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JFK class weighs glaring errors in assassination study (4th in a JFK-50 series)

Class members render an initial Not Guilty vote in jury deliberations during OCC class.
Class members render an initial Not Guilty vote in jury deliberations during OCC class.
Wendy Clem

Weighing various points of evidence puts conspiracy theorists and skeptics alike at odds, and that
occurs even within OCC’s JFK assassination class. Sometimes, discussions become heated. But as the semester’s weeks pass, even arguments cement the students in an unusual bond that would be unusual with any other subject matter.

Each weighs evidence, often exiting classes in silent thought, absorbed in the evening’s testimonies and input. For some, it is a matter of weighing physical evidence, others focus on sorting out circumstantial matters, and still more adopt total skepticism for lack of hard answers.

But, students approach all situations — and their instructors — with respect and dedicated study. Clearly, no one wants to miss a moment; it is a class where no one sleeps or spends time idly on electronic devices or other distractions.

Classmate Sherry Underwood explained her Not Guilty verdict by backing the paraffin tests connected to the firing of Oswald’s alleged weapon. Oswald’s showed no evidence of having fired the weapon.

Yet, those 1963 FBI marksmen who submitted to shooting the same weapon, and then were tested for residue, all showed gun residue on their cheeks.

But, since paraffin tests were performed in 1963, they have been deemed “unreliable” as proof whether someone shot a gun.

Underwood references any potentially suspicious substance on Oswald’s hands as due to ink from the paper he wrapped books in while working at the depository. She also takes issue with the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle said to have been Oswald’s weapon in the shooting.

“It was, and is, one of the most unreliable guns out there,” she says, “and I don’t believe it was capable of firing the kill shot.”

She maintains an overall aura of suspicion as to Oswald involvement in the Kennedy killing and supported a firm Not Guilty when it came to her jury input.

“In point of fact,” she said, “some circumstantial evidence shows he may have been trying to stop the assassination.”

As part of her commitment to the class, Underwood took on the identity of Marina Oswald’s self-described good friend Ruth Paine, and donned beads, gloves and heels in that process. Paine, who set a record of sorts during her dramatic, often rambling testimony before the Warren Commission, was responsible for 45 pages of testimony — second in length only to that of Marina.

Although Paine only knew the Oswalds since February, 1963 — united by common love of the Russian language — yet set herself up as an expert on the Oswalds’ relationship, calling him “argumentative” and “not nice to Marina.” She also said he sought fame.

“I think Ruth Hyde Paine was a mystery woman, and I think she mainly served as a plant for the CIA,” said Underwood.

Clearly supporting the multiple gunmen contention, she says her class books made her “question what I should be doing with my own life.”

As part of their enrollment in the JFK class, students’ assumed roles of true-life characters include wearing typical clothing, affecting accents, providing props, supplying additional documentation and more.

“The class was, without a doubt, the most enjoyable and enriching class I’ve taken at OCC,” said 18-year-old Emily Seward of Southfield. The future history teacher said, “It helped to instill in me the will to always consider and analyze viewpoints before coming to my own conclusion.”

Seward says in her supporting- evidence paper there was as much validity to the Warren Commission evidence as there was to any other theory. And, although she challenged her instructors to tear up her class paper and “turn on Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK’ to re-enter your state of conspiratorial bliss,” she presented arguments for Oswald’s guilt.

Seward remained the lone vote for that verdict during early jury deliberations, explaining her stance, thusly: “Due to the amount of conflicting evidence, I cannot say with any confidence I have even the slightest idea who was responsible. Just when a piece of evidence comes to light that convinces me one way or another, something comes up to contradict that and so on and so forth. I am left no choice but to pick the side that makes me the happiest (the agnostic approach), and morally the lone gunman theory makes me the most comfortable.”

She first quotes an article by Marc Ambinder, “How I Figured Out That Lee Harvey Oswald Killed JFK,” wherein he supports the single-bullet theory. Claiming that no one was capable of firing two bullets simultaneously, Ambinder points out the significance of the bullet’s path with the Connallys’ seats being set lower than those of the Kennedys. He says info he loaded into a computer supports that shots came from the sixth floor of the book depository.

