Assassination of John F. Kennedy ##
― [Interview 6: July 9, 1993] ―Hicke
Let's start today with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I think that was 1963, and you just reminded me it was November.
Yes, November 22nd. On the day that he was assassinated, I had gone to Sacramento with one of my assistants to appear in a case which had some delicate aspects to it, because it was a case in which a young man, probably about nineteen years old, had committed a robbery, and there was some question about his mental condition. My particular interest in that case—it was a case in my Sacramento office—my interest was because I thought that the trial judge should recuse himself for the reason that he was a long-time and close friend of the young man's family. The judge and I were also, and still are to this day, good friends, and it
― 110 ―was rather difficult to suggest that he recuse himself, and certainly none of my assistants stationed in Sacramento were quite in the position to do so. So I decided to go up there and talk to him.
I had decided before the 22nd of November to do that, and I had gone up there, and I had suggested that it was probably an appropriate case for him to step down from. He rejected that, and he said, "We have only two judges up here, and we're both filled up with cases, and if there is such a thing as the rule of necessity, this is it." I said, "I don't think that is applicable here." I called him by his first name, but I won't mention it to you now. I said, "I just think that this is a case that, in some way, you can't handle it. It should be heard by somebody designated, probably either from another district or perhaps you should ask the chief judge of the Ninth Circuit." He didn't want to do that either.
So, I said, "Well, I want to indicate for your record that I think this is an appropriate case for refusal, and if you refuse to do so, I have two alternatives. I could myself make application to the Ninth Circuit, but I don't really want to do that. I've known you a long time. You know exactly what I'm saying, and why I'm saying it. This case doesn't mean a whole lot to me. It may mean more to you on account of your friendship with the defendant's family. It doesn't mean that to me, and I regret having to say this to you, but I think it should come from you and not from me." Well, he said he was going to try it.
I came back to San Francisco and talked with some of my assistants, and went upstairs in this building—not this building; Seventh and Mission—and I talked to one of the district judges up there who was an old-timer, and he said to me, "Of course you can invoke any one of these remedial formulae that we have, but I'm not sure that it's going to accomplish very much. You don't seem like you want to have a real public fight." I said, "I don't." He said, "Then the best thing to do is make your objections on the record, then you'll know where you are. You'll have to do it in the presence of the defense counsel, of course." So I went back up there and did that, and the judge adhered to his position and we set a trial date, and that trial date was the 22nd of November. So I went back up there and we proceeded. I had made my point.
They put on a psychiatrist, and I had tried a lot of cases that involved psychiatrists, so I was not at all reluctant or intimidated. I used to snap them up sometimes. I was cross-examining this psychiatrist, and I noticed that one of my people—the branch office was at the Federal Building in Sacramento—and one of my staff people came into the courtroom and
― 111 ―caught my eye and held a piece of paper up. I looked at the judge, and I said, "Your Honor, I think my assistant is trying to tell me something. May I just go and get that paper?" He said, "Yes." So I went down and he gave it to me and it was—they had typed something that said, this is almost verbatim. It said, "It is just reported on that radio that President Kennedy was shot while riding in a parade in Dallas. His condition is not known, but blood was seen coming from his head."
I gave it to the judge and he read it and then he read it out loud, and he adjourned the case. We talked about it for a moment, and I went back to my office and tried to get some more information about it. The airwaves were filled with it. So I told the people in my office up there, "We have to do what we're supposed to do, but I think it's appropriate to close this office for the day. So please notify the agencies, the FBI, the Secret Service, and the United States Marshal that we're being closed today, but I'll designate one of you to be the deputy assistant on duty. You'll stay here until five o'clock, and thereafter, if anyone has to get you, you can give them your home phone. I'm going back to San Francisco." So I did.
I drove down the highway back to San Francisco, and I remember that as it got later in the afternoon, the comments were more serious and they finally said he was pronounced dead. I came back and I called them and said the same thing to them that I had said in Sacramento about somebody being on duty. There were several people still there, and we talked about it. There was just a flood of calls from the press and everywhere. Of course, we had no information, we couldn't tell them anything, we didn't know. So I went home. My children were asking me about it, and we couldn't answer them. I sat down in the family room with the television and the radio on and listened to it. Everywhere people were pretty much upset and crying and that sort of thing. It was just a horrible time, and there were all kinds of speculation.
I got lots of calls: the FBI wanted to know if I thought I needed any protection. I said, "No, I don't need any protection." They said, "You know, people do some funny things." I said, "I understand that, but, thank you, I don't think I need it." And I didn't. I can only say that it seemed to me, as it did to a lot of other people, that things had been shattered. You don't expect anybody to assassinate the president of the United States. I don't think so.
You don't even think it's possible to be done, let alone that anybody would want to.
― 112 ―Poole
Yes. That's pretty much what I did for that weekend. They swore Lyndon Johnson in as president, and they flew back to Washington.
What did that do to the wheels of government, for instance your particular office?
I called particularly the legal assistants, and we put somebody on duty and one clerical person at least to mind the telephones. I said, "I don't know that anything is going to happen and I'm not trying to constitute you as a fountain of knowledge, because you may not know any more, but just so that we are sure that if something comes in, we still have to do our job, whatever it is, I want somebody to be here. I want someone in this office from 8:30 until five o'clock. You can divide it up any way you want to, but I want somebody here, and I don't want those phones to ring and they can't find anybody. If I go anywhere, you'll know where I am. The first thing I will do, if I go anyplace, will be to let you have a phone number. I don't know of anything I can do. I'm helpless, as everybody else is. For whatever it amounts to, we are part of the Department of Justice, and what has happened to our president is not going to leave us in a state of paralysis. I don't think anything is going to happen that is going to call for any action by us, but I want to have the satisfaction of knowing that we are doing what we are supposed to do." So that's the way it was.
I didn't go to Washington to the funeral. In fact, I called the Department of Justice, and they said, "You can come if you like, but we think the more appropriate thing is that each of our offices is on duty, and if anything does happen, that we have a communication system that's there." So that's what I told my people.
It was very hard getting over that, very hard. I had met the president on several occasions, and I was just one of ninety-three United States attorneys, but I was absolutely shattered that this had happened to him, and it took me a long, long time to get over it, just a long time.
I listened to the dirge of the funeral music that the networks put on, and it was just a horrible, horrible time. I'll give my wife credit. She said, "You've been sitting around the house here for several days, and all you've been doing is torturing yourself, and I don't think you should do it. I don't think you should do it at all. You know, I'm the last one that would tell you to go down to your office and do something, but I don't think this is good for you." She was correct, and I went out and got in the car and went down. This was a Saturday afternoon. There was only one person who was there. The office was closed on Saturday.
― 113 ―
He said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "What are you doing here?" We sat down and talked about it, and some of the agents knew that we were—at that time, we were still at Seventh and Mission—and they knew that I was in the office, so a couple of them called and a couple came over. I asked them if they'd heard anything more about— Remember Jack Ruby killed this guy when they were taking him out of there. That was another shock. I just wondered what's happening to this country.