Event Title

JFK’s Assassination and the Law: 50 Years Later

Document Type





Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law (1801 Euclid Ave.) will host “JFK’s Assassination and the Law: 50 Years Later,” on Friday, Dec. 6 at 9 a.m., in recognition of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, The all-day program, sponsored by the Cleveland-Marshall Law Alumni Association, will focus on the legal issues relating to the investigation and hypothetical trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Highlighting the eight-member panel of legal experts are two staff members of the 1963 Warren Commission, responsible for investigating the assassination of President Kennedy. Judge Burt W. Griffin was assistant counsel for the commission, and Howard Willens served as second in command of the commission’s staff. Willens is the author of an upcoming book on the Warren Commission, “History Will Prove Us Right,” and his discussion will feature never-before-released information from the book.

“JFK’s Assassination and the Law: 50 Years Later” Panelists:

  • Judge Burt W. Griffin: Judge Griffin served as Assistant Counsel to the Warren Commission. His responsibility was investigating whether Jack Ruby was part of a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy or murder Lee Harvey Oswald. Judge Griffin will detail the activities of Jack Ruby prior to Ruby’s shooting Oswald. He will address the challenges the Warren Commission faced in conducting a collateral investigation and publishing its conclusions with respect to a defendant who was being tried for murder and had a possible appeal to the United States Supreme Court–the very court that the Chairman of the Warren Commission headed.
  • Howard Willens: Mr. Willens was second in command of the Warren Commission’s staff. He was on leave to the Commission from the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Before joining the Commission, Mr. Willens had been involved in assessing the legal issues facing the United States from the moment President Kennedy was killed. As second in command at the Commission, Mr. Willens played a major role in selecting Commission staff and in determining the issues and investigatory process to be addressed by the Commission. Mr. Willens maintained a diary of the day-to-day workings of the Commission. That diary has become the basis of a soon-to-be released book by Mr. Willens entitled “History Will Prove Us Right.” It is about the workings of the Warren Commission.
  • Judge Brendan Sheehan (moderator): Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Brendan Sheehan, a former Cuyahoga County prosecutor, has been a long-time student of the assassination of President Kennedy. Judge Sheehan will serve as moderator and master-of-ceremonies.
  • Judge C. Ellen Connally: A retired Cleveland Municipal Court judge, Judge Connally is currently the president of the Cuyahoga County Council. She has completed her course work for a PhD in history and has researched efforts to try Jefferson Davis for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Judge Connally will highlight issues in the prosecution of the assassins of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, and will contrast them with the problems faced by the nation in determining the essential facts related to the assassination of President Kennedy.
  • Steven Dever: Mr. Dever is a former Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor. He defended the County against a civil action to secure a judgment of innocence for accused murderer Samuel Sheppard. Improper media publicity had been a critical factor in the reversal of Sheppard’s criminal conviction. Mr. Dever will discuss the legal issues related to pre-trial publicity that would have occurred if there had been a trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.
  • Jerome Emoff: Mr. Emoff is a former Cuyahoga County Public Defender who has been a highly respected criminal defense lawyer for nearly 40 years. In a trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, his defense lawyer would have been faced with overwhelming evidence of lies by Oswald to the Dallas police – that he did not own a rifle, that he did not know the identity of the person on a forged Selective Service card found in his wallet, that he never lived at an address where a photograph of him with a rifle was taken, and that the photograph was a forgery. Mr. Emoff will address questions of how one professionally and ethically represents a client whom he believes is lying.
  • Magistrate William Vodrey: A magistrate of the Cleveland Municipal Court and a former prosecutor, Magistrate Vodrey has long been a student of the assassination of President Kennedy. He will explore the legal issues related to the spousal privilege of Oswald’s estranged wife Marina, Oswald’s earlier alleged attempt to kill former U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Edwin Walker, and the potential introduction of Oswald’s political activities and beliefs that would have arisen at a trial of the accused presidential assassin.
  • Jonathan Witmer-Rich: Prof. Witmer-Rich teaches criminal law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and Public Defender. The investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald by the Dallas Police Department would have raised serious questions with respect to Oswald’s Fifth Amendment rights and the conduct of police line-ups if Oswald had gone to trial. Prof. Witmer-Rich will discuss the status of such rights in 1963, how they might have affected an Oswald trial, and the status of those rights today.