Jim Garrison, Prosecutor in Alleged JFK Plot, Dead at 70
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Jim Garrison, the pistol-packing prosecutor who was accused of recklessly pursuing a conspiracy theory of the assassination of President Kennedy but was later lionized in ″JFK,″ has died at 70.
Garrison died Wednesday, a year after heart trouble forced him to retire as a state appeals judge. An autopsy was planned today.
″Jim Garrison was a great American who will be recognized as such in time,″ ″JFK″ director Oliver Stone said in a statement.
Garrison, who served 12 years as New Orleans district attorney and 12 as a judge on the appeals court, never stopped believing that CIA hard-liners had Kennedy assassinated in 1963 to keep the United States in Vietnam.
In 1969, Garrison put businessman Clay Shaw on trial on charges of conspiring to kill Kennedy. The jury heard 34 days of testimony, then deliberated less than an hour before acquitting Shaw.
One key witness in the trial died under mysterious circumstances. Others refused to say on the stand what they had told investigators. Others - such as a psychologist who admitted under cross-examination that he fingerprinted his daughter daily to make sure a spy hadn’t taken her place - couldn’t be believed.
Garrison later arrested Shaw for perjury, but federal courts threw out the case, calling it outrageous and inexcusable persecution.
″It was a very sad day, I think, when he focused on Clay Shaw because that indictment and prosecution was totally unfounded,″ said District Attorney Harry Connick, who unseated Garrison in 1973.
″There was no evidence and people on his staff told him there was no evidence and he knew there was no evidence, yet he still managed to get the grand jury to indict Clay Shaw,″ he said. ″That’s damned intimidating.″
Frank Mankiewicz, a spokesman for Stone and a political aide to Robert Kennedy, defended Garrison’s investigation.
″Most Americans knew from the beginning that the Warren Commission judgment was flat-out wrong or worse and Garrison was really the first public person to say so,″ Mankiewicz said. ″He also will get a share of the credit for the release of secret documents into the Kennedy assassination.″
Congress in September passed legislation to release hundreds of thousands of secret documents in the case. President Bush is expected to sign the bill.
In the 1991 movie starring Kevin Costner as Garrison, Stone gave the real- life Garrison a cameo as Chief Justice Earl Warren - head of the commission that concluded Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating Kennedy.
Garrison called the Warren Report ″the official fiction″ and maintained that Oswald was set up to divert attention from the CIA. The Warren Report was thrown together to quell unrest that might lead to war, he said.
Garrison’s book ″On the Trail of the Assassins″ was a major source for Stone’s movie.
In 1962, Garrison was an upset winner as a reform candidate for district attorney, the first local politician to make effective use of television. Once elected, his raids on French Quarter vice dens often were accompanied by cameras, lights, technicians and reporters. His hypnotic stare, his poise and his rumbling voice made the 6-foot-6 Garrison a natural for television.
Garrison won re-election to a third term in a landslide.
In 1973 he was charged by federal prosecutors with taking bribes to protect illegal pinball gambling. He conducted his own defense and was acquitted but was left with only a month to campaign for a fourth term, and Connick won.
In 1978 he won a seat on the appeals bench.
Garrison is survived by his wife, Leah Elizabeth Ziegler Garrison; a sister; five children; and a grandchild.
A funeral service was scheduled for Friday.