Today is Thursday, March 5, 1964: Did Jack Ruby’s own words devastate his defense? Lines of hopeful spectators stretch around the courthouse, and the lawyer’s bitter fight wages on. Day 2 is in the history books: Keep reading for the script for this episode.
The second day of the historic Jack Ruby trial began with a trilogy of officers relating their interactions with Oswald’s slayer in the immediate aftermath of the killing. After finishing the day yesterday with Detective Jim Leavelle, the man handcuffed to Jack Ruby, the District Attorney Henry Wade called Detective LC Graves as his first witness this morning, the man flanking Oswald opposite Leavelle. Graves told jurors when he grabbed Ruby’s gun in an attempt to disarm him, ruby was still pulling the trigger. After he wrestled the gun away from Ruby, he found 5 more live rounds in the Colt Cobra. While Graves was on the stand, Melvin Belli picked up the death weapon and aimed it at the courtroom ceiling. He said he was holding it in the same manner as Ruby grasped it, with his middle finger around the trigger. Have you ever seen an ex-GI in his right mind shoot one (a pistol) with a claw hand like that?” It would be most unusual, Graves replied.
The next two witnesses called by prosecutors proved especially damaging to the defense. DPD Officer Archer helped subdue Ruby within seconds after the killing. He quoted Ruby as saying, “I hope I killed the sonofabitch.” If believed by jurors, then Jack Ruby knew what he was doing, and was not insane. 3 minutes later in the elevator upstairs to the Homicide division, Archer told Ruby, “I think you killed him.” According to Archer, Ruby replied I intended to shoot him three times. When Ruby was stripped and searched several minutes later, Archer recalls that Ruby was “very coherent.” The State’s next witness, Dallas Officer McMillon testified that he was standing in the doorway, feet away from Ruby and Oswald when he says he heard Ruby say, “You rat son of a bitch, you shot the president.” An instant later, he heard the shot ring out. McMillon then assisted other officers as they take Ruby down the hallway when he hears Ruby say “I hope I killed the sonofabitch, and “you know me, I’m Jack Ruby.” McMillon then relayed to jurors words he heard exchanged by Ruby and Captain Glen King. While on the way to the jail quarters on the fifth floor, McMillon says that Glen asked Ruby – Of all the low-life things that ever happened. Why did you do it? According to McMillon, Ruby replied: Somebody had to do it, and I knew you guys couldn’t do it.” Ruby also said, “I intended to shoot him 3 times, but you officers moved too fast. I only got off one shot.”
The verbal sparring was on full display again in the second day of the trial. While Henry Wade was questioning Detective Graves, the man walking at Oswald’s left side when the accused assassin was shot by Ruby, Graves showed how he reacted by taking the murder weapon from the hands of Mr. Wade before the jury. When Mr. wade picked up the murder weapon defense attorney Joe Tonahill murmured a complaint as to whether the gun was loaded. Wade heard the comment and said to Tonahill, “It’s not loaded.” To which Tonahill replied, I don’t know whether it is loaded or not.” Wade then pointed the gun at the floor and snapped it 3 times. “Let’s see if it is!” he exclaimed.
The lawyers also bitterly fought over Archer’s and McMillon’s notes. Belli asked Archer for his report. Archer said he didn’t have it. District Attorney Wade told the Court that they didn’t have the report either. Eventually a subpoena was issued by the Defense for the statements made by the officers in the days immediately following the assassination. The statements were delivered in court, but were intercepted by assistant district attorney William Alexander and not turned over to Mr. Belli, who repeatedly told the Court that he needed the statements for cross-examination and impeachment purposes. After a number of remarks by Belli about not being able to see them, Wade offered McMillon’s statements into evidence. Belli Roared for a mistrial, claiming that he had not had a chance to read the statements and didn’t know what was in them. He wanted the originals brought to court, not copies, saying anything but the originals was as reliable as Quote “Chinese laundry tickets.” When Judge Brown didn’t allow him to have the originals, Belli asked the Court, what, are we back in the middle ages? Judge Brown replied, yes sir.
For the second day, lines that wrapped all the way around the courthouse began forming two hours before the trial start time of 9:00 A.M. Women, businessmen, attorneys and retirees all take their places in the line. They are accompanied by nearly 200 newsmen covering the historic trial for the world. All who enter the courthouse are searched by Sheriff Bill Decker’s deputies. A space has been set aside in anteroom leading into the courtroom for spectators to leave their shopping bags – apparently, many who come for the trial make side shopping trips to downtown stores. Visitors come from all over the country. In the courtroom, spectators are seated in a first-come basis, and ushered into the visitor section. Many stay in their seats during recess in order to keep them. Some take lengthy notes. Meanwhile newsmen are constantly moving in and out to meet deadlines. Whatever their purpose, all in the court seem eager to get a firsthand look at history in the making.
Jurors in the Jack Ruby case invariably occupy the same seats. Veteran jury watchers have many theories about the significance of juries sitting in the same seats during a trial. To some, it means they are more methodical and more likely to acquit. To others, it means they are rigid rule followers more likely to convict. The jury watching game continues, but has thus far produced few little in the way of signs. We can see, however, that all 12 jurors have a no nonsense look on their face. When one of the attorneys or witnesses says something everyone in the courtroom laughs, everyone except for the 8 men and 4 women in the jury box. There are two cigar smokers in the group, Max Cause and Waymon Rose have both lit up stogies. None of the jurors have lit up cigarettes, however. There’s one more thing about this jury – they respond to a whistle. After a recess, court bailiff Bo Mabra goes to the door behind the judges’ bench and whistles. Moments later, the sounds of jurors footsteps are heard on the wooden stairway, and jurors file into the courtroom. In their usual order of course.
And with that, Day 2 of testimony in the State of Texas vs. Jack Ruby has concluded for the day. The jurors remain sequestered as the world braces for Day 3. Word is getting around the Courthouse that jurors will be shown the first murder ever caught on live television – the murder of presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. —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).
Hugh Aynesworth and Carl Freund, B 1964, “Police Quote Ruby as Saying ‘Somebody Had to Do It,'” Dallas Morning News, 6 Mar, p. 1.
From the Dallas Times Herald on location at the Sixth Floor Museum as donated by Dallas Times Herald Reporter Bob Fenley:
- I Intended to Shoot Him 3 Times, March 5, 1964
- State Ticks off its case Against Oswald Slayer, March 5, 1964
- Ruby Jury Always Seated Same Way, March 5, 1964
- Spectators Wait for Trial Seats, March 5, 1964
- Cordiality Prevails at Trial, March 5, 1964
- Case of the Century, March 5, 1964