaw was the man in Ferrie's apartment, he said absolutely not. I then asked him whether he was ever positive that Shaw was the man and he said "Not really." He said that after he had talked to the news media in Baton Rouge, Sciambra came up to see him and he did not mention Clay Shaw to Sciambra at that time. Further, he knew nothing about a second memorandum that Sciambra had written and he thinks that there was no such thing. When he got down here to New Orleans before any hypnosis or sodium pentathol [sic] he made it clear to them that there was grave doubt in his mind as to the identity of Clay Shaw but the representative of the DA's office and particularly Sciambra kept telling him that he was positive. For instance, Sciambra would show him a picture of Shaw and say "That is the man you saw there." Sciambra said the same thing as he showed Shaw to Russo through the two-way mirror. In answer to my question, Russo said that he feels it is entirely possible that the man whom he identified could be Guy Bannister [sic]. Russo described his conditioning by the DA's office as a complete brainwashing job. He said that he was constantly being told, particularly by Sciambra "This is the man that you saw" and finally got in a position where he just couldn't deny it.
Russo said also that the DA's office was making every effort to pin two murder charges on Shaw. Those being the killing of a 14 or 15 year old boy of name Jimmy Rupp and the killing of Dr. ________ Sherman on St. Charles Avenue. He said that both of these people belonged to a sex club, and said that at one point the question was asked by someone in the DA's office "Do we have enough evidence to convict Shaw on these cases". Russo said that he could'nt [sic] believe what he was hearing for the reason he knew there was no evidence to connect Sahw [sic] with those cases except as belonging to a sex club. There was also some talk about pinning a third murder on Clay Shaw but he doesn't remember the name in that case.
On either the first night he was here or shortly thereafter he was taken to the Rib Room of the Royal Orleans Hotel with Mr. Billings of Life Magazine by Jim Garrison. Garrison had him repeat for Billings his story and answered questions propounded to him by both Garrison and Billings.
At the end of the evening, Garrison suggested that Russo stay here a few days in one of the motels. Russo said "Mr. Garrison, I only have $6.00 in my pocket and I am not about to spend that on food at a motel." Garrison then peeled off two $100 bills and flipped them to Russo, telling him not to worry about expenses. At this point Russo deviated to tell us "I can tell you where most of that $15,000 went." Every time that I stayed here at one of the fancy motels there and was told that there was no limit on what I could spend. I was permitted to invite all my friends there for dinner and on more than one occasion had dinner checks in excess of $100. This was always done in someone's name other than my own.
The hypnosis by Dr. Fatter had a definite effect upon me. It made my memory much sharper. I don't know about the sodium pentathol. I was groggy for several hours afterwards.
When Shaw was arrested he said to Sciambra, "My God don't tell me that they have arrested that man on what I said." Mr. Sciambra said "No, not at all, we have Shaw locked up. It is a leadpipe cinch. You are just another witness and may not even be called as a witness." Russo feels sure he told this to Garrison and Alcock also on several occasions.
In addition to being paid his witness fees he was also told he would be paid a per diem for every day that he was here in New Orleans but that this would not be paid until after everything was over, including the civil suit. According to his figures, he is now owed in the neighborhood of $3,200. Garrison has assured him that this would be paid. (We think that Russo computes this at $22 per day.) While he was working for Equitable Life Assurance Company, when he was required to come to New Orleans, arrangements were made so that he would be paid his salary by Equitable and additionally the amount the DA's office paid him for being in New Orleans. Russo said that Sgt. O'Donnell was completely honest in his testimony and that there was a terrible scene when members of the DA's forces, including Sciambra, Alcock and Garrison were shown O'Donnell's report. He said that Sciambra would point out things in the report and tell O'Donnell that he had to be wrong about that and then point to Russo and say "Tell him he's wrong."
Russo said that throughout the trial the DA's staff knew how Judge Haggerty was going to rule before he ever ruled and on one occasion in regard to testimony on a document he was told by Sciambra to answer all of Dymond's questions in the affirmative and that they would get the Judge to rule against the defense on the introduction of the documents. He was also told before the three judge hearing that the decision is cut and dried before the hearing unless he fell absolutely to pieces on the witness stand. He further said that he thought that O'Hara was the only one who acted half-way honest on the three-judge panel.
Russo only met Bundy one time and after that was never permitted to be in his company. Sciambra told Russo not to talk to the defense team, especially Dymond. Dymond would tear him to pieces. He said that Dr. Chetta coached him with respect to answering Dymond's questions and particularly told him to look out when Dymond prefaced a question by saying, "Is it not a fact."
Russo said that prior to his cross-examination by Dymond at the preliminary hearing that several members of the DA's staff, including Sciambra and Alcock, had him in a room and that they were all trying to coach him on how to try and handle the cross-examination. Finally, Alcock told them all to get out of the room, saying Russo was smart enough to handle it and they were scaring him.
Russo said that he was not under hypnosis during the preliminary hearing but that he was given medication at every recess. He did not know what the capsules contained but said that it was to calm him down. At one point these capsules caused him to yawn and Dr. Chetta signaled him not to take any more. He didn't understand Chetta's signal and took the capsule any way. Russo labeled Sciambra as the real culprit throughout the matter and as the one who was continually implanting the identification in his mind.
Russo said that even in the preliminary hearing he had grave doubts about the identification of Shaw but that he lost his head when Dymond asked him whether he believed in God and couldn't turn back after he identified Shaw.
He said that the DA's staff was completely shocked on the ruling of Habighorst and had ob[v]iously been told that the ruling would be otherwise.
Russo said that he does not believe that Sandra Moffett was with him at the time of the meeting but that she was there later on.
He was assured by the DA's staff that the judge would not permit the defense to go into his sex habits.
Sciambra claims that when Russo told him his story in Baton Rouge that Russo volunteered to be subjected to sodium pentathol or anything else to confirm the truth. Russo says that at the time of the Baton Rouge meeting he had never even heard of sodium pentathol and that this was Sciambra's idea and suggested to him after he came to New Orleans.
Russo said that he got $15,000 from Time Magazine for his story and paid off all of his debts with it but now he is broke and borrowing.
The rest of the conversation was concerning Russo's habits and religious beliefs and person traits. Russo says that if the federal court does not hold in Shaw's favor he is willing to take the stand in the perjury trial and make a clean breast of the matter. I did not mention the damage suit to him but he is just about ripe to tell the truth if called upon to do so.
There are certain areas in which he would be willing to testify right now but I would be afraid that the State might cross-examine him on other areas about which if he told the truth he would subject himself to a perjury prosecution.
Jim Garrison had threatened Russo that if he ever changed his story under oath, a perjury charge would be his reward. The day after this interview, rather than testify on Garrison's behalf, Perry Raymond Russo invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in the face of self-incrimination.
The above interview took place in F. Irvin Dymond's office and was conducted by Dymond, Edward F. Wegmann, and William J. Wegmann.
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