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  • A Prosecutor Takes On the JFK Assassination
  • Sheldon M. Stern (bio)
Vincent Bugliosi. Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, New York: Norton, 2007. 1,612 pp. Bibliography, notes on CD-ROM, and index. $49.95.

It is all but impossible to avoid hyperbole and clichés when writing about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. The shooting in Dealey Plaza really was "the crime of the century" and those who lived through the four days of non-stop television coverage really do remember in extraordinary detail exactly what they were doing and feeling. Millions of Americans, and countless people around the world, regard the JFK assassination as a personal and historical turning point—which ultimately elevated the slain forty-six-year-old president, as Vincent Bugliosi observes, "into a mythical, larger-than-life figure whose hold on the nation's [and the world's] imagination resonates to this very day" (p. xi).

I was a graduate student in history on that unforgettable day, but I could never have imagined that fourteen years later I would become historian at the Kennedy Library in Boston. And, like it or not, I would have to repeatedly confront the increasingly bitter controversy about who was responsible for the JFK assassination. In the interest of full disclosure, I want readers to understand that, like countless others, I was for a time drawn to the siren songs of some conspiracy theories. However, I am now absolutely convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the evidence put forward by Mr. Bugliosi is incontrovertible: Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed President Kennedy.

Reclaiming History is not really a "book" at all in the conventional sense—it is more like a comprehensive reference work—an encyclopedia of the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath.1 "In defense of its length," Bugliosi explains, "conspiracy theorists have transformed Kennedy's murder into the most complex murder case ever. . . . The scope and breadth of issues flowing from the Kennedy assassination are so enormous that typically authors write entire books on just one aspect of the case alone, such as organized crime, or the CIA, or Castro, or Jack Ruby, or Oswald's guilt or innocence." He acknowledges that his book "keep[s] piling one argument upon another to prove his point" but notes that "the Warren Commission also made its point, and well, [End Page 142] over forty years ago, yet today the overwhelming majority of Americans do not accept its conclusion that Oswald acted alone, a great number not even believing he killed Kennedy. Hence, the overkill in this book is historically necessary" (pp. xliv–xlv).

Bugliosi's commitment to "reclaiming" the real story of the Kennedy assassination began in 1986 when London Weekend Television invited him to serve as prosecutor in a 20+ hour "trial" of Lee Harvey Oswald. He was skeptical at first, but changed his mind when he was assured that there would be no script and that most of the original key witnesses, "many of whom had refused to even talk to the media for years," had agreed to testify—and most importantly—to be subjected to cross examination. Gerry Spence, one of the nation's leading criminal defense lawyers, was chosen to represent Oswald. Bugliosi put aside his legal career and devoted about one hundred hours a week for five months to preparing the case. The jury, after deliberating for six hours in what TIME magazine called the closest "to a real trial as the accused killer of John F. Kennedy will probably ever get," convicted Oswald of the murder of President Kennedy.

The guilty verdict in London energized Bugliosi to undertake a comprehensive account of the historical impact of the JFK assassination—building on the research by the Warren Commission (1964) and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979):2

I am unaware of any other major event in world history which has been shrouded in so much intentional misinformation as has the assassination of JFK. Nor am I aware of any event that has given rise to such an extraordinarily large number of far-fetched and conflicting theories. For starters, if organized crime was behind the...


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pp. 142-150
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