Cover image for False witness : the real story of Jim Garrison's investigation and Oliver Stone's film JFK
False witness : the real story of Jim Garrison's investigation and Oliver Stone's film JFK
Lambert, Patricia.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : M. Evans, [1998]

Physical Description:
xviii, 352 pages, 14 unnumbered pages of plates : portraits ; 24 cm
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E842.9 .L27 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E842.9 .L27 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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This absorbing book tells, for the first time in its entirety, the story of the arrest and trial of Clay Shaw, charged with conspiracy in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The trial and the events leading up to it were headline news internationally for almost three years in the late 1960s. Those who dismissed the Warren Report as government cover-up now saw the conspiracy that they had always suspected slowly being unraveled before their eyes.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lambert, a JFK conspiracy buff and writer, believes that the assassination has yet to be solved. In this engrossing report, she argues that New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison's 1969 prosecution of local businessman Clay Shaw for conspiracy to murder KennedyÄthe source for Oliver Stone's interpretation in his filmÄwas reckless, fraudulent and nothing more than a red herring. A jury agreed, acquitting Shaw in 54 minutes. Lambert also makes a case that Stone used the trial to launch his attack on the Warren Report rather than to find the truth. Lambert contends that a key witness, Perry Russo, who was left out of the movie altogether, made his allegations under hypnosis and while drugged with a notoriously unreliable "truth serum," and that Garrison, through an assistant, tried to bribe at least one witness to supply false testimony. But the main points of divergence between Lambert and Stone come in their assessments of the characters: Stone portrays Garrison (who died in 1992) as a caring family man, a heroic truth-seeker battling sinister forces. Lambert, by contrast, presents the former DA as a mentally unhinged, fame-seeking demagogue who, she alleges, was also a wife-abuser and a pedophile. Stone's Shaw is, according to Lambert, "an arrogant, elitist sybarite, a butch homosexual with a taste for... conspiracy," while Lambert's Shaw is a restorer of French Quarter buildings, a lifelong registered Democrat and a civic leader. While emotions clearly play a role in which version (if any) readers will believe, Lambert must be commended for having done an impressive job of tracking evidence and putting together a compelling narrative of events. Photos. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The national trauma that was the Kennedy assassination spawned a continuing legacy of government mistrust. Lambert presents an exciting, well-documented account of an early example of this bleak inheritanceÄDistrict Attorney Jim Garrison's prosecution of Clay Shaw, a well-respected, secretly gay member of the New Orleans business community, for allegedly heading a CIA plot to murder the President. After four years of Garrison's legal machinations, Shaw was found innocent, and Garrison was condemned by the New York Times for perpetrating "one of the most disgraceful chapters...of American jurisprudence." Remarkably, the trial became the primary source of information for the 1979 House Committee on the Kennedy Assassination Report, and Garrison's self-promoting memoir inspired Oliver Stone's conspiracy-happy film JFK. Lambert does not attempt to discredit any assassination theory, but she succeeds admirably in her stated goal of chronicling Shaw's innocence. Recommended for all public libraries.ÄKarl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One MARCH 1, 1967: THE ARREST I went out to the D.A.'s office with a perfectly clear conscience. I didn't take a lawyer with me. To my mind, I was in the position of a good citizen making himself available to give information to these people, which might or might not be useful. -- Clay Shaw ( regarding his arrest ), 1969 It happened on a Wednesday. A television announcer broadcast the first news of it. The New Orleans district attorney's office had issued a subpoena for Clay Shaw to appear for questioning. Shaw, the fifty-three-year-old retired director of the International Trade Mart, was visiting the office of a friend that morning. He learned of the subpoena from someone who had heard about it on television. Shaw wondered what it was all about. Why didn't District Attorney Jim Garrison just telephone and say he wanted to speak to him? Shaw had given Garrison all the information he had when he was interviewed back in December and had thought no more about the matter. Now this. Shaw recalled hearing on television last night that Garrison's office had asked a former neighbor of his, James Lewallen, to come in for questioning. Perhaps they wanted to ask him something about Lewallen.     