On March 1, 1967, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison arrested and charged New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw with conspiring to assassinate President Kennedy, with the help of Lee Harvey Oswald, David Ferrie, and others. On January 29, 1969, Shaw was brought to trial in Orleans Parish Criminal Court on these charges. A jury took less than an hour to find Shaw not guilty. To date, it is the only trial to be brought for the assassination of President Kennedy.
The origins of Garrison’s case can be traced to an argument between New Orleans residents Guy Banister and Jack Martin. On November 22, 1963, the day that President John F Kennedy was assassinated, Banister pistol whipped Martin after a heated exchange. (There are different accounts as to whether the argument was over phone bills or missing files.)
Over the next few days, Jack Martin told authorities and reporters that Banister had often been in the company of a man named David Ferrie who, Martin said, might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Martin told the New Orleans police that Ferrie knew accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald going back to when both men had served together in the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol and that Ferrie “was supposed to have been the getaway pilot in the assassination.” Martin also said that Ferrie had driven to Dallas the night before the assassination, a trip which Ferrie explained as research for a prospective business venture to determine “…the feasibility and possibility of opening an ice skating rink in New Orleans.”
Some of this information reached New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who quickly arrested Ferrie and turned him over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which interviewed Ferrie and Martin on November 25. Martin told the FBI that Ferrie might have hypnotized Oswald into assassinating Kennedy. The FBI considered Martin unreliable. Nevertheless, the FBI interviewed Ferrie twice about Martin’s allegations. The FBI also interviewed about twenty other persons in connection with the allegations, said that it was unable to develop a substantial case against Ferrie, and released him with an apology. (A later investigation, by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, concluded that the FBI’s “…overall investigation … at the time of the assassination was not thorough.”)
In the autumn of 1966, Garrison began to re-examine the Kennedy assassination. Guy Banister had died of a heart attack in 1964, but Garrison re-interviewed Jack Martin, who told the district attorney that Banister and his associates were involved in stealing weapons and ammunition from armories and in gunrunning. Garrison believed that the men were part of an arms smuggling ring supplying anti-Castro Cubans with weapons.”
Journalist James Phelan said Garrison told him that the assassination was a “homosexual thrill killing.” However, as Garrison continued his investigation he became convinced that a group of right-wing activists, which he believed included David Ferrie, Guy Banister, and Clay Shaw (director of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans), were involved in a conspiracy with elements of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to kill President Kennedy. Garrison would later say that the motive for the assassination was anger over Kennedy’s foreign policy, especially Kennedy’s efforts to find a political, rather than a military, solution in Cuba and Southeast Asia, and his efforts toward a rapprochement with the Soviet Union. Garrison also believed that Shaw, Banister, and Ferrie had conspired to set up Oswald as a patsy in the JFK assassination. News of Garrison’s investigation was reported in the New Orleans States-Item on February 17, 1967.
On February 22, 1967, less than a week after the newspaper broke the story of Garrison’s investigation, David Ferrie, then his chief suspect, was found dead in his apartment from a Berry Aneurysm. Garrison suspected that Ferrie had been murdered despite the coroner’s report that his death was due to natural causes. According to Garrison, the day news of the investigation broke, Ferrie had called his aide Lou Ivon and warned that “I’m a dead man”.
With Ferrie dead, Garrison began to focus his attention on Clay Shaw, director of the International Trade Mart. Garrison had Shaw arrested on March 1, 1967, charging him with being part of a conspiracy in the John F. Kennedy assassination.