Jim Garrison

For the American theologian and writer, see Jim Garrison (theologian). For the American football coach, see Jim Garrison (American football).
Jim Garrison
District Attorney of Orleans Parish
In office
Preceded by Richard Dowling
Succeeded by Harry Connick Sr.
Constituency New Orleans, Louisiana
Personal details
Born Earling Carothers Garrison
(1921-11-20)November 20, 1921
Denison, Iowa
Died October 21, 1992(1992-10-21) (aged 70)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Nationality American
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Leah Elizabeth Ziegler[1]
Alma mater Law degree from Tulane University in 1949

James Carothers "Jim" Garrison (born Earling Carothers Garrison; November 20, 1921 – October 21, 1992)[2] was the District Attorney of Orleans Parish, Louisiana, from 1962 to 1973. A member of the Democratic Party, he is best known for his investigations into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was played by Kevin Costner in Oliver Stone's JFK.

Early life and career

Earling Carothers Garrison was born in Denison, Iowa.[3][4][5] He was the first child and only son of Earling R. Garrison and Jane Anne Robinson who divorced when he was two-years old.[2] His family moved to New Orleans in his childhood, where he was raised by his divorced mother. He served in the U.S. National Guard in World War II, then obtained a law degree from Tulane University Law School in 1949. He worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for two years and then returned to active duty with the National Guard. After fifteen months, he was relieved from duty. One Army doctor concluded he had a "severe and disabling psychoneurosis" which "interfered with his social and professional adjustment to a marked degree. He is considered totally incapacitated from the standpoint of military duty and moderately incapacitated in civilian adaptability."[6] Although one doctor did recommend that Garrison be discharged from service and collect 10% permanent disability, Garrison opted instead to join the National Guard where his record was reviewed by the U.S. Army Surgeon General who “found him to be physically qualified for federal recognition in the national army.”[7]

District Attorney

Garrison worked for New Orleans law firm Deutsch, Kerrigan & Stiles from 1954 to 1958, when he became an assistant district attorney. Garrison became a flamboyant, colorful, well-known figure in New Orleans, but was initially unsuccessful in his run for public office, losing a 1959 election for criminal court judge. In 1961 he ran for district attorney, winning against incumbent Richard Dowling by 6,000 votes in a five-man Democratic primary. Despite lack of major political backing, his performance in a televised debate and last minute television commercials are credited with his victory.

Once in office, Garrison cracked down on prostitution and the abuses of Bourbon Street bars and strip joints. He indicted Dowling and one of his assistants for criminal malfeasance, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. Garrison did not appeal. Garrison received national attention for a series of vice raids in the French Quarter, staged sometimes on a nightly basis. Newspaper headlines in 1962 praised Garrison's efforts, "Quarter Crime Emergency Declared by Police, DA. – Garrison Back, Vows Vice Drive to Continue – 14 Arrested, 12 more nabbed in Vice Raids." Garrison's critics often point out that many of the arrests made by his office did not result in convictions, implying that he was in the habit of making arrests without evidence. However, assistant DA William Alford has said that charges would more often than not be reduced or dropped if a relative of someone charged gained Garrison’s ear. He had, said Alford, “a heart of gold.”[8]

After a conflict with local criminal judges over his budget, he accused them of racketeering and conspiring against him. The eight judges charged him with misdemeanor criminal defamation, and Garrison was convicted in January 1963. In 1964 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction and struck down the state statute as unconstitutional.[9] At the same time, Garrison indicted Judge Bernard Cocke with criminal malfeasance and, in two trials prosecuted by Garrison himself, Cocke was acquitted.

Garrison charged nine policemen with brutality, but dropped the charges two weeks later. At a press conference he accused the state parole board of accepting bribes, but could obtain no indictments. Critical of the state legislature, Garrison was unanimously censured by it for "deliberately maligning all of the members".[10]

In 1965, running for reelection against Judge Malcolm O'Hara, Garrison won with 60 percent of the vote.

