The Assassination Diaries – The Judges Part One

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  1. Truth and secrets: The Sadat assassination trial 24 years on - Egypt Independent
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  3. What Type of Trial? A Civil Versus a Military Trial for the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators
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Meanwhile, police officers Roderick Sylvis and Frank Bignotti, who were on patrol in Scout 72, had also responded to the broadcast alarm. They pulled up on Canal Road, directly across from the murder scene, and climbed out of their cruiser. Arriving at the boathouse area, Sylvis and Bignotti drove through the tight underpass tunnel below the canal and parked facing the canal from the south. From that vantage point, they would be able to see anyone leaving the towpath to access Canal Road, and they would have a full view of the canal itself, particularly the point where visitors could use an old, leaky skiff attached to a rope and pulley to pull themselves across the seventy-foot canal.

The two officers then settled on a new strategy. As the officers began to position themselves, they saw a young white couple, thirtyish, walking westward on the railroad tracks, just below and parallel to the towpath. The two officers approached the couple for questioning. Perhaps, acting in haste, they let the couple go without requesting identification or contact information. It was an oversight, a lapse of protocol that would remain a cloud over the case for decades to come. After a while, a man poked his head out of some woods to the right and ahead of where Sylvis was walking.

Slowly, and with caution, the young officer approached the area where he had seen the man. The tangle of underbrush, vines, tree roots, and rocks that covered the embankment made it difficult to penetrate. Sylvis saw no one. Nothing disturbed the stillness of the woods but the breeze that rustled the fallen leaves. Hoping that his partner, Bignotti, was in the woods to his right, Sylvis yelled for him a number of times.

Photo credit: Google News Archive. Coming out of the underbrush on the tracks, he finally spotted Bignotti crossing the tracks and caught up with him. But Bignotti had seen no one during his search of the woods.


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In the meantime, Henry Wiggins was beginning to lose patience. More than a half hour had passed since he and Officer Scouloukas had called in the report. Police cruisers had converged on the scene.

The Homicide Squad arrived a few minutes before p. Twenty-nine-year-old detective Bernie Crooke was the youngest member of the Homicide Squad and had been on the job for only eighteen months. Crooke surveyed the scene and detected what appeared to be drag marks. He also found a blue button with two frayed threads in the grass by a birch tree at the edge of the embankment, twenty-two feet from the body.

Blood on the tree suggested that the victim might have grasped it from a sitting or a kneeling position. Detective Crooke joined Detective Weber, who was questioning Henry Wiggins at a spot approximately thirty feet from the body. Wiggins explained that he had arrived at the block of Canal Road at approximately p. He went over the embankment down into the woods.

He took his time, but he was moving. Weber then ordered police officers to search both sides of the canal and to sweep the woods all the way to the Potomac River.

But if the Wiggins time chronology was correct, approximately forty-five minutes had elapsed since the murder. The assailant would have had plenty of time to flee the scene. Warner recalled that the broadcast description was for a Negro male in his forties, approximately five feet ten inches tall, wearing a light jacket and a dark hat, and armed with a gun.

Truth and secrets: The Sadat assassination trial 24 years on - Egypt Independent

From there, they could look down on the set of railroad tracks that ran parallel to both the canal and the towpath. They saw no one. They waited in their cruiser until approximately p. After walking approximately half a mile, he came upon a five-foot-tall concrete culvert, large enough to conceal a man inside.

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Peering into it, he saw only water. He continued to explore the nearby underbrush, and looked under the tunnel where the spillway flowed into the Potomac. He found no one. But as Warner walked back to the railroad bed and continued westward, he saw a young black man walking on the tracks.

He was short, and he was soaking wet. The man was wearing a yellow sweatshirt over a white T-shirt, navy-blue corduroy trousers that were torn six inches below the left pocket, and black wingtip shoes. The zipper fly on his pants was unzipped. He shivered as Detective Warner approached him to ask his name. On Sunday, November 24th, President Kennedy lay in state at the Capitol, and Lady Bird described it in her diary as a day she would never forget.

