Excerpts from James Kirkwood's interview with James Alcock



From James Kirkwood, American Grotesque, 1992 ed., pp. 581-94:


Q: You actually worked on the case from the very beginning, didn't you?

ALCOCK: Right.

Q: In the investigatory phases as well?

ALCOCK: Well, I didn't do too much investigation on the case. I think I did initially, more than toward the later stages of it. As a matter of fact, I was with Bill Gurvich in Texas when they brought Clay Shaw up here that day, the day he was arrested. I wasn't here during the Perry Russo episode, going to Baton Rouge and bringing him down, putting him on sodium pentothal. But once the case was accepted, after the defense starting [sic] filing pleadings and going to Federal court, I almost exclusively was engaged in the legal end of it. Rather than the investigative end . . . And I did, as Gurvich has announced, I did go into the office and attempt to talk Jim out of charging Clay Shaw. But I didn't know of the existence of Russo, and I didn't know what Russo had to say, and when he said that -- of course, I didn't know who Russo was, his background, or I didn't know he'd been on the sodium pentothal or hypnosis or anything -- of course that changed my opinion.

. . . Jim Alcock was candid about the state's preferences for jurors, saying, "We didn't want necessarily a completely blue-collar jury although we could have gone more with a blue-collar jury than a white-collar jury. It turns out it didn't make much difference, we didn't get any of them. . . . It's more or less a guessing game -- you really don't know what kind of a juror you want. You know there's some you definitely do not want. Of course, I didn't want any -- I'm reluctant to use the phrase -- 'uptowners,' but I didn't want any people on there that might have been engaged in business with Shaw, the International Trade Mart, or been familiar with Shaw's background, which certainly was of some status. . . .

Q: Yes. Because it seemed the state wanted a less sophisticated man.

ALCOCK: Right. That's true. I don't deny that.

Q: And I suppose you want people you can persuade.

ALCOCK: That's what it's all about. If you don't feel you can persuade them, no sense having them on the jury. . . . I can see that some people might -- you know, begin to question the state in attempting to get the lesser intellectually qualified juror on there, but again, we had our case to try and I thought that, as a judgment of mine, that we'd be better off with those kind of jurors. And we didn't get -- we got several of them -- and you know, I don't want to characterize the jurors, but I think it was a fairly good cross section of the community and as it turned out, Shaw couldn't have asked for anything more. . . . But I still think in the final result -- I'll never forget, when we were in Federal court in this case, and I wrote a brief in support of our position [to come to trial] and my last line was something to the effect that the United States Supreme Court had exhibited great confidence in the jury system, I only ask this court to do as much. . . .

Q: Can you often tell when you're watching the jury, which way they're going? The press couldn't, we couldn't tell what they were absorbing or thinking or --

ALCOCK: No, you're right. . . . I think generally you can when you've got a case of shorter duration. Now, in this case, frankly I couldn't . . . I couldn't read this jury.

Q: Another thing about this --

ALCOCK: Although I wasn't surprised at the verdict.

Q: . . . Did you hold out much hope for a guilty verdict, right there at the end?

ALCOCK: Well, you see, I hate to answer this question because I don't want it misconstrued. I don't want anybody to think I did not have confidence in my case, that I do not think we should've tried Clay Shaw. Because I think we had to try Clay Shaw. But I was not confident of a guilty verdict. . . . I told you I couldn't read this jury too well, but I could read them well enough to know they were not going to convict him. And I'll never forget -- and I won't mention the juror's name -- when Shaw was on direct. And he was very imposing and very articulate and very calm, exhibiting anything but the traits of a guilty man. This juror looked at me and he shook his head. And it wasn't like, Well, he's lying through his teeth. It was like, Sorry, but you're wasting your time. So -- but that was just one juror. But I just -- and again I hope you're not misconstruing it, but when they left, when they came back with the verdict, my wife was there and I told her, "We're not going to win this case." In fact, I wasn't the least bit -- I mean I wanted to win, naturally, and I thought that we'd put on -- I thought we'd done everything we could. Let's put it that way. But I wasn't the least bit surprised. And I wasn't surprised by twelve to nothing. If I'd been surprised by twelve to nothing, I would have polled the jury. . . .

Now Jim Alcock's curiosity came to the fore as he inquired how well I knew Clay Shaw, if it was true he had a good sense of humor, how he'd taken the trial and how he'd endured the entire ordeal. "I'd really like to talk to him sometime," Alcock said, after I'd spoken of Clay. "You know," he went on, "Shaw got me during my closing argument. He really did. In most cases when I point to the defendant and I'm accusing him, the defendant will look down or glance away. But not Shaw. He held his head up and looked straight at me. If you want to know the truth, after a while I tended only to point in his general direction."

"I noticed that."

Jim Alcock's next question particularly struck me, posed as it was in a casual offhand manner which indicated genuine concern: "Tell me, ah, does Irvin Dymond -- does Irvin feel bitter toward the office?"

"He feels incredulous -- about the perjury charges."

. . . His face reddened once more as he emphasized he'd had nothing to do with the charges, that he hadn't instigated them, that he only worked for the DA. Now I put forth this hypothesis: "You know what I made up in my mind?"

"No, what?"

"I think you believed Clay Shaw was not guilty but that you prosecuted the case to the best of your ability because it was a job to do. You were employed by Jim Garrison and you did his bidding. I can't believe you believed."

Now his face colored mightily. He looked down at his hands which grasped the railing, then back to me. "Well, you know, Jim, I can't -- what can I say?"

He glanced away and shrugged. But he did not deny it.


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