Shaw immediately called the district attorney's office. He asked to speak to Garrison, but he wasn't there. So he spoke to one of Garrison's investigators, Louis Ivon. Yes, Ivon said, a subpoena had been issued. That was "entirely unnecessary," Shaw said. He "would be glad" to come in and talk to them--when did they want him? Since he hadn't had lunch, they agreed on one o'clock. But when Shaw, on his way to a restaurant with a friend, stopped by his house to pick up his mail, he found three deputy sheriffs and a detective waiting on his patio, subpoena in hand. Because it was almost noon, Shaw accepted the detective's offer to drive him to the D.A.'s office. They arrived around 12:15. Garrison wasn't there and didn't show up until 4:00 that afternoon.     They kept him waiting about two hours, Shaw later said, while they moved him from one room to another and he listened to the detective's life story. "What is the holdup?" he asked. No one seemed to know. At one point they shifted him to Garrison's office, which Shaw noted was "quite large and impressive" with a "beautiful desk, comfortable chairs," a "handsome chess board" in one corner, and the complete works of Shakespeare "in small red leather-bound volumes" on the desk. By now Shaw was irritated and hungry, having missed lunch, and he let the detective know it. Soon afterwards, they took him into a different type of room, plain and utilitarian, where Asst. D.A. Andrew Sciambra and Ivon were waiting. They gave him a sandwich and a Coke and waited until he finished eating. Then, with Sciambra sitting directly across from Shaw, and Ivon sitting on the edge of the desk, they began to question him. To Shaw's surprise, his neighbor wasn't the topic. They showed him several pictures of boys, none of whom Shaw knew, and they reeled off a list of names, none of which he recognized. Sciambra soon turned to the real subject at hand. What did Shaw know about a man named David Ferrie? Had he ever been to Ferrie's apartment on Louisiana Parkway? Had he visited a service station Ferrie owned on Veterans Highway? Did he know Lee Harvey Oswald? Shaw told them he had never in his life seen Ferrie, had never been to his apartment, or his service station, and he didn't know Oswald. "What would you say," Sciambra said, "if we told you we have three witnesses who could positively identify you as having been in Ferrie's apartment and in Ferrie's gas station?" Their witnesses, Shaw replied, "were either mistaken or they were lying."     Sciambra asked him to take a truth-serum test to prove he didn't know Ferrie. "Why on earth should I take a truth-serum test?" Shaw said. "If you don't," Sciambra replied, "we're going to charge you with conspiring to murder the president of the United States." Describing that moment later, Shaw conveyed his astonishment by flinging his arms outward. "You've got to be kidding," he said, "you've got to be kidding!" Sciambra assured him they weren't. "In that case I want a lawyer and I want one now," Shaw said. They agreed, and he began trying to reach his attorney Shaw quickly discovered that Edward F. Wegmann, the civil attorney who had represented him since 1949, was out of town. Shaw tried his brother, William J. Wegmann, but he, too, was unavailable. He finally reached thirty-three-year-old Salvatore Panzeca, an associate working in William Wegmann's law office, who said he would be there in about thirty minutes. Sciambra and Ivon then left the room, locking the door behind them. Shaw sat alone, a "storm [raging] inside" him, awaiting the arrival of Salvatore Panzeca.     He had never seen "a more welcome sight" than Panzeca's "stocky little form coming through the door."     "I am Sal Panzeca," he said, "you are now my client, I must advise you this room is probably `bugged,' that the mirror on the wall is a two-way mirror, and therefore, from this moment on you communicate with no one, absolutely no one, except me." This "aggressive, bantamcock attitude" Shaw found "strengthening." Panzeca, whose size and manner call to mind actor Danny DeVito, recently recalled that tense situation. Since he was certain the room was bugged, the two at first communicated by writing notes. Finally, Panzeca asked Sciambra for an office to use, but Sciambra claimed they were all occupied. So Panzeca told Sciambra that he was going to talk to his client in the men's room.     Panzeca led Shaw into a tiny bathroom off the hallway leading into the district attorney's office. Even there, Panzeca didn't feel safe. It, too, might be bugged. As a precaution, they would forgo English. He asked Shaw if he spoke Spanish. Shaw said he did and made some additional comment in Spanish. Something about his inflection or the use of his hands triggered an intuitive insight on Panzeca's part. "Esta maricon?" ("Are you queer?") he asked. "Si," Shaw replied. Until that moment, Panzeca had been unaware of Shaw's sexual orientation. For the defense, this was the first note sounded of that sexual theme that would run throughout the prosecution of this case.     Panzeca spoke to Shaw at length and was "totally convinced" he was innocent. The question was, what to do about the truth-serum test. Shaw had no objection to the test per se, but he was afraid that personal questions might be asked that would expose his private life. Panzeca eventually worked out a counterproposal. Then he asked to speak to Jim Garrison. Ushered into Garrison's office, Panzeca found himself in the midst of an ongoing meeting. Confronting him was a phalanx of assistants and investigators (among them Warren Report critic Mark Lane). Panzeca recounted his conversation with Garrison: "`Well, Sal,' Garrison said, and he starts giving me [a] litany about how important all this was. Then he said, `Will Clay Shaw take a truth-serum test?' And I thought about it and I said, `No, I don't think that is something I could recommend to my client.'" Then Panzeca made his counteroffer. "`Maybe I could talk to Ed Wegmann tomorrow and have Clay Shaw take a polygraph,' I said. But there were certain conditions. One would be that Shaw have a night's rest to get over all this trauma. Two, that we wanted to see the questions before they were asked, even though we wouldn't review them with our client. And I said it was all predicated upon the approval of Mr. Ed Wegmann, Shaw's lawyer." Garrison exploded. "`That's bull shit,' he said, `We're not going to do that. I'll charge him.' I said, `With what?' And he said, `Conspiracy to kill Kennedy.' Well, I almost fell off the chair. I asked Garrison what the bond would be and he said, `Oh, it'll be hundreds of thousands of dollars.' I said, `Is that it?' He said, `Yes, we're going to charge him.'"     Feeling as though he had been "hit by a two-by-four," Panzeca left to inform his client. Jim Garrison was known to be impulsive but neither Panzeca nor Shaw had expected such an outcome. Shaw, especially, felt "that surely this was all some mistake which could still be cleared up." Panzeca went into the anteroom and told Shaw he was going to be arrested. "I don't think he responded except to listen to me," Panzeca said. "The man was totally obedient." Shaw and Panzeca now assumed the arrest was inevitable. But two key members of Garrison's staff made an effort to prevent it. Asst. D.A. James Alcock and private investigator William Gurvich had been out of town and returned in the midst of this. Surprised to find Shaw there, they were dismayed to learn his arrest was "imminent." They decided to object "vehemently" and requested a meeting with Garrison. The three convened in the office of First Assistant District Attorney Charles Ward. Garrison told them about a new witness who incriminated Shaw. Garrison was persuasive. Gurvich and Alcock backed down. The arrest would proceed.     Panzeca called Criminal District Judge Thomas Brahney, who knew Shaw, to arrange for bail. Judge Brahney was aware of what was happening--he was watching it on television. Garrison requested $25,000 but Brahney later reduced it to $10,000. William Wegmann arrived with a bail bondsman around 5:00 P.M. Some thirty minutes later, Louis Ivon entered the room where Shaw was waiting and formally placed him under arrest "for conspiracy to murder the president, John F. Kennedy." Shaw listened in "a state bordering on shock," and later referred to those words as "unbelievable and outrageous." A short time later, one of Garrison's investigators announced Shaw's arrest to the 200 or so media representatives waiting outside Garrison's office. Garrison himself soon emerged and told reporters he had "no doubts about the case."     