Post by BOZ
***Accidents don't get any freakier. Think about it. A stationary marksman aiming a rifle misses with his first shot, but a federal agent in a lurching car just happens to fire at the perfect up-down, left-right angle to hit Kennedy in the head? Isn't it much more likely that at least one of Donahue's estimations was off-target?***
As a wise man once said, "You can't tell chance what it must do."
If there was hostility between Hickey and JFK; if there was some reason to believe that Hickey was rabidly opposed to JFK's politics or to JFK as an individual, then the notion of him killing JFK by accident would be truly suspicious.
In the real world, fatal or near-fatal accidents with guns happen all the time. I don't see how this is any different from or any more remarkable or freaky than the scenario in which a loved one is shot by a gun-wielding householder who meant to shoot a burglar.
Anyway, this argument falls of its own weight. You might just as well ask how Oswald could have missed a relatively easy first shot while connecting perfectly with a more difficult third shot.
And you poach upon conspiracy theorist territory, or, in any event, the author does. CT's ask, "How could Oswald have missed stationary General Walker sitting in a lighted room and yet used his MC to fire three shots as effectively as he did on 11/22/63?"
The "lone nutter" response is, "Well, he just did, that's all. The evidence proves that that's what happened, and if that's what happened, then I don't have to prove that it's possible for it to have happened."
Well, the evidence strongly indicates that JFK died from an exploding frangible bullet whose origin was Hickey's AR-15. That proves that it's "possible". "Freaky" is a value judgment entirely in the eye of the beholder.
***No solid witnesses. McLaren makes a big deal of trusting witnesses, but more than 100 people there that day thought shots came from the Book Depository or the infamous grassy knoll. No one claimed to see Hickey discharge his weapon directly at the president.
Yet JFK: The Smoking Gun discredits the grassy knoll idea (as does Cold Case JFK, Nova's reexamination of the scientific evidence that debuts at 9 tonight on PBS), while giving credibility to those who smelled gun smoke at street level, who thought the third shot was louder or came from near the presidential limousine, or who thought Hickey may have picked up his rifle after the first shot (Hickey testified it was after the third shot).***
There are really no solid witnesses incriminating Oswald either, though there is eyewitness testimony of a shooter firing from the sniper's nest. But the evidence against Oswald himself, as great as it is, is largely circumstantial (which, as a matter of law, makes it no less valuable).
But only one eyewitness actually identified Oswald as the shooter and he hesitated to do it at the time. Essentially, the argument for Oswald's guilt is that the circumstantial evidence against him is so overwhelming (which I agree that it is, at least for the first two shots) that it buttresses the lone shaky eyewitness.
Again, it's dangerous territory for a lone nutter to poach upon because if you're counting witnesses, then you've got to admit the possibility of a grassy knoll shot.
The acoustics of Dealey Plaza and the possibility that earwitnesses could have been mistaken in the excitement of the moment has been discussed by lone nutters before as a response to the grassy knoll earwitnesses, and it's no less relevant to this discussion.
No one actually saw Hickey shoot JFK by accident, but there were eyewitnesses who saw him wield the gun and fall down at the time of the fatal headshot. There aren't a whole lot of such eyewitnesses, but then again, how many people would have been watching the follow-up car?
How many films and photographs are there of the follow-up car during the moment in question? Very few, because the photographer quite naturally focuses on the presidential car and the same would be expected of any other eyewitness.
Essentially, the argument for a Hickey misfire is that the circumstantial evidence against him is great enough that it buttresses the eyewitness testimony.
***Hickey's car had two administration officials inside, and seven other Secret Service agents aboard, counting four on the running boards, while at least two Dallas motorcycle cops rode alongside. Behind them were more cars full of agents and officials. Yet no one was sure that Hickey's AR-15 was fired in Dealey Plaza?***
The author's choice of words is interesting here. "No one was sure". In other words, some people thought this.
The author's mincing of words means that he's aware of more than he's telling. He's likely aware of a number of witnesses whose statements would support an AR-15 shot, among them, Winston Lawson who stated, "“As the Lead Car was passing under this bridge I hear the first loud, sharp report and in more rapid succession two more sounds like gunfire. I could see persons to the left of the motorcade vehicles running away. I noticed Agent Hickey standing in the follow-up car with the automatic weapon and first thought he had fired at someone.”
He doesn't say, "In spite of my first impression, I knew that Hickey hadn't actually fired a shot because my ears told me that the shot came from elsewhere."
He doesn't say, "In spite of my first impression, I knew that Hickey hadn't actually fired a shot because his reaction/body language and/or the reaction/body language of the others in the car was inconsistent with Hickey's having fired."
He says that he thought that Hickey had fired. Presumably, whatever he saw and heard during his first impression was consistent with that notion.
The fact that Hickey claims not to have picked up the AR-15 until his car passed under the overpass while others saw him wielding it during or in the immediate aftermath of the shooting should be regarded as quite significant.
