A moment seared in the memories of people of a certain age is; where they were when they first heard that John F. Kennedy, the president of the United States, had been assassinated.
The shots fired at the president’s motorcade 50 years ago this week still resonate in the public mind. And so does the belief that the murder was an act of conspiracy.
A special seminar in Radford University’s Criminal Justice Department has students examining original evidence from that day with the ‘20-20 hindsight’ of modern forensic techniques.
Sophomore Colby Bender says he’s obsessed with John F. Kennedy and the assassination. “I have a long list of theories but this course has gotten me to focus on facts.”
“We’re asking the students to critically analyze the assassination," says Dr. Tod Burke who co-teaches the seminar on the JFK assassination is a Professor of criminal justice and a former police officer. “We want the students to utilize the original evidence and modern interpretations really with the sound principles of modern forensics and investigation.”
Students like T.J. Fox, of course have no personal memory of JFK’s assassination but that doesn’t mean they haven’t formed opinions about it. “When that someone died, 50 years later, first you actually thought, Lee Harvey Oswald, he did it. Then you put that away and you’re like OK, OK. But now taking the course you see everything that happened from what the police did to what that witnesses saw, to what this witness saw. “
Stephen Owen, chairman of Radford University’s criminal justice department is co teaching the seminar.
"Most of the public’s perception is based on what they see in movies, what they see in TV and books, most of which are conspiracy oriented, most of which don’t utilize or at least properly utilize the facts or the evidence in the case.”
And that may be why 87% of Americans say they believe that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy.
“Well yeah, but science is not dictated by a majority vote," says Dale Myers, who has spent decades examining the Kennedy assassination. He was a guest speaker for the seminar. And while the professors teaching this course are not sharing their opinions until the students draw their own conclusions, Myers will. “Ultimately, I’ll ask somebody, OK whoever you think did it, what’s the connection of that group to Oswald? They don’t know, because there isn’t any. And that’s the problem with conspiracy theories. After 50 years, all the evidence points back to one individual and that’s Lee Harvey Oswald.”
Myers says the majority of books and movies about the Kennedy assassination include focus on conspiracy theories because conspiracy sells. For this seminar, the students analyzed Oliver Stone’s film JFK. The movie used actual footage from real events blurring the lines between fact and fiction.
William Robitaille is a grad student in criminal justice at Radford. "Because it wasn’t a documentary, it was a work of fiction, he proposes the ability to rewrite history. And for a artist, such as Mr. Stone to be able to rewrite history, it’s a very interesting dynamic."
For their final project, students in this special seminar on the JFK assassination at Radford University are preparing their own omission reports, based on original evidence that has not been previously deeply explored. They’ll present their work to a panel of experts on December third. The public is invited.