Unaware of the momentous events taking place at the Criminal District Court building, Edward Wegmann had returned home from his business trip to Atlanta. His daughter, herself an attorney today, described how her father learned about his client's dilemma. The telephone rang just as he entered the front door. "He was still wearing his hat and coat when he answered it," Cynthia Wegmann said. The caller was a friend of Shaw who told Wegmann that Shaw was being charged with conspiracy to murder the president. "I'm in no mood for jokes," Wegmann said, and hung up the phone. It rang again immediately. This time Shaw's friend convinced Wegmann he wasn't joking. Wegmann left at once for the district attorney's office.     Shaw later wrote "how happy" he was to see Wegmann "and the flame of indignation surrounding him as he came into the office." "What the hell is this all about?" Wegmann asked. "Your guess is as good as mine," Shaw replied. It was now about 7:00 P.M. A long conference followed. Their immediate concern was the search warrant on Shaw's home, which they had learned about only a short time before. Edward Wegmann decided to stay with Shaw. Panzeca and William Wegmann (who had left and was summoned from a social event) headed for Shaw's house to handle the search. When they arrived on the scene, the process was already underway. About a dozen of Garrison's men had descended on Shaw's red-door carriage house at 1313 Dauphine and were photographing and boxing up material. An irate William Wegmann, doing what he could to protect Shaw's rights, demanded that Shaw's private papers be inventoried before they were removed. One of Garrison's assistants threatened to arrest him. Garrison's men would leave that night with five cardboard boxes filled with Shaw's possessions.     Meanwhile, Garrison's aides prepared to transfer Shaw to the police department's Central Lockup for booking. Louis Ivon insisted on handcuffing Shaw. Edward Wegmann objected, angrily and loudly. "He isn't going anywhere," Wegmann said. Don damped on the handcuffs. Shaw was then transferred. That scene was captured on television. Shaw later recalled being "led forward into the dazzling glare of the TV cameras and the stacatto flash of flashbulbs." He was guided down a corridor full of jostling reporters and camera crews. Wegmann, trying to shield the handcuffs from view, told Shaw to stay behind him, but Shaw found it impossible to do so. Dressed in a conservative brown suit with a green and light-orange striped tie, Shaw remained silent and stoic as he walked "what seemed an interminable distance" to the elevator. It deposited him and his contingent of "guards" on the ground floor at approximately 8:30. From there, sitting between Edward Wegmann and investigator Lynn Loisel in the back seat of a car, he rode the short distance to the recently opened Central Lockup. To Shaw "it looked very clean and efficient, all gleaming white and yellow tile." He emptied his pockets, removed his tie and belt, and was booked for conspiring to murder John F. Kennedy. Then he was fingerprinted and photographed. Released on bail, he left with Wegmann at 9:20 that night.     Clay Shaw was a commanding figure. His curly white hair was clipped short, his face was square, features strong, and his eyes a remarkable shade of blue. Like Garrison, he was huge, six feet four inches, 225 pounds, with broad shoulders and a deep chest. That morning his physical stature was more than matched by his stature in the community, which he had served for almost two decades. He entered Garrison's office at noon a respected civic leader. He left some nine hours later accused of the American equivalent of regicide.     In the high emotion of that time, many people were convinced of his guilt by the charge alone. After all, no district attorney would bring such a charge unless he had substantial evidence to back it up. Only a few of those closest to Garrison knew the truth, that Shaw was arrested on the basis of statements made by a single witness while he was in a drugged and semi-conscious condition.     That witness and his statements were the end point of certain unlikely events set in motion at the time of President Kennedy's death. But Shaw's arrest was primarily the consequence of the strange and complex character of the man who ordered it, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Copyright © 1998 Patricia Lambert. All rights reserved.