But no; I guess that no one was "sure" but "certainty" is a higher bar to vault over. It's sufficient again to say that there is enough circumstantial evidence to indicate a Hickey misfire and that buttresses or is buttressed by the fact that there is some consistent eyewitness testimony.
***Kennedy aide Dave Powers said, "Someone a foot away from me or two feet away from me couldn't fire a gun without me hearing it," according to Mortal Error. A coverup might produce such post-event denials, but what explains a lack of immediate reaction in the followup car? Wouldn't a trained agent have snatched the gun, or knocked Hickey down, in case he was a real assassin? Or to prevent this klutz from killing someone else?***
Utterly absurd. It makes no allowance for human imperfection. It assumes perfect knowledge and understanding of the others in the car of what had just happened. And it assumes that the other agents in the car were capable of quick and alert response when there is reason to suppose that they were not really capable of it. It makes no allowance for the natural tendency to freeze, at least momentarily, when confronted by the unexpected.
This is the same argument that avers that the driver of the presidential limousine was part of a conspiracy because he slowed down the vehicle after the shooting commenced rather than speeding it up.
***One photograph (above) is said to show Hickey without the rifle at the time of first shot, and the only photograph of him with it shows it pointing skyward well beyond the assassination scene. Hickey's lawsuit over Menninger's book resulted in a settlement.***
You can't see enough of Hickey in the Altgens photo to determine whether he's holding the weapon or not. But that photo is taken about three seconds before the fatal headshot so, if he wasn't already armed, then, in retrospect, it is even easier to suppose greater potential for an accident by virtue of Hickey having stood up and trying to grab the gun in one motion.
***It's dubious to use a gaping hole to calculate a trajectory. If Donahue's trajectory is wrong, his whole theory falls apart.
Did the bullet enter near the base of Kennedy's skull (as the autopsy report suggested) or four inches higher (as the House Selection Committee on Assassinations concluded)? Then, did it travel toward the middle of the area with missing skull, or travel more toward the top, bottom, front or rear?
Even Donahue, according to Mortal Error, believed the bullet curved to the right and upward, disagreeing with the House Select Assassination Committee's contention it curled to the right and downward. The science is revisited in Nova's Cold Case JFK. During experiments firing Carcano bullets at skulls filled with ballistics gel, the bullets "did not follow a straight path inside the skull, because they were deformed on impact," the narrator explains.
Scientist Larry Sturdivan said the bullets would yaw, or wobble, and develop lift. If the bullet rose, it could have been fired from an angle over Hickey's head. Add in disagreements about how much JFK's head was leaning forward or turned toward the left, as seen below in a frame from the Zapruder film, and the trajectory further resembles guesswork.***
Donahue's conclusion is derided as "guesswork" while the conclusions of Sturdivan, who is operating with equal uncertainty, are applauded.
Still, this argument is a little better in one respect and considerably worse in another respect. Donahue and Menninger acknowledge the difficulty of using the gaping hole to determine trajectory, but then again, the damage causing that "gaping hole" is so massive as to bely the notion that it was caused by a full-metal-jacketed bullet.
The single-bullet strike caused fairly clipped and precise damage to JFK and Connally while remaining relatively undamaged.
By contrast, JFK received more than just a hole in the head from the third shot; he received massive damage to the head. The difference between the damage inflicted by each of the two shots isn't addressed in this article.
As far as trajectory goes, I think that Donahue decided to use the center of that hole on the assumption that the damage radiated outward equally in all directions -- which seems like a fairly sound assumption in my lay opinion.
However, Donahue does NOT conclude that the bullet curved to the right and upward; he determines a slightly downward and left-to-right trajectory -- which he initially sourced to the Dal-Tex Building until realizing that Hickey would have been in the line of fire coming from that building.
Saying that Donahue concluded that the bullet curved to the right and upward completely misrepresents his conclusion and pretty much disqualifies the author on this topic.
Supposing that Oswald fired the fatal headshot from a sharper angle of declination than Hickey's -- which caused damage to the top right side of JFK's head -- requires one to believe -- as the author notes here -- that Sturdivan is correct in supposing that the MC's impact with the skull caused it to wobble and "develop lift".
I guess it's in the eye of the beholder to determine which scenario is more plausible. But one might suppose that the notion of a bullet changing direction like that is "freaky".
***A "completely disintegrated" bullet also confuses the trajectory. A big part of Donahue's theory was that the third bullet "explosively disintegrated into dozens of tiny fragments." That would fit the kind of bullets used by Hickey's AR-15. Mortal Error quotes Russell Fisher, a Maryland medical examiner, as telling Donahue that "the bullet that hit him [Kennedy] in the head disintegrated completely," judging from autopsy x-rays.