Kennedy assassination investigation

As New Orleans D.A., Garrison began an investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in late 1966, after receiving several tips from Jack Martin that a man named David Ferrie may have been involved in the assassination.[11] The end result of Garrison's investigation was the arrest and trial of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw in 1969, with Shaw being unanimously acquitted less than one hour after the case went to the jury.[12][13][14]

Garrison was able to subpoena the Zapruder film from Life magazine. Thus, members of the American public - i.e. the jurors of the case - were shown the movie for the first time. Until the trial, the film had rarely been seen, and bootleg copies made by assassination investigators working with Garrison led to the film's wider distribution.[15] In 2015, Garrison's daughter released his copy of the film, along with a number of his personal papers from the investigation.[16]

Garrison's key witness against Clay Shaw was Perry Russo, a 25-year-old insurance salesman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At the trial, Russo testified that he had attended a party at anti-Castro activist David Ferrie's apartment. At the party, Russo said that Lee Harvey Oswald (who Russo said was introduced to him as "Leon Oswald"), David Ferrie, and "Clem Bertrand" (who Russo identified in the courtroom as Clay Shaw) had discussed killing President Kennedy.[17] The conversation included plans for the "triangulation of crossfire" and alibis for the participants.[17]

Russo’s version of events has been questioned by some historians and researchers, such as Patricia Lambert, once it became known that part of his testimony might have been induced by hypnotism, and by the drug sodium pentothal (sometimes called "truth serum").[18] An early version of Russo's testimony (as told in Assistant D.A. Andrew Sciambra's memo, before Russo was subjected to sodium pentothal and hypnosis) fails to mention an "assassination party" and says that Russo met Clay Shaw on two occasions, neither of which occurred at the party.[19][20] However, in his book On the Trail of the Assassins, Garrison says that Russo had already discussed the party at Ferrie's apartment before any "truth serum" was administered.[21] Moreover, in several public interviews, such as one shown in the video The JFK Assassination: The Jim Garrison Tapes, Russo reiterates the same account of a party at Ferrie's apartment that he gave at the trial.[22][23]

Jim Garrison defended his conduct regarding witness testimony, stating:

Before we introduced the testimony of our witnesses, we made them undergo independent verifying tests, including polygraph examination, truth serum and hypnosis. We thought this would be hailed as an unprecedented step in jurisprudence; instead, the press turned around and hinted that we had drugged our witnesses or given them posthypnotic suggestions to testify falsely.[24]

In January 1968, Garrison subpoenaed Kerry Wendell Thornley – an acquaintance of Oswald's from their days in the military – to appear before a grand jury, questioning him about his relationship with Oswald and his knowledge of other figures Garrison believed to be connected to the assassination.[25] Thornley sought a cancellation of this subpoena on which he had to appear before the Circuit Court.[26] Garrison charged Thornley with perjury after Thornley denied that he had been in contact with Oswald in any manner since 1959. The perjury charge was eventually dropped by Garrison's successor Harry Connick Sr.

By a strange coincidence, the first edition of the Discordian religious text known as the Principia Discordia, co-authored by Thornley under the pseudonym Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, had been printed on Garrison's Xerox printer without his permission five years previously, in 1963, by a friend of Thornley's who worked in the District Attorney's office.[27]

US talk radio host David Mendelsohn conducted a comprehensive interview with Jim Garrison which was broadcast in 1988 by KPFA in Berkeley, California. Alongside Garrison, the program featured the voices of Lee Harvey Oswald and JFK filmmaker Oliver Stone. Garrison explains that cover stories were circulated in an attempt to blame the killing on the Cubans and the Mafia but he blames the conspiracy to kill the president firmly on the CIA who wanted to continue the Cold War.[28]

Later career

In 1973, Garrison was tried and found not guilty by the jury for accepting bribes to protect illegal pinball machine operations. The prosecutor was Gerald J. Gallinghouse of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, who was seeking to halt public corruption.[29] Pershing Gervais, Garrison's former chief investigator, testified that Garrison had received approximately $3,000 every two months for nine years from the dealers. Acting as his own defense attorney, Garrison called the allegations baseless and claimed that they were concocted as part of a U.S. government effort to destroy him because of Garrison's efforts to implicate the CIA in the Kennedy assassination. The jury found Garrison not guilty. In an interview conducted by New Orleans reporter Rosemary James with Pershing Gervais, James alleged Gervais had admitted to concocting the charges.[30]

In the same year, Garrison was defeated for reelection as district attorney by Harry Connick Sr. On April 15, 1978, Garrison won a special election over a Republican candidate, Thomas F. Jordan, for Louisiana's 4th Circuit Court of Appeal judgeship, a position for which he was later reelected and which he held until his death.[31]

In 1987, Garrison appeared as himself in the film The Big Easy.

