The JFK 100

NBC's White Paper on Jim Garrison's Probe

A hatchet job on the New Orleans DA?


Oliver Stone's JFK includes a depiction of an NBC News White Paper examining the conspiracy case of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner). Here's how Stone portrays the broadcast:

The JFK Conspiracy: The Case of Jim Garrison.

After several weeks of investigation in New Orleans, a team of reporters has learned that District Attorney Jim Garrison and his staff have intimidated, bribed, and even drugged witnesses in their attempt to prove a conspiracy involving New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw in the murder of John F. Kennedy.

John Chancler [sic] was a cellmate of Willie O'Keefe's at Angola.

He said he'd be cut loose if he copped to the DA's office.

I sent him up for burglary. And there's his old buddy, Miguel Torres. I sent him up, too.

They wanted me to say Shaw was Bertrand. They said they'd get me a pardon.


This author can still recall the groans from the theatrical audience in December 1991 when these accusations about Jim Garrison and his staff were recited. It is utterly impossible, of course, to imagine the straight-arrow DA portrayed by Kevin Costner resorting to such unethical tactics to obtain evidence.

Sadly, the reality of the Garrison investigation is quite another story. The NBC News broadcast on Garrison's JFK probe presented numerous witnesses making credible, damaging allegations about the methods employed by the DA and his staff. While it cannot be stated with any certainty that all of the witnesses were truthful and all the charges were true, several of the allegations were amply documented. Moreover, the implication that NBC News had fabricated a smear campaign against Jim Garrison is easily demonstrated to be false.

John Cancler (correct spelling) was a cellmate of Vernon Bundy's who alleged that Bundy admitted his testimony against Clay Shaw was untrue. Cancler had spoken about this prior to being interviewed by NBC. Witness Miguel Torres alleged that Bundy had admitted the same thing to him. Torres too had gone on record with the charge prior to being interviewed by NBC. Stone calls Cancler and Bundy "buddies," but if there was any collusion involved in their stories, Garrison never made any such accusation at the time, much less produced any evidence for it.

Stone casts doubt on the credibility of Cancler and Torres by pointing out that both were convicts. (Of course, so was Vernon Bundy, and star witness Perry Russo had an arrest record as well.) Neither man, however, has ever been shown to bear a personal grudge against the District Attorney. Moreover, Stone insinuates that their motives cannot be trusted, when there is no evidence of an ulterior motive on the part of either man (neither benefited from their allegations; quite the contrary), and the documentary record supports their allegations: Vernon Bundy was "cut loose" after giving his testimony; he was sprung from jail and never prosecuted for his parole violation. On several subsequent occasions, Bundy was arrested for new offenses and immediately set free, his rap sheet noting that the DA's office declined to press charges. It is Vernon Bundy, not John Cancler or Miguel Torres, who gave non-credible testimony for evident personal gain.

After his release from prison two years later, Torres reaffirmed his allegations to journalist James Kirkwood. Unlike Vernon Bundy, whose story underwent a dramatic transformation between his initial interview and his trial testimony, Torres's accounts are consistent in all details.

As Oliver Stone depicts, Miguel Torres also alleged that he had been pressured by the District Attorney's office to falsely identify Clay Shaw as "Clay Bertrand." The charge is supported by the account of Fred Lemanns, who also alleged that such a story had been solicited from him. Lemanns, like Torres and Cancler, came forward prior to being contacted by NBC.

Another victim of the DA's abuses was a former friend of Garrison's, Dean Andrews. When Dean Andrews refused to falsely implicate Clay Shaw as "Bertrand," Garrison first attempted to blackmail him, then had him charged with perjury. Andrews lost his job as Assistant District Attorney in Jefferson Parish, and was soon disbarred.

John Cancler told NBC another story he had related to others previously: that NODA investigator Lynn Loisel had tried to solicit his services as a burglar to break into Clay Shaw's home and plant evidence against him. As discussed in a separate article, the charges of witnesses like Cancler and Torres are supported by the amply documented allegations of David Ferrie associate Al Beauboeuf; an attempt by Lynn Loisel to bribe Beauboeuf was recorded on tape for all posterity. Beauboeuf also alleged that Lynn Loisel and NODA chief investigator Louis Ivon threatened him with bodily harm if he refused to cooperate with them.

Another friend of David Ferrie's, Layton Martens, was subjected to similar pressure. Martens was even gratuitously indicted for perjury at one time; the charge was later dismissed. When Jim Garrison put pressure on a Ferrie acquaintance, Gordon Novel, to provide testimony bolstering his case, Novel fled Louisiana altogether. (Novel's subsequent behavior was so bizarre, however, that he was of no value to Garrison's media critics.) Other potential witnesses, such as Sergio Arcacha Smith and Carlos Quiroga, endured similar harassment.

Oliver Stone also has no compunctions with putting words in the mouths of the DA's critics at NBC News. For example, NBC did not accuse Garrison and his men of having "drugged" witnesses to produce false testimony; however, they could have done so, had they seen private records of the DA's office, now available for public scrutiny. Perry Raymond Russo's testimony against Clay Shaw, it turns out, emerged only after Russo was injected with sodium Pentathol, so-called truth serum. (As Patricia Lambert notes in her groundbreaking study of the Garrison case, False Witness, sodium Pentathol does not cause a person to tell the truth; it only tends to suppress inhibitions, "including those against fantasizing. If a person is trying to hide something, he may be more likely to reveal it because he is more relaxed. But if a person is inclined toward fantasizing, the drug may encourage that.")

NBC News had no way of knowing at the time that Russo's testimony was produced under the influence of sodium Pentathol; however, NBC did note, correctly, that Russo had undergone hypnosis, and the available records of Russo's hypnotic interrogations demonstrated that Russo's testimony had been elicited, wittingly or unwittingly, by leading questions of a most irresponsible nature.

Read the entire transcript of NBC's broadcast and decide for yourself whether Oliver Stone represents its contents accurately and fairly.



Copyright © 2001 by David Reitzes


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