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Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

Surveyors Role in History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy—The Trial of Clay Shaw Print E-mail
Written by Cyn Rene’ Whitfield   
Saturday, 23 November 2013

Fifty years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy much has changed, both in the way we would today report the event and in the tools available to solve the crime. Even with the advancements of technology there remains the many dozens of theories that surround the events of the assassination of our 35th President of the United States.

On March 1, 1967, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison arrested and charged New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw with conspiring to assassinate President Kennedy, with the help of Lee Harvey Oswald. The Clay Shaw trial included testimony of land surveyor Robert West. It is to date, the only trial to be brought for the assassination of President Kennedy.  A jury took less than an hour to find Clay Shaw not guilty.

Robert West, a surveyor in Dallas County, Dallas Texas, was brought in to testify as an expert on the as-built conditions of Dealey Plaza at 12:30 PM CT, November 22, 1963 when the 35th President of the United States was shot and killed. His detailed knowledge of the conditions of the plaza combined with his timely presence at the site during the assassination would make a powerful statement to surveyors as they approach their profession as documentation experts of existing conditions.

The role that surveyors have played in history began hundreds of years ago with the exploration of America and the need for navigational maps. The profession requires a unique ability in observation and documentation which advances the profession beyond more than filling a basic need to define boundaries. Surveyors are historians and detectives and the profession has proven to be more than the establishment and maintenance of boundaries as it is both a science and an art.

Here are the opening remarks from the transcript:

THE COURT: I would suggest we call Mr. West and put him under oath out of the presence of the Jury and go through his testimony. If you have no objection you can do it all over again in the presence of the Jury.

ROBERT WEST, after first being duly sworn, was examined and testified on his oath as follows:

THE COURT: Would you be kind enough to spell your name?

THE WITNESS: Robert H. West, W-E-S-T.

THE COURT: You may proceed.

DIRECT EXAMINATION BY MR. SCIAMBRA:

Q: What is your occupation, sir?

A: I am a land surveyor, the County Surveyor for Dallas County.

Q: Would you briefly tell the Court the nature of your duties as surveyor for Dallas County, Dallas, Texas?

A: Basically keeping the survey records, the land survey records of the County, making them available to the public and so forth.

Q: Do your duties include any on-the-scene survey work?

A: In my official capacity as County Surveyor very, very rarely. The County Surveyor's Office is mainly in the surveying of public bond domain, of which there is very little left in Dallas County.

Q: Relative to other aspects of your occupation, do you do on-the-scene survey work?

A: Yes, sir.

MR. SCIAMBRA: At this time the State would attempt to qualify this witness as an expert surveyor and therefore qualified to give his expert opinion relative to the topographical aspects of Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas…*

Technology is constantly changing and so has the surveyor’s tools. The advancement from rods and chains to AutoCAD, satellites and 3D laser scanners are contributors to the growth of the profession in the way data is collected and stored. The end product is only as good as the original field data gathered but what remains is the keen ability of the surveyor in spatial recognition. The profession in the forensic world is an expanding market for surveyors. Forensic surveying is the process of compiling field data to map or recreates accidents and crime scenes. The surveyor, as in the case of Robert West, will also serve as an expert witness providing expert testimony during a trial.

THE COURT: Considering the training, experience and education of the witness, the Court rules he is qualified as an expert in this particular field and can give his opinion not only as a land surveyor but also as an official of Dallas County of the physical aspects of Dallas on November 22, 1963. You may proceed.

BY MR. ANDREW SCIAMBRA: (Assistant DA)

Q: I direct your attention to what has been previously marked for identification as State Exhibit 35, which purports to be a plat, and ask you whether or not you recognize this?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: For what purpose was this plat originally drawn?

A: This was made at the request of the FBI agent for the Warren Commission.

Q: Did you personally draw this?

A: It was personally drawn -- Well, it was drawn under my personal supervision.

Q: Did you personally supervise the surveying of everything that led up to the drawing of this plat?

A: Yes, sir, I was present at all times during the office work and field work.

Q: In connection with the drawing of this plat were any photographs taken to aid you?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: Mr. West, is this plat a complete representation of Dealey Plaza?

A: No, sir.

Q: In what respects is it not complete?

A: It doesn't show all of the topographical features of that particular part of Dealey Plaza that lies northwest of Main Street.

Q: Does it show all of the curves and contours in Dealey Plaza?

A: Not of the ground, but all the streets, it shows all of the curves and contours.

Q: Directing your attention specifically to the wooden stockade, does this plan indicate the elevation of this stockade?

A: No, sir.

Q: Are there any reasons why this plat is an incomplete drawing?

A: This is what the FBI agent instructed me to show on this plat, these features…*

*To read the complete transcript visit http://www.jfk-online.com/westshaw.html or to view a special video reenactment of the transcript entitled The Surveyors Role in History The Clay Shaw Testimony by Cyn Rene' Whitfield go to http://stilettocynproductions.com/surveyor_in_history.html

 
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