After the Shaw trial, Garrison wrote three books on the Kennedy assassination, A Heritage of Stone (1970), The Star Spangled Contract (1976, fiction, but based on the JFK assassination), and his best-seller, On the Trail of the Assassins (1988). A Heritage of Stone, published by Putnam, places responsibility for the assassination on the CIA and says the Warren Commission, the Executive Branch, members of the Dallas Police Department, the pathologists at Bethesda, and various others lied to the American public.[32] The book does not mention Shaw or Garrison's investigation of Shaw.[32]

Garrison's investigation again received widespread attention through Oliver Stone's 1991 film, JFK, which was largely based on Garrison's book as well as Jim Marrs' Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. Kevin Costner played a fictionalized version of Garrison in the movie. Garrison himself had a small on-screen role in the film, playing United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. Garrison also appears live and comments on the Shaw Trial in the documentary The JFK Assassination: The Jim Garrison Tapes, written and directed by actor John Barbour.

Garrison died of cancer in 1992, survived by his five children.[33][34]


Some suggest that Garrison will be remembered positively, including political analyst Carl Oglesby who was quoted as saying, "...I have done a study of Garrison: I come out of it thinking that he is one of the really first-rate class-act heroes of this whole ugly story [the killing of John F. Kennedy and subsequent investigation], which suffers so badly for heroes."[35] Libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard stated that "Garrison, one of the most viciously smeared figures in modern political history, was simply a district attorney trying to do his job in the most important criminal case of our time."[36]

Besides pro-Warren Commission writers like Gerald Posner, other pro-conspiracy writers criticized Garrison for being reckless.[37] However, several researchers, including Gerry Campeau of JFKFacts.org, William Davy,[38] and Joan Mellen[39][40] have defended Garrison.

Garrison came under contemporary criticism from writers including Sylvia Meagher, who in 1967 wrote: "...as the Garrison investigation continued to unfold, it gave cause for increasingly serious misgivings about the validity of his evidence, the credibility of his witnesses, and the scrupulousness of his methods. The fact that many critics of the Warren Report have remained passionate advocates of the Garrison investigation, even condoning tactics which they might not condone on the part of others, is a matter of regret and disappointment."[41] According to Clay Shaw's defense team, witnesses, including Perry Russo, claimed to have been bribed and threatened with perjury and contempt of court charges by Garrison in order to make his case against Shaw.[42] However, in a later interview with public radio, Perry Russo stated: "Well the truth of the matter was that Garrison was very sincere. Well, [NBC News reporter and ex FBI Agent] Walter Sheridan tells me and threatens me that he's gonna take Garrison out and take me with him. [...] And he says [if] you do that" [revoke his testimony] "we won't go after you."[22]