Although Seward says that doesn’t prove Oswald was in the shooter -- and that most claims placing him in that part of the building are conjecture -- the “Mannlicher-Carcano rifle supposedly found was identified as Oswald’s, all bullets were shown to have been fired from it and, per Warren Commission Exhibit 637, his palm print appeared there.” Seward further mentions the rifle’s “notorious inaccuracy,” citing

Seward refers to testing conducted in 1979 by G. Robert Blakey, submitted to the Select Committee on Assassinations, that proved the “magic bullet” shot could have been successfully fired from the Mannlicher-Carcano within the allotted time of less than 1.7 seconds.

Concurring that firing three shots consecutively could’ve been difficult within 8.31 seconds (with at least two 1.7 seconds apart), it may have been possible, Blakely says.

Seward additionally mentions the bullet that comprised Exhibit 399. It mysteriously appeared on Connally’s hospital stretcher, loose and in pristine condition, rather than IN anyone or appearing to have seen any action. It was studied in “The Magic Bullet: Even More Magic Than We Knew?” article by Gary Aguilar and Josiah Thompson on After extensive testing at an FBI lab, it was deemed to be linked to Oswald’s rifle, but too intact to have caused the damages attributed to it.

On the other side of the argument, Seward’s classmate, Brittany Anne Strickland, shares a definitive opinion that Oswald had no part in the assassination. The 24-year-old Troy resident says that “the chain of events for Lee Harvey Oswald was all coincidental or speculated. There is no evidence that tied Oswald to the crime. More importantly, there is no evidence that he was in connection with the FBI or CIA in an attempt to conspire and kill President John F. Kennedy. In all, there were so many doubts that he was then concluded (by the class jury) to be innocent.

Frequently, detailed and pertinent information is provided for the class by discrepancies discovered in testimonies and affidavits or other documentation — most of which has only been hinted at in the decades since the killing, but nevertheless exists and remains most relevant. Some of these discrepancies resulted from sloppy police work and bureaucratic record-keeping or frantic actions on the day of the killing and those that followed.

Facts discussed during examination in the class include:
Dallas Motorcycle Police Officer Marrion Baker is recorded as taking 90 seconds to get from the presidential motorcade to where he encountered Oswald walking away from the book depository stairs. The building’s elevator was broken, and yet Oswald — who is credited with heretofore Herculean abilities at circumventing the building’s floors AND hiding the accused murder rifle — was described as “cool, calm and collected”—even when a gun was put in his face.
• The so-called designated murder weapon found in the book depository has come under scrutiny numerous times. For one thing, the alleged “found” rifle was a bolt-action Mouser well hidden behind boxes on a shelf, not the WWII issued Mannlicher-Carcano later said to have been the murder weapon. Interestingly, when the Mouser was discovered, it was so well hidden behind boxes that to have hidden it would’ve required extensive time and considerable dexterity by Oswald. And identifying the correct make and condition of the piece should’ve been very easy for its discoverer, who was, in fact, a former sporting-goods store manager before joining the Dallas police force. Documentation on this, however, is confusing and erroneously conclusive.
• Pivotal evidence centered on whether the gun sounds were actual shots or echoes. The actions of pigeons, who flew away from differing key areas at the sound of shots, was a major clue that was ignored by authorities. The birds’ actions suggest a natural reaction to gun disturbances that circumvents the single-gunman theory, as well as negates the claim that all shots originated at one spot: the book depository.
• Forensics between a rifle and high-powered shotgun have not been thoroughly explored. There is serious discrepancy in the time delay between shots for a single shooter, as well as with the weapon being associated with the killing.
• Examination of JFK’s clothing has since indicated that the holes in the jacket and shirt did not line up with the Commission’s supposition — and that the shirt had been cleaned.

Consider more disputed “facts” and class input in the conspiracy to kill JFK in the next installment and see what the final vote result was on Lee Harvey Oswald’s guilt?

Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 5 of this series for more in-depth info.

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