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H. Louis Nichols


H. Louis Nichols

H. Louis Nichols, was the president of the Dallas Bar Association during the time JFK was assassinated. It was Bob Storey who got into contact with Nichols and asked him check whether Oswald was provided legal assistance. Among the Waggoner Carr papers (thanks to Malcolm Blunt) the document below cites Storey that he told J Lee Rankin of the Warren Commission that he contacted H. Louis Nichols and, as stated in the doc on page 3, pursuant to many complaints from the North and East that “Oswald should be provided counsel”.

But the next sentence on that document’s third page is proper gold. “I first talked with Henry Wade and he said in substance, that “he was going to recommend to the Court that the President of the Dallas Bar Association and Dallas Criminal Bar Association be appointed as council for Oswald by the Court as and when he was indicted.” The indictment was expected on Monday morning.

Excuse me? Monday morning? Oswald was supposedly pulled out of his cell and indicted at about 01:30 on the morning of the 23rd. This is a contradictory remark especially when Henry Wade wanted his name on the charge sheet instead of Bill Alexander.

In his talks with Oswald, Nichols hears that he wanted to be represented by John Abt or an ACLU member. Nichols said that he did not know any ACLU members, a strange thing to say. He asked if Oswald wanted him or the Dallas Bar Association to get him an attorney. Oswald said he would wait until he could see Abt, an ACLU attorney, or at least someone who believed in his innocence. In his WC testimony H. Louis Nichols mentions that he was no criminal lawyer and he talked to a friend who was one and was told by him that the obligation was only to appoint counsel after a man had been indicted, and that, as he understood it, since Mr. Oswald had not been indicted there was no legal obligation to appoint an attorney.  Yet he was already arraigned for Tippit and supposedly for the murder of J.F.K. as well, on the 22nd and early on the 23rd. Confusing? Not at all…..excuse the sarcasm.

He then speaks to Henry Wade over the phone and asks him whether or not either he or anybody in his office had been advised that Oswald wanted a lawyer, or had made a request for a lawyer, and he said as far as he knew he had not asked for a lawyer. Since this phone call happened on the 23rd and Oswald had made quite a few public calls for legal representation on the 22nd we can deduct that Wade was spinning a tall tale….I mean how many times did Oswald ask for someone to represent him while being transported in the third floor corridor that day and during that so called press conference early on the 23rd? At least half a dozen times.

Nichols knows a fair amount of people inside the DPD and he decides to call Captain Glen King and asks him the same questions he put forward to Henry Wade, and King pretty much answers in the same vein as Wade did: Oswald was not represented by anyone, he did not ask for anyone to represent him nor ask for the right for a phone call to call one. That by itself is very strange since Will Fritz had given Lee Harvey Oswald the opportunity to make a phone call to get legal assistance at 13:40 and he tried to call New York at that time. And more than one hour before that Oswald makes a public statement in the hallway that he wishes John Abt to represent him. Plus Harold McDervid had sent a telegram around the same time offering to represent him, this telegram never reached Oswald.

 From Jesse Curry’s book (P.75) Retired Dallas police chief, Jesse Curry reveals his personal JFK assassination file  “By mid-evening I was concerned that every attempt be made to see that Oswald’s civil rights were not being violated. I escorted Louis Nichols, president of the Dallas Bar Association, into the jail to confer with the prisoner. Oswald at that time spurned an offer by the Dallas Bar Association for legal assistance, but Mr. Nichols did discuss Oswald’s right for legal counsel with him. Oswald indicated that he wanted Attorney John Abt of New York City to defend him. If that failed his second choice would have been a member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Oswald seemed well informed of his rights and had definite ideas about how he would seek legal counsel. Attorney Louis Nichols left completely satisfied that Oswald had not been denied council and that his civil rights were not being violated.”

 In his Warren Commission testimony Curry says:

Mr. RANKIN – Chief Curry, you said that Mr. Nichols came that afternoon. I call to your attention that we have information that he came there on the Saturday afternoon.

Mr. CURRY – Perhaps it was, not the Friday. That perhaps was on Saturday.

Mr. RANKIN – Yes.

Mr. DULLES – I wonder if you could just summarize briefly where we are.

(Discussion off the record.)

Mr. RANKIN – Back on the record.

In regard to Mr. Nichols, did you know whether or not he offered to represent or provide counsel?

Mr. CURRY – Yes; he did.

Mr. RANKIN – What did he say about that?

Mr. CURRY – He said he didn’t care to at this time.

Mr. RANKIN – What did Mr. Nichols say about providing counsel?

Mr. CURRY – He said the Dallas Bar would provide counsel if he desired counsel.

Mr. RANKIN – That is to Mr. Oswald?

Mr. CURRY – Oswald.