What Type of Trial? A Civil Versus a Military Trial for the Lincoln Assassination Conspirators

She began the day at church, returned to the White House, and then got into a limousine with President Johnson, Mrs. Kennedy, her two children, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. She was immediately aware of the sea of silent faces lining the street once they exited the gates of the White House. She noted her emotions in her diary: "I wanted to cry for them and with them, but it was impossible to permit the catharsis of tears.

I don't know quite why, except that perhaps continuity of strength demands restraint. Another reason was that the dignity of Mrs. Kennedy and the members of the family demanded it. Later, as the procession followed the riderless horse, she again noticed flags flying at half-staff. The feeling persisted that I was moving, step by step, through a Greek tragedy. In her diary, she vividly portrays the days events. She observed the "grave, white, sorrowful" face of Robert Kennedy.

She described the service, the President and Mrs. Kennedy kneeling before the coffin, and the behavior of the Kennedy children. What she remembered most, however, was the behavior of Mrs. I only know it was great. That appreciation made Lady Bird's new role even tougher, and she knew it right from the first moments. She knew from her first day that she would always be compared with Jackie Kennedy, and that when people looked at President and Mrs.

Johnson, what they wanted to see was Jack and Jackie. Over the next few days, as the country started to heal and the new President got acclimated to the job, Lady Bird and Jackie Kennedy had to work out the details involved with the Johnsons moving into the White House and the Kennedys moving out. Four days after President Kennedy was killed, the two women met to discuss the housekeeping details. Again, Lady Bird marveled at the strength of Mrs. She was charged with breaking open trunks and giving goods to the rebels during their raid on the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad the previous July.

She was convicted, although execution of her sentence was suspended during her good behavior. Those who favored a military trial seemed to raise two major points. One that sounds extremely modern concerns the problem of securing an unbiased jury in a case which had received so much publicity. The second point was that Lincoln, despite the fact that the war was over, was the Commander-in-Chief and was killed within the military lines of Washington. Therefore, the military trial was entirely legal and justified.

The military commission which was finally convened has been stereotyped by historians as a vindictive group of army officers who were given a license to legally execute, and seized it willingly. This view has been reinforced by noting the actions, in particular, of two commission members, Generals David Hunter and Thomas Harris. These two men attacked Mrs. Surratt's lawyer, Reverdy Johnson, claiming that he had committed treason and lacked the moral integrity to appear before the commission. General Harris also wrote two books on the assassination.

In one he defended every action of the commission, even defending some testimony which had turned out to be perjured. In the second he hinted that the Catholic Church might have been behind the assassination. Such extreme views made it easy to picture the entire commission as a group of unthinking, unfeeling military men, who could not have been moved from their purpose by the most relevant evidence in existence.

Again, the stereotype does not survive examination, for other commission members took a much more liberal view. One of these was August Kautz.

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The attempt to prevent Reverdy Johnson from appearing as counsel for Mrs. Surratt also displeased Kautz. He said that Johnson's reply to General Harris showed how ill-advised the objections were, and must have made Harris regret he had ever made them. Kautz added, "He did the other members great injustice if he supposed they united with General Harris in his ill-advised objection. They ought to be tried by Civil Courts—this commission is what is yet worse a secret one I believe.

As the trial progressed before these military officers and the testimony was released to the public through the newspapers, many people became even more convinced that the military trial had been correct, particularly when evidence seemed to confirm Southern involvement in the conspiracy. Some of the most interesting testimony as far as the public was concerned dealt not merely with the individual prisoners in the dock, for as the Boston Evening Transcript said on June 23, , "It is now abundantly proved that a court confined within strictly legal bounds, and never travelling out of the narrow limits of merely technical investigation; could not have developed the full extent of the hideous plot.

The public was horrified by sensational revelations. One Godfrey Hyams testified of a rebel plot to introduce yellow fever into the North, raising the specter of germ warfare. Similarly, many witnesses placed Booth in Canada in the company of rebel officials and also linked Jefferson Davis to the plot. Even when some of this testimony later proved to be perjured it did little to interfere with the public's faith in the justness of the trials or the verdicts. The idea of Southern involvement coincided so fully with public perceptions of the case that it was not easily shaken.

