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Larry Sturdivan and the misrepresentation of HSCA Exhibit F-114


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For 5 years or more, I've been trying to figure out why HSCA Exhibit F-114 was originally described as a photo of a bullet exploding into gelatin at 800 feet per second, when the transcripts of Larry Sturdivan's testimony reflect that the bullet was traveling at 800 meters per second. The thought occurred that he'd unwittingly discussed the wound ballistics of a cartridge designed for assassination weapons, and that someone at the HSCA complied with a request from someone in the CIA or Pentagon to change his testimony. On Christmas Eve I received confirmation that the transcript was not an accurate representation of Sturdivan's testimony.

From patspeer.com, chapter 20:

In January 2006, after gathering up the nerve, I contacted Larry Sturdivan and asked him about his HSCA testimony. As to whether Exhibit F-114 represented a bullet strike at 800 meters per second or 800 feet per second he responded: “It has a simple explanation. I misspoke. The bullet is obviously a low-velocity strike, probably at a simulated range of several hundred meters. The figure of 800 feet per second is certainly the one that is closest to the actual impact velocity. At work, I always used metric measure, but for the public hearings it was suggested that I use feet, inches, and pounds. This is one instance in which I slipped. There may be others. In other cases, the person who transcribed the testimony misinterpreted a few of my words. It likely happened with other witnesses for the HSCA and WC as well.”

When I asked him if his use of an exhibit depicting an M-16 bullet traveling at a subsonic speed indicated he’d studied the possible use of silenced weapons in connection with the Kennedy assassination, he responded: “It was just one of the thousands of pictures we had of military bullets we had tested. I used it because it showed the instability of a bullet in a soft tissue simulant, without the deformation and breakup. Like the WCC/MC, it was a bullet that did not deform in soft tissue. Modern military bullets deform at full velocity, so I showed a picture of one at reduced velocity. The only bullets fired in the WC tests were the WCC/MC.”

When I followed up and asked him if the HSCA had ever asked him about the possible use of silenced weapons, he answered: “Never came up. Several witnesses who were familiar with supersonic rifle fire, such as John Connally, stated that the shots were identifiable as "high-powered rifle" fire. A subsonic bullet is much quieter -- and is much less injurious, has a more arced trajectory (due to its low speed) and, as a result, is much less accurate, etc. A sniper using a subsonic weapon (e.g., a handgun) could fire a volley of shots from the upper floors of the Depository and be unlikely to hit the target with any of them. Such a weapon is more likely to be used in point blank shooting, like the Tippit murder.” (Sturdivan’s comments here are intriguing. He ignores the possibility of subsonic rifle fire even though he’d studied the ballistics of subsonic rifle fire, as proven by F-114. His statement that a subsonic bullet has a more arced trajectory is also intriguing when one considers that the trajectory of the bullet creating Kennedy’s back wound was initially reported as heading sharply downwards.)

When I wrote back and asked if he felt handicapped by the limits of the HSCA investigation, he wrote: “No. The HSCA didn't tell me much. They just asked a lot of questions. The most irritating thing is that they kept most of the scientists isolated from each other, so that I didn't meet Bill Hartmann 'til years later.”

Sturdivan’s response forced me to do some soul-searching. Here I had taken several pieces of information: 1) that Exhibit F-114 had been misrepresented in Sturdivan’s published testimony; 2) that it was in fact the ballistics gelatin of a subsonic bullet; and 3) that it was also misrepresented on a website created by Oswald-did-it theorist John McAdams, and convinced myself that this represented some sort of conspiracy. And yet I was wrong. I was right about points one and two, but they had an innocent explanation. And I was wrong about point 3 altogether. When I realized that it was possible Sturdivan had merely told me a cover story, and that it was also possible that Russ had deliberately misrepresented the exhibit on his website, I had a revelation. In that moment, I fully understood what I will call “the seduction of intrigue”. For a split second, it seemed rational to me to assume Sturdivan was lying etc… This was because I had quietly changed gears and begun thinking of reasons to believe I wasn’t wrong, rather than reasons to believe that I was right. It occurred to me that such thinking takes place when someone has spent a lot of time developing a theory, and someone else comes along and wrecks it. I at once understood why my presentation had upset so many alterationists, i.e. why they had refused to honestly look at my presentation etc. They’d thought so long and hard when developing their theories that they couldn’t bear to believe they’d been wrong. What had been their theory had become their religion.

I decided to lose my religion and accept that the mislabeling of F-114 had been some sort of mistake.

Only it turned out my bout with intrigue was far from over. In April, 2006, I acquired video footage of some of the HSCA hearings, including parts of Sturdivan’s testimony. Unfortunately, the footage of Sturdivan began just after he discussed F-114, so I was unable to determine whether he, in fact, said 800 feet or 800 meters. Nevertheless, when I compared the published transcripts of Sturdivan’s testimony against his actual testimony, a few new questions arose.