  1. Jim Garrison obituary accessed 5/27/2015
  2. 1 2 Lambert, Patricia (2000). False Witness: The Real Story of Jim Garrison's Investigation and Oliver Stone's Film JFK. New York: M Evans and Company, Inc. p. 11. ISBN 9781461732396.
  3. "Jim Garrison", Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.
  4. "Jim Garrison", The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 3: 1991–1993. Charles Scribner's Sons, 2001.
  5. "Jim Garrison", Newsmakers 1993, Issue 4. Gale Research, 1993.
  6. Associated Press, "Garrison Record Shows Disability", December 29, 1967. Warren Rogers, "The Persecution of Clay Shaw", Look, August 26, 1969, page 54.
  7. Jordan Publishing; William Davy (May 1999). Let Justice Be Done: New Light on the Jim Garrison Investigation. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-9669716-0-6.
  8. Joan Mellen (October 19, 2005). A farewell to justice: Jim Garrison, JFK's assassination, and the case that should have changed history. Potomac Books Inc. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-57488-973-4.
  9. Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64 (1964)
  10. "Assassination Probe Conspiracy Being Kept Secret". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Spokane, Washington. AP. February 20, 1967. p. 2. Retrieved May 26, 2013.
  11. David Ferrie, House Select Committee on Assassinations – Appendix to Hearings, Volume 10, 12, pp. 112–13.
  12. Clay Shaw Interview, Penthouse, November 1969, pp. 34–35.
  13. Clay Shaw Trial Transcripts, February 28, 1969, p. 47.
  14. "Andrew 'Moo Moo' Sciambra, who worked on Jim Garrison investigation of JFK assassination, dies at age 75", July 28, 2010 by John Pope, The Times-Picayune
  15. James H. Fetzer (1998). Assassination science: experts speak out on the death of JFK. Open Court Pub Co. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-8126-9365-2.
  16. Morgan, Richard (2015-11-20). "JFK assassination truthers will love this auction". New York Post. Retrieved 2015-11-23.
  17. 1 2 Testimony of Perry Raymond Russo, State of Louisiana vs. Clay L. Shaw, February 10, 1969.
  18. "Perry Raymond Russo's Hypnosis: Making Testimony More Objective?". mcadams. 2007. Retrieved December 18, 2007.
  19. "The Sciambra Memo". Retrieved September 17, 2010.
  20. "Perry Raymond Russo: Way Too Willing Witness". Mcadams.posc.mu.edu. Retrieved September 17, 2010.
  21. Jim Garrison (November 1988). On the trail of the assassins: my investigation and prosecution of the murder of President Kennedy. Sheridan Square Pubns. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-941781-02-2.
  22. 1 2 The Lighthouse Report, "The Last Testament of Perry Raymond Russo", Will Robinson, October 10, 1992.
  23. The JFK Assassination: The Jim Garrison Tapes on YouTube, John Barbour, 1992.
  24. Jim Garrison Interview, Playboy magazine, Eric Norden, October 1967.
  25. "Writer Not Sure Oswald Assassin". The Miami News. Jan 10, 1968. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  26. "Writer Seeks Cancellation Of Subpoena". St. Petersburg Times. Jan 20, 1968. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  27. Wilson, Robert Anton (1992). Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati. Scottsdale, AZ: New Falcon Publications. p. 65. ISBN 978-1561840038.
  28. Guns and Butter http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/86549
  29. "Bill Crider, "This U.S. Attorney defies patronage system – He stays", October 4, 1977". news.google.com. Retrieved June 29, 2013.
  30. "Pershing Gervais and the Attempt to Frame Jim Garrison", Peter R. Whitmey, The Fourth Decade, vol. 1, 4, May 1994, pp. 3–7.
  31. 1 2 Leonard, John (December 8, 1970). "The Story of Garrison Vs. Shaw". The Day. 90 (134). New London, Connecticut. p. 22. Retrieved August 24, 2015.
  32. Lambert, Bruce (October 22, 1992). "Jim Garrison, 70, Theorist on Kennedy Death, Dies". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved December 9, 2014.
  33. "Epitaph For Jim Garrison: Romancing the Assassination" The New Yorker 30 November 1992 Retrieved January 12, 2012
  34. Interview with Carl Oglesby. JFK: The Question of Conspiracy, Documentary. Dir. & Writ. Danny Schechter, Dir. Barbara Kopple (Regency Enterprises, Le Studio Canal, & Alcor Films: A Global Vision Picture, 1992)
  35. http://archive.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard147.html
  36. "Garrison and JFK Conspiracy Writers". Mcadams.posc.mu.edu. Retrieved September 17, 2010.
  37. Jordan Publishing; William Davy (May 1999). Let Justice Be Done: New Light on the Jim Garrison Investigation. ISBN 978-0-9669716-0-6.
  38. "Joan Mellen website". Joanmellen.net. November 16, 2005. Retrieved September 20, 2011.
  39. Joan Mellen (October 19, 2005). A farewell to justice: Jim Garrison, JFK's assassination, and the case that should have changed history. Potomac Books Inc. ISBN 978-1-57488-973-4.
  40. Sylvia Meagher (April 7, 1992). Accessories After the Fact: The Warren Commission, the Authorities, and the Report. Vintage Books. pp. 456–457. ISBN 978-0-679-74315-6.
  41. Gerald Posner, Case Closed, p. 441.

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