March 3, 1964: Eve of Trial

March 3, 1964: Eve of Trial

Today is Tuesday, March 3, 1964, Jury selection in the Jack Ruby Trial finally concludes, a lawyer was held in contempt, and the eyes of the world descend upon Dallas – The trial of Jack Ruby – the original trial of the century begins tomorrow. Keep reading for this episode’s script.

Today, during the last day of jury selection, The hallways outside of the courtroom during erupted into a shouting melee when Jack Ruby’s lawyers Melvin Belli and Joe Tonahill  discovered a man passing out press releases that disparaged Ruby’s main defense. A bulwark of Ruby’s Defense is the claim that he suffered a variant of psychomotor epilepsy when he shot accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Maurice A. Melford, director of the National Epilepsy League and two helpers walked the hallway outside the courtroom passing out literature in brown envelopes marked “epilepsy,” that read: you don’t have to worry too much about a patient in a psychomotor seizure. You will read in novels and see in the movies all kinds of dramatizations, spiced-up stories about what psychomotor epileptics do: murders, criminal activities, etc. That is nonsense.” Ruby’s lawyers ignited like twin missiles because 3 possible jurors might have been exposed to the literature which directly contradicted their main defense. Based on all of that, the Defense again asked for a change of venue, and again that request was denied. When asked in Court, the potential jurors all denied having seen or read the literature passed out by Mr. Melford.

“The Thunderbolt – the White Man’s Viewpoint” was among the pieces of extremist literature Chief Attorney Melvin Belli sought to introduce in order to support his request of Judge Joe B. Brown to change the venue of the trial, moving it somewhere else in Texas. After one of the potential jurors was excused because he said that some of the news on radio and television, and some of the things he read in newspapers had caused him no to be fair, Chief Defense Attorney Belli called the Thunderbolt, vile – the filthiest, nastiest thing I’ve ever seen. We don’t have that kind of filth in California. We didn’t have the president assassinated in California.”

 The 12th and final juror was seated at 2:30. Mrs. Louise Malone was sworn in shortly before 2:30  after Judge Wilson denied the defenses motion to strike her from the jury. District Attorney Henry Wade said he was satisfied that the jurors were all fair and impartial: “If we hadn’t been, we would have challenged them,” he said. We’ll know more about their jury service of course after the verdict is in.” Chief Defense Counsel Melvin Belli described the 12 jurors as an intelligent group of people, and that he would be happy with these jurors “if they were from any other city except Dallas and in any other case but this one.” He added, “I’ve said all along it’s impossible to get a jury in this case in Dallas County.” Testimony in the trial of the century is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning in Judge Wilson’s courtroom at the Criminal Courts building.

Jury Bailiff Joe Mabra has been tasked by Judge Brown with making sure that jurors don’t see anything on Television associated with the Jack Ruby trial, the Assassination of President Kennedy, or anything that might influence their verdict. The prohibition includes shows like Perry Mason or The Defenders. “I’ll have to stay up late,” said Mr. Mabra, thinking of jurors who might want to stay up and watch some of the late, late shows. Once jurors are selected, they have been sequestered, living in makeshift jurors quarters in a part of the Dallas county jail. It is possible, should one of the jurors see something that makes it impossible for them to be fair in Mr. Ruby’s trial, they might be excused, leaving less than the required 12. Chief Ruby Attorney Melvin Belli expressed concern that Texas law does not allow for an alternate juror: “If one of these jurors got sick and couldn’t serve, we would have to go through this whole thing again. In California, we have up to four alternates on some juries.”

District Attorney Henry Wade and his team have filed their proposed witness list with the court. We know that Mr. Wade’s case will consist mainly of Police, newsmen, Dr. Earl F. Rose, the Dallas County Medical Examiner who performed the autopsy of Lee Harvey Oswald. Dr. Rose had quite a weekend – two days earlier, he performed the autopsy of our fallen president, John F. Kennedy.  Among others listed is Doyle Lane, a Western Union employee. District Attorney Wade said the State’s case would be presented chronologically and should be completed by noon Thursday. “We’ll prove Ruby killed Oswald,” he said, “and may prove a motive – even though we don’t have to under law.” Mr. Wade said he plans to call between 15 and 20 witnesses, beginning with Ruby’s whereabouts at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination through the shooting of Oswald. Wade acknowledged that he would not include his psychiatric witnesses in his case, saving them to rebut Jack Ruby’s insanity defense.

Chief Defense Attorney Melvin Belli said he believed the Ruby Murder Trial would last a month, adding that he might call up to 75 witnesses. “There will be only about 10 major witnesses” the San Francisco lawyer said. Ruby’s witnesses will be called to support his contention that he was temporarily insane at the time he killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Belli also said that two noted psychiatrists, Dr. Frederick Gibbs and Dr. Karl Menninger refused to testify for the defense. “Both said they would testify only in an impartial capacity for the Court. They did not want to enter an adversarial proceeding.” Mr. Belli says he is eager to get the trial moving without delay.

There were certain heated moments during jury selection, numerous outbursts, raised voices, and a tantrum that earned Jasper, Texas lawyer, and Ruby defender Hulking Joe Tonahill a 25$ fine. After Judge Joe B. Brown denied the defenses request for another extra defense strike, which would have been their 4th extra, Mr. Tonahill snapped a pencil in half and hurled it to the courtroom floor. A piece of the jagged pencil bounced off the bottom Judge Brown’s bench. I am going to have to hold you in contempt. I’ve been very tolerant.” The order brought Mr. Tonahill’s partner, Melvin Belli, storming to his feet in protest, claiming that Mr. Tonahill’s outburst was out of anger, and not out of disrespect to the Court. Judge Brown didn’t budge: “The Court cannot forget it, Mr. Tonahill. That will cost you $25.”

