The probate court of the Old Criminal Court Building was a little disjointed on Friday. The judge, lawyers and witnesses were all dressed in 60s garb -- skinny ties, strings of pearls, a pillbox hat or two -- while back in the gallery the standing room-only audience was snapping pictures on their smartphones.
Everyone was assembled for the mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald, gunned down back in 1963 before he ever got his day in court for the assassination of JFK. The audience was mostly attendees of the State Bar of Texas' annual convention. The jury comprised lawyers, judges and historians, whose sole duty was to lay to rest the question of whether or not Oswald really did shoot the president from the Texas State Book Depository. It's a weird combination of serious legal drama and middle school play.
Past the bar everyone was decked out in cat eye glasses and gloves for the women, and slicked back hair for the men. It seems like the biggest change in men's courtroom fashion in the last 50 years has been the amount of acceptable visible hair product.
Presiding was State District Judge Martin Hoffman, whose office helped organize the mock trial and even supplied a couple interns to play witnesses. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Sarah Saldaña led the prosecution, and since a woman in her role 50 years ago would have been unthinkable, she was a pretty pleasing anachronism. Criminal defense lawyer Toby Shook, wielding a cigar and pair of glasses as props, represented Oswald. "You cannot fit a round peg into a square hole," he loudly declared during opening statements.
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The witnesses included Oswald's wife, Mariana, played by a Russian law student at SMU; a firearms expert; and several passerby who gave conflicting testimony about the direction of the gunshot reports. Officer Marion L. Baker was played by Dallas Detective John Palmer. Baker confronted Oswald after the shooting, and when Shook asked if Oswald looked nervous, Baker replied, "Except for the part about me pointing a gun at him, no he didn't."
Before the close of the trial, Judge Hoffman conducted an audience poll, asking who present believed that Oswald was guilty. Most of the people in the room raised their hands. And how many people think that he didn't act alone? Again, most of the hands in the room go up.
After much waving around of a replica of the rifle found in Oswald's apartment, and after a very fidgety but unavoidable viewing of the Zapruder film, and after it became obvious that a mock Jack Ruby would not be crashing the trial, the jury handed their individual votes to the judge.
"Not guilty," Hoffman declared, before catching himself. "Nine to three in favor of the prosecution. That's a hung jury." Which means that if this were a real legal system Oswald would be going on to another trial. Maybe then we could finally get some answers.