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Wecht symposium to stick with assassination of President John F. Kennedy

| Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Give Dr. Cyril H. Wecht an hour or two, and he can describe countless details surrounding the assassination 50 years ago of President John F. Kennedy and what the renowned pathologist considers a government conspiracy to hide the truth.

Imagine what he and 30 fellow JFK experts can talk about given three days.

“In these three days, you'll learn anything and everything that you want to know about it, what was done and what was not done,” Wecht said about a conference at Duquesne University starting Thursday.

For the second time since Duquesne's Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law started hosting annual symposiums 13 years ago, it will devote its entire program to the assassination, the subject that helped make its namesake world-famous.

The conference title, “Passing the Torch,” plays on the imagery of Kennedy's famous inaugural speech and acknowledges that Wecht, 82, fellow researchers and surviving witnesses are looking to a new generation to carry on the study of the assassination.

“It's not just about passing the torch of active research, but of interest and of awareness of the assassination, and of the inadequacy of official explanations,” said Wecht's son, Ben, administrator at the institute.

Cyril Wecht said he recently spoke on the topic at several universities, conferences and community meetings.

Larry Sabato, a professor of American politics at the University of Virginia who will address the symposium on Thursday, said students remain interested in the case.

“You want to learn to make sure it never happens again. You never, ever want the kind of job the Warren Commission did,” Sabato said. “If you don't do the process right, you condemn the country to decades of cynicism.”

Both Wechts cite recent polls that they say show up to 85 percent of people do not buy the government's official determination as published by the Warren Commission — that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed the president in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Cyril Wecht, who is a doctor and forensic pathologist, has studied the case and testified in proceedings before the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He says forensic analysis of evidence — particularly of the “magic bullet” that is supposed to have struck both Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally — proves one man could not have done it alone.

Before next month's anniversary, the Wechts are bringing to Pittsburgh nearly three dozen experts to discuss the evidence on Thursday, the investigations on Friday and the future on Saturday.

Speakers will include Oliver Stone, who directed the 1991 film “JFK” that brought theories about the assassination to new audiences, and Dr. Robert N. McClelland, a surgeon who was working in Trauma Room 1 at Parkland Hospital in Dallas when Secret Service brought in the mortally wounded president.

“What he's willing to say he saw stands at odds with what a lot of other clinicians at Parkland are willing to say that they saw,” Ben Wecht said.

Those who criticize the investigation and official explanation often point to conflicts between what doctors reported at the hospital and what two inexperienced Navy doctors reported during the autopsy on the next day at Bethesda Naval Hospital.

The symposium will include a look at the media's role in the case during a panel discussion on Thursday evening in the Sen. John Heinz History Center, a sponsor of the conference.

For a schedule of events and speakers and information about registration, go to www.duq.edu/jfk.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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