The New York Times has published a lengthy obituary of one of most remarkable lawyers in U.S. history, an African-American woman named Dovey Johnson Roundtree, who passed away last Monday at the age of 104. Her most famous case was a criminal case involving the murder of Mary Pinchot Meyer, the former wife of a high CIA official who had been having an intimate affair with President John F. Kennedy in the months leading up to his assassination.
The Meyer case is detailed in Peter Janney’s excellent book Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace, which I highly recommend. If you decide to read the book, be sure you get the most recent edition because it provides an exciting update on Janney’s successful search for one of the principal witnesses in the case, a military officer named Lt. William Mitchell who was stationed at the Pentagon.
Here is a portion of what the Times wrote about the case:
Little had augured well for [Ms. Roundtree’s] client, Raymond Crump Jr., during his eight-day trial in United States District Court in Washington: Mr. Crump, who had been found near the crime scene, was black and poor. The victim was white, glamorous and supremely well-connected. The country, in the summer of 1965, seethed with racial tension amid the surging civil rights movement.
Federal prosecutors had amassed a welter of circumstantial evidence — including 27 witnesses and more than 50 exhibits — to argue that on Oct. 12, 1964, Mr. Crump had carried out the execution-style shooting of Mary Pinchot Meyer, a Washington socialite said to have been a former lover of President John F. Kennedy.
By contrast, Ms. Roundtree, who died on Monday at 104, had chosen to present just three witnesses and a single exhibit to the jury, which comprised men and women, blacks and whites. Her closing argument was only 20 minutes long.
Now, on July 30, 1965, the jury, having deliberated, was back. The court clerk handed the verdict slip to the judge, Howard F. Corcoran. For most observers, inside the courtroom and out, conviction — and an accompanying death sentence — was a foregone conclusion.
“Members of the jury,” Judge Corcoran said. “We have your verdict, which states that you find the defendant, Ray Crump Jr., not guilty.”
The big problem with the Meyer murder was that the same problem as the Kennedy assassination: Everything was just too pat, too contrived, as in a frame-up. Many people would look at the pat, contrived part and quickly conclude that Crump was guilty.
But juries can sometimes be remarkable entities for ferreting out the truth by simply using their common sense. That’s clearly what happened in the Meyer case. Despite the pat evidence pointing to Crump’s guilt, the jury obviously were uneasy about convicting him.
The credit goes to Roundtree. Over time, many criminal-defense lawyers gain a jaundiced view of the criminal law. They come to think that all of their clients are guilty, even when they deny their guilt. That’s because most of them are guilty, even when they deny they are guilty.
But the problem with that mindset is that every so often, a criminal defense lawyer will encounter a client who is innocent. If he applies his jaundiced view toward that particular client, which many criminal defense lawyers do, they will either provide an inadequate defense or they will persuade their client to plead guilty to some lesser offense.
Not Dovey Johnson Roundtree. When Roundtree interviewed Crump in his jail cell at the request of his mother, who had no money to pay, she instinctively concluded that Crump was telling the truth when he denied killing Meyer. She agreed to take the case for a fee of one dollar.
The prosecution’s theory of the case was that Crump attacked Meyer with the intent to rape her as she walked along the C&O Canal Trail near the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. A witness on the D.C. street overlooking the trail heard Meyer screaming and witnessed a black man standing over her body. The man, the witness said, was about 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighed about 185 pounds.
As Roundtree emphasized to the jury, Ray Crump was a diminutive man who was 5 foot 3 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds.
Roundtree, however, faced a big problem: An army lieutenant named William Mitchell stationed at the Pentagon just happened to be jogging on the canal trail just prior to the murder. He testified at the trial that he had seen a black man dressed like Crump following Meyer. His testimony was supposed to provide that sense of an open-and-shut case. Conviction and incarceration for life or the death penalty.
Why would Mitchell be jogging on the C&O Canal Trail during his lunch hour rather than near the Pentagon, where he was stationed? Exactly! It was obviously just a bit too pat, a bit too coincidental for the jury. Mitchell is the guy who Janney ended up searching for after the first edition of his book was published and found. As Janney details in the most recent edition of his book, Mitchell was not very happy with Janney’s finding him, especially since he had long before changed his name from William Mitchell to Bill Mitchell.
