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Death of a president, 50 years on

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
Picture dated Nov. 22, 1963, of President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, shortly before his assassination in Dallas. OFF/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Cyril Wecht is an internationally renowned forensic pathologist, author and former Allegheny County coroner. In 1978, he testified before a congressional committee disputing the Warren Commission conclusions and the single bullet theory regarding the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Wecht spoke to the Trib regarding recent revelations by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that his father, Robert F. Kennedy, privately disagreed with the Warren Commission report.

Q: Were you surprised by the admission that Robert F. Kennedy actually didn't think much of the Warren Commission findings?

A: Well, no. That had already been revealed in an excellent book by David Talbot (2007's “Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years”), and I've seen other references to it. Not a negative word (about the report) was ever spoken publicly by him, to my knowledge, early on when he was attorney general and even later when he became a senator. But later on he did have those thoughts and feelings. I'm delighted that his son has now spoken out on this and stated what his father came to believe.

Q: If he was dissatisfied, why do you think he didn't express that publicly?

A: You have to keep in mind — and this is not conjecture — that the two people who hated Bobby Kennedy with a passion were the two most powerful people in America: Lyndon Johnson and (FBI director J. Edgar) Hoover. So not to make excuses for Bobby Kennedy, but I can understand that maybe it was wise (not to go public with any criticism). Why open your mouth if you are not going to get anywhere? You are going to run into a stone wall (regarding the assassination inquiry) during those first five years post-assassination (with Johnson and Hoover still in power).

Q: Where do RFK Jr.'s remarks fit in the Warren Commission conversation?

A: It strengthens the hand (of commission detractors). Many intelligent people who are not biased fail to recognize that we, the Warren Commission critics, are not a rogue element. We represent the overwhelming majority of Americans. Six weeks ago, I went to New York City at the request and expense of the History channel for a big program they are putting together (on the assassination). They had commissioned a survey of 2,200 people (and) they wanted to get my reaction to it. They asked if they thought the Warren Commission Report was correct, valid. Eighty-five percent of the people said no. Doesn't that say something? Take a poll today on baseball, apple pie, sex and motherhood and you won't get 85 percent of the people to say that they think they all are good.

Q: You've been an integral part of the Warren Commission discussion. How will you mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination this year?

A: On Oct. 17th, 18th and 19th, we'll have a 50th anniversary program at the (Cyril H. Wecht) Institute of Forensic Science and Law at Duquesne University. I think it will be the biggest (assassination-related) program in the country. We'll have all the major critics, researchers and so on. We had a huge program in 2003 for the 40th anniversary, and we expect to have another excellent program again this time.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com).

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