Ruby visited by Dr. A short time before jury selection began yesterday, Defense Psychiatrist Manfred Guttmacher visited Jack Ruby in his jail cell. Dr. Guttmacher is the Chief Medical Officer for the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, and a renowned psychiatrist. He visited Mr. Ruby in December, one of two specialists to examine Ruby at that time. Dr. Guttmacher said back then that Mr. Ruby was depressed beyond measure over President Kennedy’s assassination and unconscious hatred for Oswald, the accused assassin. As of Monday, “He does not look as good as when I saw him last,” the psychiatrist said. “He seems to be deteriorating. He does not look as well in general. He’s much more anxious.” Even Mr. Ruby’s attorneys described their client as “nervous as a cat, and deteriorating – even saying that he was close to being incoherent.  Dr. Guttmacher is one of several psychiatrists and psychologists due to arrive here to testify in Ruby’s trial.

Proceedings were delayed almost an hour yesterday because Presiding Judge Joe B. Brown was ordered by his doctor to stay home and recover from a chest cold. (DTH 3/4Get Well, Your Honor) Defense Attorney Melvin Belli, who said he was more worried about Judge Brown’s Health than the proceedings in Jack Ruby’s murder trial, drew up a makeshift “get-well card” for the jurist Today. On a lined piece of notebook paper he scrawled “Judge Brown – we all wish you well. Regain your health and come back. Melvin Belli.” Mr. Belli then passed the paper  to reporters who signed it one by one. Veteran Jurist Judge J. Frank took over in Judge Brown’s absence. The veteran jurist received his law degree in 1923 from Baylor University in Waco, a member of the first law school class there. The former president of the Dallas Bar Association and former congressman has been on the bench for a decade. Judge Wilson took over the trial as both sides were trying to end the frustrating search for the final two jurors, a process that began on some 3 weeks ago on February 17th with the selection of the first juror, Max Causey. Once selected, all jurors are sequestered – meaning they are not allowed to return home until after the trial. Jurors have been allotted 1 beer per day, leading Mr. Causey to jokingly ask the bailiff who is in charge of the jury, Joe Mabra, to “go to a restaurant that serves quarts (This quote is from Causey’s journal, page 58). (DTH 3/4Get Well, Your Honor)

The Trial formally styled the State of Texas Vs. Jack Rubenstein Alias Jack Ruby, began 3 weeks ago with the start of jury selection. Now that the jury has been fully selected, the Court is in recess for the evening as Dallas, the nation, and the world ready themselves for the beginning of testimony tomorrow morning. Here is what we expect will happen. The first step is referred to as the arraignment – the prosecutor will read the indictment to Mr. Ruby and to the Jury. The indictment is the formal charge that the 53 year old owner of the Carousel Nightclub murdered Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy with Malice aforethought. After the indictment is read, it will be up to Jack Ruby’s Attorney to enter his plea. After the plea is entered, the State could make an opening statement – a preview of things to come in the testimony for the jurors. However, District Attorney Henry Wade said he will definitely not make an opening statement. The next step in the trial process will be the State’s case in chief, wherein they must prove the charge of murder through witnesses. Mr. Wade predicts he will only need two or three days to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Ruby is guilty. After the State finishes, or “rests”, the defense will be up to bat. In this case, the main defense will be Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. The defense will have the burden of proving Ruby was insane at the time of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald. Mr. Belli says it will take about 10 days. Once the defense rests, the state will bounce back with rebuttal testimony, trying to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ruby is Sane. The defense may thereafter present evidence to rebut the State, and the State could thereafter present more evidence to rebut the defense. How long the Judge will allow that to happen is undetermined. When both side close, the judge will write the charge which defines the law on every issue raised by the evidence. The high point of the trial follows when the attorneys make their arguments to the jury, their last chance to use their persuasive powers. When the last decibel of argument fades away, a hush will settle over the courtroom, and the jury will leave its seats and enter the deliberation room. Inside, The jury will elect a foreman and reread the charge. Then the discussion will begin. How long those jurors deliberate and what their verdict will be, only time will tell. —End of Episode–


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).

Carl Freund and Hugh Aynesworth, B 1964, “Ruby Shot Then Muttered He Hoped Oswald Died, Detective Tells Court,” Dallas Morning News, 5 Mar. P. 1 (Online NewsBank).

From the Dallas Times Herald on location at the Sixth Floor Museum as donated by Dallas Times Herald Reporter Bob Fenley:

  • First Testimony Nears for Ruby, March 1st, 1964
  • Bailiffs must stay on toes, March 1st, 1964.
  • Detectives to be 1st on Ruby Stand, March 1st, 1964
  • Belli Says Trial May Last Month, March 1st, 1964
  • Defense Employs last Challenge, March 2nd, 1964
  • Eleventh Ruby Trial Juror Qualifies, March 3, 1964
  • Murder Mind Author at Trial, March 3, 1964
  • Ruby Trial Gets 2nd Judge, 11th Juror Following Delay, March 3, 1964
  • Friends Praise Eleventh Juror, March 3, 1964
  • New Ruby Judge Veteran Jurist, March 3, 1964