Perry Russo Dies

Perry Raymond Russo, a key witness in the Clay Shaw conspiracy trial of the late 1960s, has died in New Orleans at the age of 52.

According to the New Orleans coroner's office, his body was found in his home by a friend on August 16th. A spokesman said it appeared Russo had been dead for about 24 hours.

The cause of death was not immediately made public, although there have been reports he suffered from a heart ailment.

Russo at Shaw hearing, 1967

At the Shaw trial, Russo testified that several months before the JFK assassination, he was at a party also attended by Shaw, Lee Harvey Oswald, and David W. Ferrie, and that assassinating President Kennedy was discussed.

"Ferrie was in control of the gathering," Russo said years later in a videotaped interview. "He was in one of his obsessive evenings concerning his hatred of the President of the United States."

Russo's credibility as a witness was severely tested when it was revealed he underwent hypnosis and had been administered sodium pentathol, or "truth serum," at the request of the proseuction. Detractors claimed that Russo only came up with a link between Shaw, Oswald, and Ferrie after these treatments. Prosecutor Jim Garrison later wrote,

Both treatments were administered to Russo under close medical supervision. And both revealed that Russo was telling the truth...Shaw's lawyers spent hours trying to discredit Russo and his testimony...implying that we had somehow drugged Russo and brainwashed him into telling this wild story...we called [two experts who] testified strongly and clearly under oath that Perry Russo was telling the truth when he recalled hearing Clay Shaw and David Ferrie discussing the details of assassinating President Kennedy.

In 1967, before the Clay Shaw trial began, NBC broadcast a documentary on the case, which Garrison defenders generally agree was an attempt to discredit the prosecutor. The documentary's producer, Walter Sheridan, appeared on the program and said, "In my conversations with Perry Russo he has stated that his testimony against Clay Shaw may be a combination of truth, fantasy, and lies."

Russo, however, said Sheridan "was not investigating any facts. His only purpose was--and he stated it pointedly--he said, 'I'm going to take Garrison out of this.' He says, 'You're going down with him.'"

Russo said that Sheridan offered to relocate him, get him a job, and protect him from extradition. In exchange for that, Russo said, Sheridan wanted him to retract his identification of Shaw and his testimony about the party attended by Shaw, Ferrie, and Oswald, where Russo said an assassination plot was discussed.

"What Walter Sheridan was asking me to do was an absolute lie," Russo said. "Shaw was there. Ferrie was there. Oswald was there."

"Perry Russo was an amazing witness," said Bill Alford, an assisstant to Garrison during the Shaw investigation. "You have to remember that the defense, and the Federal government, and anyone interested in destroying Jim Garrison's case, had two years to work on Perry Raymond Russo."

Russo was a 25-year old insurance salesman when he was called as a witness to testify against Shaw. In recent years he had been driving a taxi.

In 1969, a jury found Clay Shaw not guilty of conspiring to assassinate President Kennedy.

* * *