The impact that such testimony had on members of the court is revealed in the comment by General Kautz.

Chapter 7: Lee Harvey Oswald: Background and Possible Motives

He very strongly implicates the rebels in Canada. When the guilty verdicts and sentences were announced, there was rather general satisfaction with the outcome and, as noted, a strong case can be made that the decision of the military commission differed very little from what a civil jury might have decided. Three of the four who were hanged could have expected little else under the circumstances. David Herold, who was discovered with Booth in Garrett's barn, was doomed. Efforts to picture him as a light-headed, trifling youth met with little success. Similarly, Lewis Paine, who was accused of assaulting Secretary Seward and several members of his household, was clearly identified by several witnesses and was also alleged to have confessed his guilt.

Attempts to picture him as having acted because of his Southern background, a sort of environmental insanity, probably did more harm than good. Finally, George Atzerodt also could hardly hope to escape his fate. He admitted that Booth had approached him to kill the vice-president and it was discovered that he had a room in the Kirkwood House, above that of Andrew Johnson, where weapons were found. The four conspirators who were hanged.

The only controversial case of those executed was Mrs. Mary Surratt. While some evidence against her might be considered circumstantial, to most contemporaries her case also seemed rather simple. She had kept a boarding house where the conspirators had met, her son was one of the alleged plotters, she had carried a package for Booth to her tavern in Southern Maryland on the day of the assassination, and just as she was being arrested Lewis Paine arrived at her door. While she denied knowing Paine, testimony showed that he had been a guest in her house.

It has been argued that certain key witnesses who testified against her, such as her boarder, Louis Weichmann, or the proprietor of her Surrattsville tavern, John Lloyd, were themselves part of the conspiracy and turned state's evidence to save themselves. It is very possible that this view is correct and yet there is nothing necessarily sinister in this. Many states have immunity laws for witnesses who cooperate, even in murder cases. And, whatever historians have thought, the testimony of both Weichmann and Lloyd made a strong impression on people in and would probably have had as much impact on a civil jury as it did on the military court.

In any case, while they found her guilty, five members of the military commission, partly because of her age and sex, signed a clemency plea to be attached to the court's findings. Judge-Advocate Holt then carried the proceedings to President Johnson for his approval. A dispute later developed as to whether Johnson had ever seen the clemency plea or whether Holt had suppressed it.

It is still difficult to unravel the evidence and determine which man is telling the truth. But the fault for her execution rests with either Holt, Johnson, or both, and not the members of the military commission, a majority of whom wished to spare her life. If the wishes of the commission had been complied with, only three people would have been executed and most unbiased observers would concede their guilt. The handling of the four who were imprisoned clearly demonstrates that the commission was discriminating and weighed the evidence very carefully, for as regards Spangler, Arnold, O'Laughlin, and Mudd, the testimony was somewhat confusing as to the degree of their guilt and involvement.

It became apparent that Booth had previously conceived a plot to kidnap Lincoln and that three of these individuals might have been involved in that plot but then withdrew before the murder. In Dr. Mudd's case, even though he had previously known Booth, he claimed to have merely treated Booth's broken leg while not recognizing him since the assassin was disguised with false whiskers.

Since the evidence was so contradictory, they were sentenced to prison terms and three were eventually released. With the populace inflamed and newspapers calling for the blood of all involved, there is no hard evidence that the type of court would have made much difference in the outcome.

The verdict of the military commission was probably as equitable as it could have been under the circumstances. In fact, if one looks at the actions of the defense lawyers, the point is further reinforced. It can be assumed that these civilian lawyers somewhat reflected the views of the civilian community and it is striking how many commentators seemed to feel that these lawyers were merely going through the motions.

For example, William E. Doster commented on the chances of acquittal for his clients Atzerodt and Paine, that they were "none at all," while prosecutor H. Burnett added, "Some of the counsel for the accused seemed to be as much convinced as the court of the guilty participation of the rebel authorities at Richmond and their confederates in Canada. The four conspirators who were not hanged. The final scene in the drama, and one which some historians have used to clinch their argument of a biased military commission, was the trial of John Surratt in