So which is it? Did the bullet shatter to smithereens, or did it leave enough evidence to pinpoint a path? JFK: The Smoking Gun gives both impressions, poking a dowel through two holes in a model of a skull (above), and blowing up a cantaloupe with an AR-15 bullet. Forget about threading any dowel through that melon. And forget about the Carcano bullet piercing the cantaloupe neatly. Nova's Cold Case JFK shows footage of skulls fracturing apart when struck by Carcano bullets.
Carcano bullets did break apart in tests on skulls. Kennedy's brain went missing after the autopsy, so no one knows if bullet fragments seen in x-rays from the autopsy add up to an AR-15 bullet or the lead core and other bits of a Carcano bullet. Two sizeable Carcano bullet fragments (above) were found in the presidential limo, and the Warren Commission concluded they were from the bullet that caused the head wound and that they damaged the windshield and its chrome before dropping to the floor. The missing middle section might account for the dozens of tiny fragments seen on the x-rays. And the aforementioned tests on human skulls did produce deformed pieces resembling those found in the limousine.***
There are tests and there are tests. The House Select Committee did its own experiments involving the firing of bullets into with gelatin blocks. Between the Carcano and the Remington .223, guess which bullet most accurately replicated the damage to JFK's skull.
I'm not prepared to speak to what Nova did. Its conclusions regarding the destructibility of an MC round are diametrically opposed to what lone nutters have said in the past about the strength of an MC bullet and diametrically opposed to how the bullet performed when striking Kennedy and Connally.
*** Donahue's explanation is that the first shot missed, hit pavement and ricocheted, with three fragments winding up in the limousine, including one that strikes Kennedy's head, causing him to react before he and Connelly got hit by the second bullet. Donahue examined the two found fragments, and eliminated them as coming from the third shot, because he saw no brain-tissue residue, according to Mortal Error.***
Kind of makes sense, doesn't it? What's the response to the contention that the fragments of the MC round should have brain-tissue residue if they resulted from the head shot? The author has none.
*** The entry wound's diameter isn't clear. Again, JFK: The Smoking Gun tries to have it both ways. On the one hand, it plays up how botched the autopsy was, and on the other hand, wants to use an autopsy estimate as hard evidence. Donahue decided the autopsy was four inches too low in locating the entrance wound in the back of the head, and that's plausible since it was Dr. Fisher's conclusion after viewing x-rays at the National Archives, according to Mortal Error. (The Nova special leans toward the lower location, based on skull fracture patterns.)
And yet Donahue assumes the autopsy was precise about the entry wound diameter down to one-fiftieth of an inch. Further, it's unclear if the 6 mm measurement applied to the bone itself, since it was clearly given for a "lacerated wound" "in the posterior scalp." When the report then notes "a corresponding wound through the skull," is that a declaration it was exactly the same size, or just in the same location? As Menninger notes, "Certainly, the scalp tissue may have shrunk." The wound in Kennedy's back and throat, agreed to have been from a Carcano bullet, was measured as only 4 mm wide in the autopsy report. The Warren Report said "elastic recoil of the skull" could explain the seeming discrepancy.***
Right. Donahue and Menninger are responding specifically to the Warren Commission which seems to have accepted a 6-millimeter wound to the skull. The author of the article attacks Donahue and Menninger for relying on the autopsy measurements while defending the Warren Commission for having done so.
Menninger acknowledges that the autopsy measurements might well be imprecise and can't be trusted for the reasons set forth here but he is specifically responding to lone nutter theorists who DO accept those measurements and who accept the WC's conclusion of a 6-millimeter wound to the skull.
Donahue and Menninger express skepticism that damage to the skull might elastically recoil in the same way that tissue damage might elastically recoil and Menninger cites some expert literature to the effect that this can't happen.
***Cover-ups can have many reasons. The autopsy was dubious and evidence was lost, but that doesn't make fatal friendly fire the only possible explanation. Losing the president was embarrassing enough to the Secret Service, and it's widely suspected the FBI and CIA were covering up how much they really knew about Oswald. The way the medical evidence was "rushed and bungled" allowed all sorts of conspiracy theories to arise, said New York Times reporter Philip Shenon, author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination.
There's a saying about quantum physics, that if you think you understand it, you probably don't.
Ditto for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, in Dallas 50 years ago this month.***
The Secret Service illegally hustled JFK's corpse out of Dallas and Colin McLaren documents "skull"duggery during the performance of the autopsy.
The conspiracy theorists assume the worst and allege malfeasance on the part of the participants and a coverup of this malfeasance. But malfeasance is unlikely, given that it would have had to include Kennedy's brother, the Attorney General, and agents that were on the Presidential detail who got to know Kennedy personally and who would not have been likely to conspire against him or on behalf of a deadly conspiracy against him.
Misfeasance -- a traumatic and embarrassing accident -- would be the most likely explanation for the Secret Service's post-mortem actions that day.
Coverups can have many causes, but if there wasn't at least misfeasance on the part of the Secret Service, what other explanation could there be for the Secret Service's disposition of Kennedy's corpse?