March 14, 1964: The Verdict and a Legendary Rant

March 14, 1964: The Verdict and a Legendary Rant

Today is Saturday March 14, 1964. Jurors are deliberating the fate of Jack Ruby. We’ll get the reactions from those involved – some stoic, and others …. Well, not so much. Keep reading for this episode’s script.

The jury made the decision early this morning that they would retire for the evening and get a few hours of sleep before deciding the fate of Jack Ruby. The question they faced: did Jack Ruby knowingly and in the right mind intend on killing Lee Harvey Oswald when he jumped out and shot him, or was he temporarily insane by reason of psychomotor epilepsy when he shot the revolver with his middle finger sending a bullet into Oswald’s stomach.

Jurors began deliberating on the morning of March 14th. While obviously exhausted from the marathon of closing arguments the night before and the early morning of, the group of eight men and four women wanted to be done with the trial.

Deliberations drag on into mid-morning and late morning when at four minutes past 11:30 three knocks by foreman Max Causey signaled they had reached a decision.

Both lead attorneys reacted in slightly different ways. Lead defense counsel – Melvin Belli – was confident. Not that he was going to win, but that the jury would convict and issue a less severe penalty. Belli is already telling reporters that they would appeal. And remember last night? District Attorney Henry Wade said he was not satisfied with his closing argument – a rarity from a lawyer – and while he isn’t speaking much, he’s pacing up and down the jury box smoking a cigarette.

Of course nothing can happen without the Judge present. And where was Joe Brown during all this? At home sleeping of course. Brown, now awake, must make his way from his house to the Criminal Courts Building downtown. Meanwhile one of the assistant DA’s, Bill Alexander, who was first to argue last night, is telling people he thinks it will be the death penalty.

Ten minutes after 12 Noon and Dallas County Sheriff Bill Decker offers a slight ease to those present. “It won’t be long now,” Sheriff Decker said. “The judge is here.” Nine minutes after that, Judge Joe Brown finally enters the courtroom.

[Audio of Judge Joe Brown reading the verdict]

After one of the prosecutors thanks the jury… defense counsel Melvin Belli launches into a tirade. That tirade continued outside of the courthouse alongside co-counsel Joe Tonahill.

[Audio of post-verdict comments by Joe Tonahill and Melvin Belli]

While the two defense lawyers who lost their case in defending Jack Ruby, a winning District Attorney Henry Wade offers a much different tone. Victorious… yet restrained.

[Audio of post-verdict comments by Henry Wade]

The Jack Ruby trial offered its extremely rare moments. It was the first trial where the murder in question was caught on camera. It was the first trial where that footage was shown in court. And, while this may not be a first, it certainly is not normal: The presiding judge – Joe B. Brown – speaking on the record to reporters immediately after.

[Audio of post-verdict comments by Judge Joe Brown]

By this time now, lead defense attorney Melvin Belli has calmed down a bit. But he certainly isn’t done talking. More now from Belli who is planning to appeal.

[Audio of post-verdict comments by Joe Tonahill and Melvin Belli]

The day ending the original trial of the century was an end to a forever tragic few months in Dallas, Texas. A city that would for a few years have to deal with an unfair and without merit nickname: The City of Hate.

November 22nd, 1963 brought the sun out from the morning clouds. It brought a young, enthusiastic president with bold ideas and restraint from overseas threats. Then in the blink of an eye, gunfire stained the city. The people saw their police department come into question on if enough was done to secure the prisoner. Then, a nightclub owner with a shady background takes the spotlight and is tried and convicted of murder.

Jack Ruby’s act prevented legal closure in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His assassination and the murder of Dallas officer JD Tippitt never saw a conviction of a suspect. Just questions and debate for decades.

But the conviction of Ruby finally allowed a brief end to the tragedy that fell on Dallas. A tragedy that led one television host to offer while on national TV that the eyes of Dallas were held in shame.

That end though was just the beginning in the never ending story linking President John F. Kennedy to Dallas. A city where he came with the simple goal of waving at crowds, impressing voters and delivering a speech.

I’m Eric Bushman. I’m Brandon Birmingham. This has been the State of Texas vs. Jack Ruby: The Original Trial of the Century. Thank you for joining us.


The transcript of the trial on the merits of the Jack Ruby trial is publicly available online from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas Digital Archive in the Court of Criminal Appeals Centralized Court Case Files Collection (each volume corresponds to 1 day of testimony).

The Dallas Morning News, “Verdict, Temporarily Ends Tense Period since November 22nd” and “3 Knocks on Door Signal Jury Ready With Verdict.” March 15, 1964 (Online NewsBank).

The Authors would like to extend a special thanks to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.