Sunday, 28 August 2011 22:47

The Second Dallas

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Mazzucco at least tried to make a documentary on the RFK case to bring to the public some troubling facts. But today, that really is not good enough, writes Jim DiEugenio.

The Second Dallas is a DVD documentary produced, written and directed by Massimo Mazzucco. It begins with Robert Kennedy on the campaign trail in Indianapolis making the famous announcement that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. It then proceeds to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Senator Kennedy made his final victory speech after winning the California primary in the early hours of June 5, 1968. He proceeded from the ballroom and into the kitchen pantry. There, the shooting began. Senator Kennedy was shot and five others were wounded. RFK was taken to two hospitals. At Good Samaritan Hospital, after unsuccessful brain surgery, spokesman Frank Mankiewicz announced Kennedy dead on June 6th. Since Sirhan had stepped forward and been firing at RFK, he was immediately apprehended and taken into custody.

From the beginning, as the film states, Sirhan could not recall anything about the actual shooting sequence. His last memory was having coffee at a table with a girl, the famous “Girl in the Polka Dot Dress”. One of the interviewees, the late Philip Melanson, comes on to say that this seeming mental block appears to be genuine. At least, both the defense and the prosecution psychiatrists deemed it so. At his home the police found notebooks which say things like ‘RFK Must Die” in them. Sirhan also stated that although these appear to be in his handwriting, he did not recall writing them. He also added that they did not reflect his real personality. And in fact, Sirhan had no previous past record of violence. And his friends and neighbors concurred that he seemed to be a quiet, almost introverted young man.

At Sirhan’s trial, his defense team—headed by Grant Cooper—did not challenge any of the forensic evidence: the recovered bullets, the shooting scenario, the gun used, the eyewitness testimony etc. Cooper accepted it all at face value. Instead, he tried to use a psychiatric defense. This did not work. Sirhan was sentenced to death in the gas chamber. The California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty afterwards, so Sirhan’s sentence was then commuted to life in prison. Which is where he is today.

But as the film notes, after the trial, many independent researchers began to uncover problems with the Los Angeles Police Department’s case against Sirhan. The film now goes into a series of segments, which depict these areas of conflict. The first area discussed is the number of bullets that were fired that night. One must consider the fact that Sirhan’s handgun carried, at a maximum, eight bullets. Yet, in addition to the bullets in the victims, there was also reliable testimony and evidence that bullets were extracted from a doorjamb and in the walls. Further, the LAPD expert, DeWayne Wolfer, had to make three of the bullets he charted do rather wild things in the air to make sure they accounted for all the shots into both RFK, and th remaining victims. Since four shots hit RFK, and there were five other victims hit, one can see, that those eight bullets had to do some real work. The film deduces that from this evidence alone, there were at least 11 shots fired.

The next area shown supports this additional strong evidence: the Stanislav Pruszyynski audiotape. Pruszynski was a young reporter on leave to write a book about the 1968 race for the presidency. He had an audio tape recorder with him as he followed RFK leaving the podium. Sound technician Philip Van Praag analyzed this audiotape for bullet sounds. He came to the conclusion there were 13 such shots on the tape. He also concluded there were a couple of instances where the shots were spaced too closely for one person to be firing them (for a more full discussion of this issue, click here). This piece of evidence is a key element in the current appeal motion by Willliam Pepper and Laurie Dusek, Sirhan’ s new lawyers (click here for that story).

The third aspect of the case the film explores is the famous “Girl in the Polka Dot Dress”. This was a young girl seen that night with Sirhan by several witnesses like reporter Booker Griffin and realtor George Green. After the shooting, the girl fled down the rear stairs and was seen by Sandra Serrano. As she ran down the stairs she shouted, “We shot him, we shot him!” Serrano asked, “Who did you shoot?” She said, “Senator Kennedy.” Officer Paul Sharaga heard the same. But in his report, the words “We shot him” were changed to “They shot him.”

The fourth aspect of the crime presented is the strange case of Scott Enyart. Enyart was a high school press photographer who was in the pantry during the shooting. He says he took photos before and during and after the actual shooting. He was arrested afterwards and his photos were confiscated. Later on some of his photos were returned. But none of these were the ones taken during the firing sequence. When he asked for the rest of the photos, the police said they were classified. So Enyart waited for 20 years. He then asked the California Archives for the rest of his pictures. They said that these had been destroyed three weeks before the Sirhan trial.

