The JFK Military Autopsy and an Oswald Prosecution

In response to my article “Lee Harvey Oswald: Dead Man Walking,” a reader sent me an interesting question: Would the fact that U.S. officials prevented the Dallas County Medical Examiner, Dr. Earl Rose, from conducting the autopsy on JFK’s body, which state law required, automatically preclude the military’s autopsy report and findings from being admitted into evidence in a criminal prosecution of Lee Harvey Oswald?

Actually not. If the autopsy was valid and honest and if the chain of custody of evidence was preserved, the autopsy report and findings could still have been admitted into evidence, notwithstanding that U.S. officials had violated state law by preventing Rose from conducting the autopsy.

But there’s the rub. As I have detailed in my books The Kennedy AutopsyThe Kennedy Autopsy 2, and, most recently, An Encounter with Evil: The Abraham Zapruder Story, the military’s autopsy was riddled with fraud and evidentiary breaks in the chain of custody. Thus, there is no way that the autopsy report and findings would have been admitted into evidence at Oswald’s trial — unless the defense agreed to it, which is most likely what would have happened.

It is a virtual certainty that Oswald’s defense team would have introduced the massive evidentiary fraud surrounding the autopsy to establish the criminal culpability of the national-security establishment in the assassination itself and the attempt to frame Oswald in the process.

The defense would have first focused the attention of the jury on what happened at Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy had been treated. They would have subpoenaed Dr. Rose and called him to the witness stand. Rose’s testimony would have established that a team of Secret Service agents, brandishing guns, had forcibly prevented Rose from doing what state law required him to do — conduct an autopsy — and then, amidst screaming, yelling, and the emission of profanities, forced their way out of Parkland Hospital with Kennedy’s body.

How could that evidence not have caused the jury to immediately become suspicious? After all, law-enforcement agencies usually work together when it comes to solving and prosecuting crimes. Here you had federal agents who were threatening to use deadly force against a physician who was simply complying with state law.

JFK’s body was then transported to Maryland, where it was delivered into the hands of the military. Yet, the military had no jurisdiction in this crime. For that matter, neither did the Secret Service. At that time, it was not a federal offense to assassinate the president. Thus, this was a murder case under state law. As such, only officials in Dallas County, including Dr. Rose, had jurisdiction over the crime. Given these circumstances, how could a jury not be suspicious that the military was given control over the autopsy? 

Then, imagine how the jury would have reacted when the defense called to the witness stand various military enlisted men who testified that they were forced to sign written secrecy oaths vowing to never disclose what they had seen and done during the autopsy — and threatened with court martial or criminal prosecution if they ever violated those secrecy oaths.

Imagine also the jury’s reaction when the defense called Army Col. Pierre Finck, one of the three autopsy pathologists, to the witness stand and Finck told the jury that some unidentified official ordered him to refrain from dissecting the neck wound suffered by President Kennedy.

Then, how do you think the jury would have reacted when they learned from the testimony of Marine and Navy enlisted men that JFK’s body was secretly sneaked into the military’s morgue at 6:35 p.m. in a shipping casket, which was almost 1 1/2 hours before the official entry time of the president’s body at 8 p.m. in the heavy, ornate casket into which the body had been placed at Parkland?

Indeed, consider how the jury would have reacted when the sworn testimonies of John Stringer, the official photographer for the autopsy, and Col. Finck, established that there were actually two brain exams as part of the Kennedy autopsy, the second of which could not possibly have involved the brain of President Kennedy?

Moreover, the defense would have undoubtedly called Navy Petty Officer Saundra Spencer, who worked in the Navy’s photographic lab in Washington, to the stand. Her testimony, which matched what the treating doctors and nurses at Parkland and several other witnesses had said, would have established the fraudulent nature of the military’s autopsy photograph that showed the back of President Kennedy’s head to be intact when, in fact, there had been a massive exit-sized wound there.

Oswald’s defense team would have made the obvious point to the jury in final argument: A fraudulent autopsy necessarily means criminal culpability in the assassination itself. That’s because there is no innocent explanation for a fraudulent autopsy. It necessarily is part of a criminal cover-up. And the only entity the national-security establishment would be covering up for is itself, especially since the scheme for the fraudulent autopsy was launched at Parkland Hospital when that Secret Service team forcibly prevented Dr. Rose from doing his job.

But as I indicated in “Lee Harvey Oswald: Dead Man Walking, there was never going to be a criminal prosecution of Oswald because he was always going to be killed before trial. We know that by the total lack of concern from all the autopsy participants to the virtual certainty of later having to testify about their actions during the autopsy in a criminal court of law. 

For example, just consider that unidentified official who ordered Col. Finck to refrain from dissecting JFK’s neck wound. He obviously did not have any concern whatsoever about later having to explain that order in a civilian court of law. That total lack of concern had to be because he knew that Oswald’s days were numbered and, therefore, that there would never be a criminal trial in which he would have to explain the order he issued to Col. Finck.

Reprinted with permission from The Future of Freedom Foundation.