Lakewood OH

Warren Commission staffers defend lone gunman finding

Warren Commission staff attorneys Howard Willens and Burt Griffen discuss the assassination of President John F. Kennedy during a program earlier this month at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The two will appear at a booksigning Saturday at Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Westlake. (Photo courtesy of the Newseum)

By Kevin Kelley


Nearly a half-century after the Warren Commission published its findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Burt Griffin still firmly believes Lee Harvey Oswald was the only guilty party.

Griffin, an assistant counsel for the commission, said he and other staffers began their investigation determined to find a conspiracy if one had existed. He denied critics who said the commission merely served to “rubber stamp” the findings of Dallas police and the FBI.

“We were tearing them apart,” he said of the commission’s scrutiny of the earlier investigations. “We were finding all sorts of deficiencies in their work.”

Griffin and fellow commission staffer Howard Willens will speak on their work during a book signing at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at Crocker Park in Westlake. Willens’ book on the commission’s work, “History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” was published in October.

On the advice of a Department of Defense historian, Willens kept a diary during his tenure on the Warren Commission, Griffin told West Life.

“The book is based on the diary and based on what he had contemporaneously written about what the issue were that we were struggling with and with whom the arguments took place and so forth,” Griffin said.

Griffin, who later served as a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge for three decades, said the book reads like a detective story.

Willens himself called the Warren Commission investigation the most extensive criminal investigation in U.S. history.

In the book, Willens acknowledges that the Warren Commission failed to obtain the full cooperation of the FBI and CIA. However, the failure of those agencies to reveal all they knew about Oswald before Nov. 22, 1963, does not give any validity to conspiracy theories, Griffin said.

“These guys were trying to protect their fanny,” Griffin said of FBI and CIA officials. The FBI in particular, Griffin said, did not want to be blamed for not adequately keeping track of Oswald and, ultimately, the president’s death.

The deterioration of Oswald’s marriage was one of the factors that drove Oswald to violence, Griffin told West Life. Oswald and his wife, Marina, had a serious fight two days before he learned Kennedy’s motorcade would pass in front of the building in which he worked, Griffin said.

“He was possessed with the idea that he wanted a place in history and he wanted to change history,” Griffin told the Newseum audience. Griffen speculated that Oswald denied his guilt while in custody because he hoped the blame could somehow be placed on right-wing elements.

One of Griffin’s primary commission assignments was to investigate Jack Ruby, who murdered Oswald two days after the assassination. Disturbed by an anti-Kennedy newspaper ad signed with a Jewish-sounding name published the morning of the assassination, Ruby feared the slaying would be blamed on Jews, Griffin said. Ruby later said he shot Oswald to prove that Jews had guts, Griffin noted.

While Ruby may have known persons with connections to organized crime, he himself was not a mobster, Griffin said.

Polls over the years have shown as many as three-quarters of the population doubt the commission’s lone-gunman theory. However, Griffin believes the tide of public opinion is turning as people re-examine the evidence and determine that the many proposed conspiracy theories are bizarre compared with the Oswald explanation. Both Griffin and Willens credit Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 book, “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,” with debunking conspiracy theories.

Griffin and Willens will participate in a daylong program on the legal issues of the Kennedy assassination Friday at Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. For information on that program, go to




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