Cyril H. Wecht uses a skull to discuss the assassination of President John F. Kennedy at a symposium Thursday.
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A surgeon who half a century ago was among the doctors who tried to save President John F. Kennedy's life said Thursday that the Warren Commission got it wrong in determining a lone gunman assassinated JFK in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Speaking via teleconference to a Duquesne University symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination, Robert N. McClelland said he was the first doctor in Parkland Hospital's Trauma Room One to notice the massive wound in the back of Kennedy's skull and that a trauma of that size had to be an exit wound.
"The whole right side of his skull was gone. I could look inside his skull cavity. Obviously, it was a mortal wound," he told a spellbound audience of legal, medical, forensic and investigative experts and the public who packed the university's Power Ballroom.
Dr. McClelland, now 83 and professor emeritus at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, said that because it was an exit wound, it logically followed that it had been fired from in front of the president's limousine. And, in turn, that meant a second gunman was involved in the assassination, contradicting the Warren Commission's finding that there was but one assassin.
The Warren Commission determined that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he fired three times with a high-powered rifle on the president's motorcade in Dealey Plaza from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The commission said that one bullet missed, another went through the president's neck and also wounded Texas Gov. John Connolly -- the so-called "single bullet theory" -- and the third caused the fatal head wound.
But Dr. McClelland was resolute. "Having seen what I saw" in the emergency room and then viewing the Zapruder film of the assassination, he said, he believes JFK "was initially hit from a bullet fired from the sixth floor that went through his back and out through his neck. The next injury was caused by somebody behind the picket fence on the grassy knoll firing a shot that blew out the right side of his head."
Speaking on the first day of the three-day symposium sponsored by the university's Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law, Dr. McClelland also recounted how two days after Kennedy's assassination he and other surgeons tried in vain to save Oswald's life after he was shot by Jack Ruby while being transferred from Dallas police headquarters to the county jail.
In his address, Dr. Wecht, the renowned forensic pathologist and longtime critic of the Warren Report, railed against what he called was the "inept, inexplicable, totally incompetent" autopsy performed on the president by Navy pathologists James J. Humes and J. Thornton Boswell. They concluded the president had been struck by two bullets, fired from above and behind, with the fatal shot being the one that struck his head.
"They had never done a single gunshot wound autopsy before. If you heard of this in another country, you'd say condescendingly and dismissively, 'What do you expect from that country?' but this was our country," Dr. Wecht said. "This should bother you so much; this should be so distressing, even 50 years later."
Dr. Wecht, who used a skull and dissected a brain during his address to illustrate his criticism of the autopsy and what wasn't done, said the "cold case" needs to be reopened.
"The Warren Commission Report is scientifically absurd," he said. The burden of the report's detractors is not to have all the answers about the assassination, he said, but to point out defects in the investigation, which they have done. He received a standing ovation.
Among the speakers today will be Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone, director of the controversial 1991 film "JFK" and director/narrator of the Showtime docu-series "Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States."