CLEVELAND -- Fifty years ago today, a young lawyer was returning from lunch and about to step on to an elevator in the East Ohio Building. He turned to hear the shout: "President Kennedy has been shot."
Burt Griffin, now a retired judge, remembers the moment like it was yesterday.
"I was stunned. I went up in the elevator, walked into our waiting room and said to our receptionist, 'The President has been shot.' My recollection was that she had a radio and the radio got turned on and from then until we learned Kennedy had died, that's all we did," Griffin recalls.
He immediately feared the assassination was the work of segregationists. "I thought that whoever shot the President was a segregationist, who was upset with Kennedy because of the whole civil rights movement. This was a period when Medgar Evers had been killed in June. George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama the same month. Four young girls died in a bombing in Birmingham Alabama," Griffin adds.
About six weeks later, Griffin got a phone call out of the blue from a former colleague, who had become an assistant to Robert Kennedy. Would Griffin join a group of other lawyers and serve as general counsel on the Warren Commission to help investigate the assassination? Griffin didn't hesitate.
"As I look at the meaning, this may be the most interesting thing I do in my life, maybe the most important thing I ever do in my life," Griffin says, of the honor.
Once settled in Washington D.C. and on board, Griffin's role focused on Dallas night club operator Jack Ruby, the man who shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald.
"Why did Jack Ruby do this and was he involved in any kind of conspiracy to assassinate the President or was there a conspiracy to kill Oswald? And so we had to, in a very systematic way, gather every bit of evidence we could as to what Ruby had done from the time that it was conceivable that someone could have thought about killing the President up until Ruby shot Oswald. So we had to piece together a tremendous amount of information and locate everybody who might have had contact with Ruby," Griffin explains.
That meant retracing Jack Ruby's steps from September 26, 1963 -- the day the White House first decided President Kennedy would go to Texas -- until Ruby killed Oswald in front of a live television audience on November 24, 1963.
"We were able to put Ruby in Dallas every day except for five. And it wasn't that we had any indication that he was anywhere else. It's just that no one had seen him. We were able to get a detailed list of all the phone calls that Ruby made, and we were able to get phone records from all the telephones that he might have had contact with. We also got phone records for all the people that we knew he knew. it's the very thing that people are upset about, tapping phones, but this was absolutely essential for our understanding of what Ruby was doing," Griffin says.
"All this came about because there was a full-page black bordered advertisement in the Dallas Morning News on that morning that the president was shot, that was signed by someone named Bernard Weisman. Ruby recognized Weisman as the name of someone who might be Jewish. He tried to find out who this Weisman was. Ruby became obsessed with the idea that somehow the Weisman's ad and killing the president were connected," Griffin says fears of anti-semitism consumed Ruby for the next two days until he killed Oswald.
The Warren Commission's investigation took 8 months and concluded Oswald acted alone in shooting President Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. It found no evidence of a foreign or homegrown conspiracy.
And there is absolutely no evidence that Oswald had any contact with anyone else whom might have had an interest in killing the President."
His work done as general counsel to the Warren Commission, Griffin returned home where he eventually served for 30 years as a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge.
Griffin expresses concern over theories of a conspiracy half a century after the Kennedy assassination.
"The people that believe there was a conspiracy have so dominated the examination of what has gone on, that what the evidence is has really been ignored. The evidence is overwhelming that Oswald killed the president. There are 2 eyewitnesses who saw the shots fired from the 6th floor window. One of them gave a description that was so good, that that's what caused Oswald to be arrested an hour later," Griffin says.
He does take satisfaction in one important point. "There's no more evidence that's been found, than there was 50 years ago," Griffin states.