Mr. RANKIN – What did Mr. Oswald say?

Mr. CURRY – He said, “I don’t at this time,” he said, “If I can’t get Mr. Abt to represent me or someone from Civil Liberties Union I will call on you later.”

Representative FORD. – Did Nichols and Oswald talk one to another?

Mr. CURRY – Yes; he was taken to see Oswald and he talked to him.

Mr. RANKIN – And this all occurred at the meeting you have already described?

Mr. CURRY – Yes, sir.

Mr. RANKIN – Between Mr. Nichols and Mr. Oswald?

Mr. CURRY – That is correct.


And from an excerpt of Nichols’ W.C. testimony:

“…call from another friend of mine, and that I had made some inquiry, and at this time I did not know whether Oswald had a lawyer or was getting a lawyer, but that I was going to make some inquiry to find out about it. After talking to the second friend about it who called, I then called Mr. Henry Wade, the district attorney, to see whether or not he knew whether or not Oswald was represented by a lawyer or not.

I did not know for sure at that time whether he was, simply because I had no way of knowing whether he was represented or not. I hadn’t talked to anybody who was really informed, and I called Mr. Wade. He said he didn’t know for sure whether he was or not, as far as he knew he hadn’t been contacted by any lawyer who purported to represent Oswald. I asked him whether or not either he or anybody in his office had been advised that Oswald wanted a lawyer, or had made a request for a lawyer, and he said as far as he knew he had not asked for a lawyer. I asked him too, as he was going up there, and I asked him if Oswald requested a lawyer and didn’t have a lawyer would he tell him that the Dallas Bar Association would get a lawyer if he needed one.

By that time I had time to think about what I thought my obligation should be, and realizing that under the circumstances maybe some people might overlook the fact that Oswald had rights that needed to be protected at the same time, and if he didn’t have a lawyer, regardless of what the legal obligation was to appoint him a lawyer, we, the bar association, ought to look into the matter.

Mr. Wade said he was going to go up there later on in the evening and he would talk to his assistants who were in closer contact than he was, and if Oswald wanted a lawyer–asked for a lawyer or wanted a lawyer appointed–he would tell him of my conversation. I then called Glen King, and a captain on the police force that I knew. I used to work for the city attorney’s office, and still represent, the city credit union and have a brother on the police force, so, I have known many of these people for many years. I called Captain King and asked him whether or not Oswald was represented by an attorney, if he knew if there was an attorney up there, or anybody who had been up there representing him, and Captain King said that as far as he knew there had been no one representing him, and as far as he knew, Oswald had not asked for a lawyer. He had not asked for the right to call a lawyer, and or had not asked that a lawyer be furnished to him—and Captain King said, “If he does, I am certainly going to call you and let you know, because we want to be sure if he wants a lawyer he gets one. We don’t want it to be a situation of anybody saying that we deprived him of the right to have a lawyer.”

About that time Chief Curry looked up and saw me, and he knew me and motioned me in, and I went in there and he introduced me to one of the FBI agents who was there, and I told him I was up there as president of the bar association looking for Captain King. I had talked to him earlier and I had come up: there to see whether or not Mr. Oswald had a lawyer, or needed a lawyer, or wanted the Dallas Bar Association to do anything.

The chief said that he was glad to see me and would take me up to see Oswald himself and, so, we immediately left his office and started to another part of the building, and he asked me where I wanted to talk to him. If I wanted to be taken to a room or some place, or what would be convenient with me, and I told him that any place would be all–I just wanted to visit with the man and see what his situation was with regard to him having a lawyer. So, we then went through a door on the third floor and got into the elevator and went up to the sixth floor, and the chief again asked me where I wanted to talk to him. I said, “Well, just any place.”

By that time we had gotten to a portion of the jail that was separated by bars and a door. Beyond that door were three separate cells, and there was an officer seated outside one, and then we went through the first door and got to that point and Mr. Oswald was in the centre of the three cells, no one being in the other two, and there was an officer seated outside there. The chief had the officer open the door, and he introduced me to Oswald, and told him my name and said that I was the president of the Dallas Bar Association and had come up to see him about whether or not he needed or wanted a lawyer, and then the chief stepped back and–I don’t really know how far away. He was at least–he was far enough removed where I couldn’t observe him or see him there in the cell. The officer stayed just right outside the door there. I reintroduced myself to Oswald and told him my name, and that I was president of the Dallas bar, and that I had come up to see him about whether or not he had a lawyer, or needed a lawyer, or wanted a lawyer, and suggested that he sit down.

