Old story, new science in JFK killing
Author shares forensic-based findings with Westview students
A junior at Westview High School, David Coffey has no problem finding modern-day relevance in the assassination of a U.S. president more than 50 years ago.
It's important to look back and make sure that it doesn't happen again, he says, referring to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963. The Dallas police bureau that day, the Secret Service we have to learn from those mistakes and make sure it doesn't ever happen again.
Coffey was among the 250 Westview students who last week allowed themselves to be transported back to that dark day in Dallas. Sherry Fiester, the Louisiana-based author of the book, Enemy of the Truth: Myth, Forensics, and the Kennedy Assassination, spent two days sharing her forensic analysis of the Kennedy shooting with Westview students.
Published last November by JFK Lancer Publications, Enemy of the Truth, approaches the assassination as an unsolved major crime, revealing new information that she says meets the standard of evidence required to support a criminal conviction.
Westview history teacher Michael Dellerba, 38, and Ed Smith, a social studies teacher, invited Fiester, a retired court-certified forensic crime scene investigator, to Westview. For two days, she shared with Westview forensic science students her application of contemporary forensic techniques in perhaps the most famous cold case in history the homicide of America's 35th president.
I took information I've been using in my profession for 30 years and applied that to evidence in the Kennedy assassination, she explained in a phone interview on Thursday. I decided to write this book so people would have the same information. I have information the average person doesn't have. By sharing it, it gives them the opportunity to have a more informed decision about what happened. That's all I really want to do.
A new perspective
By applying modern forensic techniques that weren't available in 1963 to details related to blood spatter and bullet trajectories, Fiester rejects commonly held notions in the U.S. government's Warren Commission Report. The 889-page 1964 tome concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the sole gunman responsible for Kennedy's death. She further rejects alternative theories that a gunshot fired from the fabled grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza ended Kennedy's life.
Rather, she concludes the fatal shot came directly from the front of the president's motorcade, in the direction of the triple freeway overpass, where three city streets converge under a railroad bridge. The unidentified gunmen did what he set out to do, then escaped undetected, calmly driving out of a concealed parking lot.
In an afternoon presentation on April 10, Fiester combined her extensive research with historical film and explanatory graphics showing bullet trajectories, the motorcade's movements, blood spatter patterns and other minute yet crucial details to make her case.
Her forensic focus on trajectories emphasized the implausibility of the single-bullet theory. Fiester also juxtaposed mistakes Dallas police made with crime scene investigation standards of the time.
Based on the direction the car Kennedy was riding, the movement of his head as he was shot, and the location of his wounds, among other factors, Fiester concludes the key shooter was clearly in front of the vehicle.
As is widely known, Oswald, conversely, was six stories up in the Texas School Book Depository building, behind the motorcade.
Kennedy would be coming directly at the shooter, she said, noting the presence of a parking lot near the triple overpass largely shrouded from crowd view. (The shooter) would just have to get in his car and drive away.
Akasia Bowie, a Westview sophomore, admits she knew little about the Kennedy assassination before taking Dellerba and social studies teacher Ed Smith's courses. After hearing Fiester's presentations, however, she managed to impress her mother with the forensic findings she shared at home.
She was totally surprised it wasn't Oswald, Bowie says of her mom's reaction. She was totally interested in that. She went out and bought Sherry's book as well. It told her something new.
Like many of her fellow students, Bowie finds plenty from the eternally mysterious 1963 assassination that applies to today's world.
I think it's relevant to have a final, conclusive answer, she says. To tell the truth betters our knowledge of cold cases in general.
And, she adds, I think it's important to know who assassinated the president.
Teachers, students respond to scientific approach
Westview High School history teacher Michael Dellerba, who met forensic scientist and author Sherry Fiester through his research with JFK Lancer Productions, is quick to dismiss any ideas that Fiester's book and research are related to the avalanche of conspiracy-fueled tin-hat theories that have clouded the Kennedy assassination for the past 50 years.
When you're talking about the JFK assassination, people automatically assume you're talking about tin-hat theories, crazy stuff, he says. Sherry brings a forensic lens to this thing that really needed to be brought to it. We can now understand this book in a much different lens, because science and technology have caught up to the event.
Longtime forensics teachers and Kennedy assassination scholars, Dellerba and his Westview colleague Ed Smith, 60, were recently recognized as JFK Lancer Productions' 2013 Teachers of the Year for their forensics courses. The teachers combine concepts from areas of biology, chemistry and physics to critically analyze and investigate evidence from criminal investigations.
Last November, Fiester invited the instructors to Dallas for an event marking the assassination's 50th anniversary.
The nugget for us is, Ed and I got to travel to Dallas, Dellerba says. We get to see Dealey Plaza and take pictures. It brought so much more of a personal element to our class for the next year.
Based on the feedback he's received from Westview parents, Smith says the class is enhancing students' critical thinking skills and the historical dialog parents can share with their teenage children.
The parents I've talked to are really impressed, he says. When they sit down to dinner at night, when Kennedy comes up, they share what they believe happened. As the year progresses toward summer, parents (share) real legitimate reports. The parents have someone to chew around the politics of the day. They're progressing from young students to critical thinkers.
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