In November of 2006 the citizens of Dallas elected Craig Watkins their first African-American DA. The 40-year-old Democrat defeated his Republican rival Toby Shook in a close election even though he was outspent by a factor of 18-1. Clearly, Watkins benefited by the wave generated against the Bush administration. But he also ran a reform-minded campaign that clearly appealed to a segment of the population.
Watkins vowed to place as much focus on crime prevention and redemption of criminals as possible. Many in the district attorney's office resisted this. Many of them worked for Shook. Shook was perceived as the heir apparent to retiring DA Bill Hill. Hill, in turn, represented the legacy of longtime DA Henry Wade. Wade, of course, was the DA at the time of the Kennedy assassination who -- within 36 hours -- broadcast to the world that he had no doubt Oswald was the killer of President Kennedy. Wade's office once issued a memo instructing assistant DA's not to take Jews, Negroes, Dagoes, Mexicans or members of other races on a jury, no matter how rich or well educated.
Unlike many other candidates who promise reform, Watkins has, so far, followed through, to the point where many of the lawyers in the office who backed Shook have left. For instance, Watkins set up a task force to partner with the Innocence Project of Texas to do DNA testing for convicts on death row. Several of them have had their verdicts overturned. He also issued new guidelines on how Dallas DA's would perform interrogations and how line-ups would be conducted, two procedures with which Kennedy researchers were quite familiar with. He even fired those who were not content with his accent on protecting the rights of the accused.
Now, as the accompanying story details, Watkins has focused his reform attitude on the assassination of President Kennedy. He has made public the existence of a secret stash of both exhibits and 15, 000 pages of documents that his office has been holding for over forty years. The trivial media has made much of a supposed transcript between Ruby and Oswald discussing the murder of President Kennedy on 10/4/63 at the Carousel Club. This document is clearly some kind of play on the dubious testimony of attorney Carroll Jarnagin. Some problems with this testimony are 1.) Jarnagin admitted he was drunk that night 2.) His companion did not recall any such conversation 3.) He failed a polygraph test. (See Seth Kantor, The Ruby Cover-Up, pp. 391-392).
This has distracted from the real question that should be asked about this disclosure. Namely, why did neither Wade nor Hill turn over this evidence in the decades preceding? They could have done it on at least four separate occasions: in 1964 to the Warren Commission, in 1977 to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and in the nineties, to local and federal agencies.
In January of 1992, the Dallas City Council passed a resolution directing the City Manager to collect all documents related to the Kennedy assassination in the Dallas Police Department, Sheriff's Department and the Dallas DA's Office. They were to be turned over to the Secretary of the Records Management Division at city hall. There they were archived and indexed by the city archivist Cindy Smolovik. There was much publicity generated by this event since it was the first such collection done in the wake of Oliver Stone's film JFK. The DA's office was disobeying the City Council and hiding artifacts from the City Manager. But then later, in 1993, the Assassination Records Review Board was constructed. They actually visited Dallas, held a public hearing, and asked for cooperation from anyone who had any more hidden documents or evidence. Obviously, the DA was not listening or forthcoming. Even though this hidden collection is actually larger than the one archived by Smolovik.
It's a sorry tale. Over forty years after the fact and the public is still learning that trusted officials are keeping private potentially important records dealing with the unsolved murder of President Kennedy. And pundits and politicians wonder about why the citizenry has grown cynical about the process. At his press conference, Watkins said that he never believed Oswald acted alone. He added, "I believe in conspiracies. I think that's just too simple of an explanation."
Finally, after 44 years, the people of Dallas get a DA who thinks like the majority of them do.