When I e-mailed Sturdivan and asked about these new (at least for me) discoveries, he was once again quite forthcoming. When asked why his published testimony reflects his actual words, when the testimony of Dr. Baden appears to have been significantly re-written, he replied “Perhaps Baden asked to be allowed to revise his own testimony, I don't know.” (Another witness, Jack White, told me that every witness was given the opportunity to change their testimony. Perhaps Sturdivan was simply not informed he could do so.) When I asked who changed the exhibit numbers in his testimony—Exhibit 583 was twice corrected to read Exhibit 853-- Sturdivan replied: “I guess Mathews corrected the exhibit numbers.” (Mathews refers to I. Charles Mathews, the HSCA Special Counsel responsible for Sturdivan’s testimony.) When I asked why some of the questions asked Sturdivan had been changed, Sturdivan’s response surprised me. He replied: “In the case of (Congressmen) Fauntroy and Ford, the staff probably published the questions as phrased on the script they were supposed to follow. Some of the Congressmen had trouble following the script -- or just did what politicians do; i.e., speak without thinking what they are trying to say, just because they like the sound of their own voices…” When I asked him WHAT script he was talking about, he clued me in on how the HSCA conducted its “public” hearings. (Dr. Baden had previously mentioned the use of scripts in his 1989 book Unnatural Death, but it had fallen below my radar). Sturdivan replied: “A couple of weeks before the open hearings, I got a copy of the questions to be asked, keyed to each Congressman in turn. I prepared my "probable answer" to each so that the staff and/or Congressman could pre-prepare any follow-up questions. I.e., the Committee's staff did it. I suggested a few changes to questions and a few additional questions to make the story more complete. However, the Congressmen had a lot of trouble following the script. Some asked questions I had already been asked by another person and did not ask some of the questions they were scripted to ask. As a result the story got scrambled and less understandable.” In light of the fact that someone (probably Mathews) changed Sturdivan’s testimony to reflect the proper exhibit numbers, I asked Sturdivan if he remembered that he mis-spoke and said F-114 represented a bullet traveling 800 meters per second, or had simply assumed he’d done so. His response was illuminating: “The 800 meters per second, referring to F-114, is an obvious mistake. This is an M-193 bullet. Had it hit at 800 m/s, it would have been deformed, probably would have broken in two, and the bullet (or fragments) would have exited the block. 800 f/s is a handgun velocity that would have produced this type of picture. I don't know whether I said it wrong or they wrote it wrong or later changed it to be wrong.”

And there it sat until Christmas Eve, 2009, when I received a copy of Sturdivan's HSCA testimony from the Poage Library at Baylor University. I put the DVD in my DVD player, convinced that I would soon be able to resolve whether Sturdivan said "800 meters per second" and confused the HSCA, or said "800 feet per second," only to have some unidentified person change his testimony and exhibits to read "800 meters per second." But I was in for another surprise. Sturdivan said "F-114 is the same bullet at a lower velocity. That velocity would be encountered at about 800 meters per second", but then corrected himself and said "800 meters range". This was quite interesting. First of all, at all other points in his testimony, Sturdivan discussed bullet velocity in terms of feet per second, and here he was discussing a bullet's velocity in "meters down range." By describing the bullet in such a manner, Sturdivan thereby hid from the record that the bullet tested was not fired from 800 meters down range, but was a reduced charge bullet apparently designed to simulate the effects of a bullet fired from 800 meters down range. Such a bullet was subsonic. Such a bullet was the type used in weapons designed for silent killing. Assassination weapons.

In retrospect, Sturdivan's verbal gymnastics only made sense. Sturdivan was, after all, testifying on behalf of a government widely suspected of assassinating its President. He'd done work for the military. Included in this work was studying the wounding effects of the subsonic ammunition used in assassination weapons. Needless to say, this was not a topic the committee would want him to touch upon. And so he testified not how fast the bullet was traveling, but how far down range it would normally take the bullet to slow to that speed. And screwed up.

But it's not as simple as that. While on the surface it seems possible Sturdivan's mistaken claim the bullet was traveling 800 meters per second led someone to not only include this mistake in the transcript, but mistakenly re-title his exihibit, this fails to explain why Sturdivan's correction, "800 meters range," was left off his testimony. He was clearly correcting himself. And his words were clearly spoken.

This effectively puts me back where I began, wondering why the exhibit title was changed, and wondering whether it's just a coincidence that this exhibit was of a bullet type used in assassination weapons.

But it also takes me further. In finding that Sturdivan's correction had been omitted from the transcript of his testimony, a door was once again opened to the possibility that much of what we know FROM SWORN TESTIMONY, is an inaccurate presentation of said testimony.

This is an ongoing source of concern.

Edited by Pat Speer
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