Melvin Belli Takes on the JFK Conspiracy Theorists
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
October 22, 1964, Vol. X, No. 1
Lane & Audience TKO Middle-Aged Lochinvar
By Stephanie Harrington
A middle-aged Lochinvar came out of the West on Monday night and walked right into an ambush. At their black-tie debate on whether Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin of President Kennedy, Melvin Belli, the silver-haired San Franciscan who represented Jack Ruby, looked more at home in his dinner jacket, but Mark Lane was unquestionably more at home with the capacity audience at Manhattan Center.
In fact he was home. As at Lane's Town Hall appearance with Oswald's mother some months ago, it was a gathering of the mespuchah. No one really needed to be convinced that something was rotten with the Warren Commission, the FBI, the Secret Service, the Dallas police, and the liberal press. And as soon as it realized that Belli was not merely there as a foil for its hero, but that he really did have some views that ran counter to Lane's, the audience's tolerance for the debate format came under evident strain.
As soon as he stepped up to the lectern for his 40-minute presentation and said that he was happy to hear -- indeed, that he thanked God -- that his opponent agreed that there was no evidence of a conspiracy in the assassination, Belli was hissed. And throughout his presentation, the audience, which had sat in rapt silence during Lane's opening argument, rustled with displeasure, setting up a sound as if it were collectively sucking in its breath, and toward the end began shouting objections. Belli's apple-pie attitude toward the FBI, the Secret Service, and the Dallas police did nothing to improve his relations with his listeners. "I hope it will never come to pass," he said at one point, "that we cannot believe the integrity of our law enforcement officials."
...Throughout his remarks Lane charged that the Warren Commission had in fact set out to convict Oswald and that it manipulated the evidence to do so, disregarding things that would contradict Oswald's guilt and accepting whatever would support it -- no matter how flimsy.
...Belli noted that Oswald's brother said he was satisfied that Lee was guilty. Belli asked if he was brainwashed too. When the audience indicated that it thought that was probably the case, Belli said, "How you must fear them (the FBI) and tremble in your own beds." The audience drowned him out with applause and cries of "Yes!"
It was not Belli's night. Even his book, "Dallas Justice: the Real Story of Jack Ruby and His Trial," which made its debut here on Monday, was selling for 45 cents less than the recording (put out on the Broadside label) of Lane's testimony to the Warren Commission.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. Go here to see this article as it originally appeared in print.]