The fifth area the film visits is the topic of the destruction of evidence. Here the film centers on the disappeared ceiling panels and doorjambs, which reportedly contained evidence of bullet holes. Police Chief Daryl Gates says that since the case went to court and the man was convicted, well then, “You can’t keep junk around forever.” Gates ignores the fact that Sirhan’s appeals process was ongoing at the time these items were destroyed. He later adds, also on camera, that these items did not have evidentiary value. To which one can reply, “We are glad you are not a judge. So stop acting like one.” The film also adds in the point that DeWayne Wolfer test fired several bullets from what he said was the revolver in evidence in the case, namely Sirhan’s. But yet the folder in which he kept those test bullets did not bear the serial number of that revolver, which was H53725. It actually bore the serial number of H18602. Which actually belonged to a petty criminal named Jake Williams. And it was the same Iver Johnson Cadet model as the one in evidence. Amazingly, this folder was actually submitted at Sirhan’s trial and never challenged by defense lawyer Grant Cooper. Wolfer later tried to excuse this as a “clerical error”.

The sixth area explored is the autopsy of RFK performed by Dr. Thomas Noguchi. The narrator now intones some familiar facts: Noguchi found that all the bullets that hit Kennedy came from behind; they came in at an upward angle, and they were fired from close range. The fatal shot entered behind the right ear had to have been between 1-3 inches away, or a point blank shot. No witness placed Sirhan either behind Kennedy or that close to the senator. Further, as Philip Melanson notes, no witness recalled a gun placed behind Kennedy’s head. Which would have been an unforgettable image. This evidence, in and of itself, eliminates Sirhan as the man who killed RFK.

The seventh point of controversy examined is related to the above, it is the testimony of hotel maitre d’ Karl Uecker. Uecker was the man escorting Kennedy through the hotel pantry. When Sirhan jumped forward and began firing, Uecker jumped on him and pinned his gun hand down to a steam table. Uecker is a central witness for more than one reason. First, as he says here, he was always between Sirhan and Kennedy. Therefore, Sirhan could not have shot Kennedy from behind. Second, he leaped upon Sirhan right after the first shot. He had him in a headlock with one arm and his other hand was on the handgun. At the most Sirhan could have delivered two accurate shots. Every other shot was fired blindly, with his hand pinned and body down. As Uecker says, “He didn’t see anything…I had him completely covered.”

The last point evidentiary point is a discussion of Thane Eugene Cesar. Cesar, of course, is the hired security guard who was stationed at the door leading into the kitchen. Unlike Sirhan, Cesar was behind RFK, and therefore was in perfect position to deliver the shots into Senator Kennedy. And although Cesar denies firing his handgun that night, there is a witness who says he did so fire. That is a man named Don Schulman, who worked for a TV station at the time. Schulman said the guard behind RFK fired three times. When he tried to offer this information to the authorities, his account was ignored. And although Cesar said he did not own a .22 handgun like the one in evidence at the time, it turned out that he actually had owned one at the time. The film concludes that Cesar is the most likely suspect as the actual assassin.

The film concludes with a discussion of the idea of hypnoprogramming. Melanson states that he believed that Sirhan was programmed to fire that night and then to not recall that he had. There are clips from the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate. There are then interviews with Herb Spiegel, an expert on hypnosis and the late Larry Teeter, Sirhan’s former defense lawyer. They both discuss how easy a subject Sirhan was for hypnosis. There is then a concluding interview with Professor Alan Scheflin of Santa Clara University about the history of CIA mind control experiments with a programmed assassin.

Aesthetically and intellectually, I would put this film at about the level of Shane O’Sullivan’s, RFK Must Die. It does not approach the standard in this field, The Assassination of Robert Kennedy, 1992, done for British television. Unlike that film, this one is put together in a rather rudimentary way. Although there are some graphic simulations in the film, little else that has developed in the way of computer software in the last few years seems to have had an effect on this production. There is nothing very slick or imaginative about the way director Massimo Mazzucco has done his job. As noted above, the film makes a rather familiar series of points about the RFK case. But further, these points are only sketched out; none of them are gone into in any depth. Therefore, no one familiar with this case could come away from this film in any way enlightened by it. The film is then limited in its intellectual value to the entering student of the case. It is also marred by some rather amateurish errors that should have been picked up by anyone viewing the film in a rough cut. If you can believe it, in a title card near the beginning, Sirhan’s name is misspelled as “Shiran”. Later on, Thane Eugene Cesar is named Eugene Thane Cesar. A clip labeled from the original version of The Manchurian Candidate, is not. It appears to be from a Sherlock Holmes film. DeWayne Wolfer’s first name is spelled “Dwayne”. And although the film says that Sirhan was not called to testify at his trial, he actually did testify.

Mazzucco at least tried to make a documentary on the RFK case to bring to the public some troubling facts. But today, that really is not good enough. We need films that are much more slickly and technically proficient than either this one or RFK Must Die. And we need them to be error free, or as close to that as possible. The facts of this case are so compelling that they cry out for that kind of presentation.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 04:29
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

More in this category: Shane O'Sullivan, RFK Must Die »

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