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Micah Mileto

HSCA's Gary Cornwell admitted to coercing Dr. Humes into going along with their revision of Kennedy's wounds!

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From Gary Cornwell's 1998 book Real Answers, p. 71-74:

Due to available x-rays (which, incidentally, the original pathologists never saw) and the presence of observable skull fractures, the Select Committee's panel was able to locate with precision the point of impact of the second bullet that struck the president. This bullet entered the president's head 10 centimeters above the external occipital protuberance and slightly to the right of the midline, near the upper convexity of the back of the head at the "cowlick" portion of the president's hair part. This entry location was approximately four inches higher than had been reflected in the original autopsy report of the Bethesda doctors! Although the bullet fragmented upon impact, our panel concluded that the main core mass probably exited in the top front area of the skull (right frontoparietal portion) adjacent to the coronal suture.

 

Based upon the work of our panel, I was able to get the main doctor who performed the original autopsy to admit some of his errors during my cross-examination of him in our public hearings-but not without a lot of hair raising resistance from one of the Select Committee's own forensic pathologists. Late in the evening of September 6, 1978, I was working in my office, preparing to cross-exam Captain James J. Humes, M.D., who was scheduled to testify at the committee hearings the following afternoon, live, on national television. After completing his residency in pathology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in 1956, Captain Humes became the chief of anatomic pathology at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland in 1960, and the director of the laboratories at the National Medical Center in 1961. It was because he held that respected position that he was chosen to be in charge of the autopsy of President Kennedy.

 

As I prepared for my cross-examination of Captain Humes, and studied in detail the conclusions of our photographic experts and our panel of forensic pathologists, I realized that Captain Humes’ errors in conducting the autopsy had been the cause of many misplaced conspiracy theories over the years. And I came to the conclusion that when he had been questioned under oath on prior occasions, Captain Humes had not told the truth about the facts in an apparent attempt to cover up his own mistakes, and that I could prove it!

 

Around 9:30 p.m., just as I was finishing the outline of my questioning for the next day, one of the doctors on our forensic pathology panel walked by my office door. Feeling what admittedly may have been excessive trial lawyer enthusiasm, I called for the doctor to come in and told him of my intentions: “Humes has been lying all of these years, and I am going to destroy him!” The Committee’s doctor replied, “You cannot do that, Humes is a very respected man!” My cavalier response was something to the effect, “What difference does that make, he hasn’t been telling the truth, has he?” The conversation ended-without my realizing the note on which it had ended.

 

The next day, at the end of the lunch hour, as the television camera lights were being turned on for the afternoon session and I was going over my outline of questions in final preparation to cross-examine Dr. Humes, my pathologist came up to the podium and anxiously said that he had to talk to me. I asked him what the problem was and he said he had taken Humes to lunch and told Humes exactly what my questions were going to be, and that Humes was ready to confess that his original autopsy report was wrong! I was furious. Within minutes, I would have to start questioning Humes. I had the terrible sinking feeling that all of the drama that I had structured my questioning to achieve-the extraction of the truth, Perry Mason style-had just been destroyed by the well-meaning efforts of a doctor who had decided to take it upon himself to save his fellow colleague from public embarrassment.

 

I went with him and met Humes. What he said was accurate, Humes was ready to admit the errors in his prior testimony. I rushed back to the podium and frantically restructured my outline of questions in light of the development.

 

Dr. Humes’ testimony in some respects was not what I had hoped for, but the most important point was made: he finally admitted after fourteen years that he had made mistakes. He abandoned his prior testimony that the skull entrance wound was four inches lower than the autopsy photos showed. It was finally clear that he had been wrong in his description of the location of President Kennedy’s head wound, and he regretted destroying his original notes, which had only exacerbated the loss of credibility of the Warren Commission’s work over the years. He talked about the pressures he was under in 1963, the lack of sleep over that long weekend of November 23-24 when he prepared the final autopsy report, and the fact that he was handicapped by not being able to look at the autopsy photos and x-rays to prepare his original report (as our pathology panel had been able to do). He hoped that things would be done better next time.

 

In retrospect, I have to admit that the committee's doctor probably had the right attitude. The mistakes of the past were brought to light, which was the real objective. There was no evidence that Humes intentionally mishandled the original autopsy, or that he was part of any conspiracy. His errors needed to be corrected, but Dr. Humes did not need to be destroyed in cross-examination. It did make me angry that for so many years he had refused to admit his mistakes, and was willing to do so only when he faced the prospect of being humiliated on national television. Then again, Dr. Humes in one sense was also right: the real hope is that we can all learn from our mistakes, so things will be done better next time-if there is a next time-that our country has to deal with the assassination of a president.

 

Not only does Cornwell proudly admit to witness tampering, but his version of the story makes Humes seem weaker than he really was. In the transcript of Humes' final testimony to the HSCA, it is clear that he didn't fully buy the idea of a high entry wound. When asked later on, he stood by his original lower placement of the wound.

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