So, he sat on one bunk and I sat on the other. Maybe 3 or 4 feet apart. When I got there he was lying on a bunk, and then he stood up when I came in and then he sat on one bunk and I sat on the other, much as you and I are seated here, only actually, a little bit closer, and I asked him if he had a lawyer, and he said, “Well, he really didn’t know what it was all about, that he was–had been incarcerated, and kept incommunicado, and I said, “Well, I have come up to see whether or not you want a lawyer, because as I under-stand–” I am not exactly sure what I ,said there, or whether he said some-thing about not knowing what happened to President Kennedy, or I said that I understood that he was arrested for the shot that killed the President, and I don’t remember who said what after that. This is a little bit vague. I had covered that point in detail, and I don’t recall exactly, but in any event, our conversation was such that I informed him that I was there to see whether or not he had a lawyer, or wanted a lawyer, and he said–he asked me first did I know a lawyer in New York named John Abt, and I don’t know if it is A-b-t, or A-p-t.

Mr. STERN. I believe it is A-b-t.

Mr. NICHOLS. I believe it is. In New York City, I said I didn’t know him, and he said, “Well, I would like to have him to represent me,” and at some period I believe prior to that, either in talking to the police, or talking to–must have been talking to either Captain King or the chief—I had been told that some effort had been made to get hold of Mr. Abt, and that he was in Connecticut at his home, and maybe, and I have forgotten who said who was trying to get ahold of him. At least, I did vaguely know that someone was trying to get ahold of him, but I told Mr. Oswald I didn’t know him. He said, “Well, that is the man he would like to have represent him.” Then he asked me if I knew any lawyers who were members of the American Civil Liberties Union, and he said, “Well, I am a member of that organization, and I would like to have somebody who is a member of that organization represent me.” And I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know anybody who is a member of that organization.”

Although, as it turned out later, a number of lawyers I know are members. Two or three of them called me later. He said, “Well, if I can’t get either one of those, and if I can—-”

Mr. STERN. That is either—-

Mr. NICHOLS. “Either Mr. Abt or someone who is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and if I can find a lawyer here who believes in anything I believe in, and believes as I believe, and believes in my innocence”-then paused a little bit, and went on a little bit and said, “as much as he can, I might let him represent me.”

I said, “What I am interested in knowing is right now, do you want me or the Dallas Bar Association to try to get you a lawyer?”

He said, “No, not now.”

He said, “You might come back next week, and if I don’t get some of these other people to represent me, I might ask you to get somebody to represent me.”

I said, “Well, now, all I want to do is to make it clear to you, and to me, whether or not you want me or the Dallas Bar Association to do anything about getting a lawyer right now.”

And he said, “No.” “….As I left the chief asked me whether or not I wanted to make a statement to the press, and I said, “Well, I don’t know whether I do or not. I don’t know whether it is the thing to do or not.” And he said, “Well, they are going to be right outside the door there, and if you want to say anything this would be an opportunity to do it. Incidentally, I am very glad you came up here. We don’t want any question coming up about us refusing to let him have a lawyer. As far as I know, he has never asked for one. He has never asked to call one.” We know that this is utter rubbish.

Curry lasts for just over five minutes and then makes his exit.


H. Louis Nichols Dallas Times Herald Dec 16 1963. Click article to enlarge.


And in this video by Jessica Smith, H. Louis Nichols remembers that day, below is an edited version relating to his visit on the 23rd.


The Dallas Morning News of Louis Nichols’ obituary from April 27th 2010 makes a mention of a few interesting bits.

Esteemed law school deans from “back East” were calling to express concern that only a legal backwater would deny an attorney to a murder suspect, Mr. Nichols’ friends told him. Nichols described Oswald, who was dressed in a white T-shirt and slacks, as calm and rested. He had a bruise over one eye but appeared to be in good health.

He said that police were holding him “incommunicado” and that he did not know what had happened to the president, Mr. Nichols told the Warren Commission. Oswald said he wanted a New York lawyer named John Abt or a lawyer associated with the American Civil Liberties Union to represent him. Oswald also wanted a lawyer “who believes as I believe, and believes in my innocence.” “What I am interested in is knowing right now, do you want me or the Dallas Bar Association to try to get you a lawyer?” Mr. Nichols asked Oswald. “No, not right now,” he replied. And this, knowing that he had appealed to Ruth Paine and his mom to contact Abt at about the same time, rings true. If only Nichols had appeared a few hours earlier…… Mr. Nichols, who was 47 at the time, left the jail cell confident that he had done his duty as bar association president.

Reading all this and knowing that Oswald asked several times for a lawyer during the 22nd and asked for one during the press conference early on the 23rd. Knowing also that Greg Olds, Grier Raggio, Otto Mullinax and L.N.D. Wells of the ACLU made their appearance shortly before Oswald’s press conference yet were not allowed to get into contact with Oswald you have to ask why all this is covered in so much smoke and mirrors.