The problem that the prosecution had was that its theory of the case was nonsensical. The prosecution said that Crump intended to rape Meyer and when the rape failed, he killed her by shooting her with a pistol. Despite extensive searches of the area, however, no pistol was ever found notwithstanding the fact that Crump was arrested near the scene of the crime.
Now ask yourself this: Why would a man try to rape a woman on a trail on which other people are walking? Remember: there was Mitchell, the jogger. There was also another couple in the area. There was the overhang where people on the street could easily look down and see what was going on.
To be successful, a rape requires time and non-interruption. There was never any possibility that Crump could have successfully pulled it off. So, why even try it?
But let’s go down that road anyway. Once Crump realizes that he’s not going to succeed with a rape, why murder the victim? What would be his motive? Anger that the victim didn’t willingly accede to the rape? Is he really going to risk a murder conviction (and life in prison or the death penalty) on top of the attempted rape? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just run away and leave her alone?
But here’s the other thing: Meyer was shot execution-style. She was first shot at point blank range in the back of her head. Remarkably, Meyer did not die from the head shot. She kept struggling. The killer struggled with her and dragged her several feet before putting another bullet, again execution-style, straight into her heart.
In the late 1990s, the CIA was forced to release a long-secret assassination manual, which it had been preparing as far back as 1953. The manual establishes beyond any doubt that the CIA was studying the art of state-sponsored murder and, equally important, ways to prevent people from figuring out that the CIA was behind the murder.
Notwithstanding that assassination manual, there exist a considerable number of Americans who just find it inconceivable that the CIA would do the things that it, by its own admission, was specializing in.
Among the witnesses the prosecution presented at trial was Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Washington Post, whose testimony simply established some formalities regarding Meyer. What Bradlee failed to disclose to the court — and what would come out many years later — was that he and CIA chief of counter-intelligence James Jesus Angleton had broken into Meyer’s home and art studio immediately after the murder and stolen her personal diary, something that they successfully kept secret for many years.
That’s classic burglary, theft, and obstruction of justice. For one thing, the diary might well have pointed out other targets of interest, including the CIA and the Pentagon. Remember: Meyer was involved in a very intimate relationship with Kennedy, one in which she was presumably playing a big role in Kennedy’s shift toward peace with the Soviet Union and the communist world, which was anathema to the CIA and the Pentagon. The hatred and antipathy that they had toward the Soviet Union was, in fact, a thousand times worse than the hatred and antipathy that they bear toward Russia today.
Now, take a look at this article about a new book just published by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. In the book, Kennedy Jr. says that his family believed at the time of the assassination that it was the CIA who had orchestrated it. Kennedy Jr. also states that the president had a dark sense of foreboding prior to his trip to Dallas.
Is it possible that President Kennedy related his concerns to Meyer, especially given the war that he was engaged in with the national-security establishment? (See FFF’s book JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne.) I think it’s not only possible but virtually certain, given how close their relationship was and how they were both committed to peaceful and friendly relations with the Soviet Union. That’s would have been why Angleton and Bradlee would have needed to get their hold on that diary and destroy it, much as the CIA destroyed all of its MKULTRA records and, more recently, its torture videos.
In later years, Bradlee and Angleton justified their actions by saying that Meyer had told a friend that in the event of her death to retrieve the diary. But it is settled law that on Meyer’s death, that diary became the property of her estate and subject to disposition under her Last Will and Testament. At that point, oral dispositions of property are null and void. The fact was that Bradlee and Angleton were secretly committing felonies by burglarizing, stealing, and obstructing justice.
On September 27, 1964, the Warren Report was issued to the public. Citing what appeared to be a very pat set of facts, just like later in the Meyer case, it alleged that a supposed communist named Lee Harvey Oswald had killed the president. No motive was ever established.
Mary Pinochet Meyer, the former wife of a high CIA official, read the report and knew it was bunk. She had telephoned the famous psychiatrist Timothy Leary, with whom she had become acquainted, and said, in a tone of fright, something to the effect that “He was moving too fast toward peace for them.”
Two weeks later, Meyer was dead.