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On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald

3.9 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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(Oct 28, 2008)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Among the most heinous criminal acts ever committed on American soil is the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. When accused gunman Lee Harvey Oswald was himself shot to death two days later while in police custody, Americans were denied hard answers to a brutal and bewildering mystery.
ON TRIAL: LEE HARVEY OSWALD recalls all of the surviving witnesses to determine the guilt or innocence of the man believed to have murdered JFK. First broadcast by the Showtime cable network in 1986 to mark the 23rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, ON TRIAL: LEE HARVEY OSWALD is a daring, one-of-a-kind experiment with the goal to heal a nation.

November 22nd, 2008 marks the 45th anniversary of JFK s assassination.

Features prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi and defending attorney Gerry Spence, two of the most publicly revered legal minds of the 20th century.


... a fascinating lesson in history and law. And, not incidentally, TV s best courtroom drama ever. --Time Magazine

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Vincent Bugliosi
  • Directors: n, a
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • DVD Release Date: October 28, 2008
  • Run Time: 330 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,011 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

The quote I used in the title of this review came from the lips of Mrs. Ruth Paine in 1986, and can be heard on this DVD. Mrs. Paine was one of the very few people in the world who knew Mr. and Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald fairly well just prior to November 22, 1963, which was the Friday when Lee Oswald took a gun to work and assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

In July of 1986, Mrs. Paine was one of several people who travelled from America to London in order to participate in a TV "docu-trial" ("ON TRIAL: LEE HARVEY OSWALD"), a simulated courtroom trial produced by "London Weekend Television".

The mock trial was 21 hours long, but approximately 75% of that filmed footage was left on the cutting-room floor, with the 21 hours' worth of trial material being trimmed down to a little more than 5 hours for its original two-part "Showtime" cable-TV broadcast on November 21 and 22, 1986.

This 2-Disc DVD edition of "On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald" contains the entire uncut docu-trial as it was originally aired in November 1986 by the Showtime network in the United States (5+ hours of programming).

However, some portions of the original Showtime broadcast featuring host Edwin Newman and other commentators (such as Jack Anderson, Ramsey Clark, and Alan Dershowitz) have not been included on this DVD.

Very brief interview snippets with the two lead attorneys involved in the trial (Vincent Bugliosi and Gerry Spence) that were aired on TV in '86 have also been removed for this DVD presentation. But all of the in-the-courtroom footage from the original '86 Showtime broadcast appears to be intact and included in this MPI Home Video version.
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I purchased this DVD after reading the lengthy book, "Reclaiming History" by Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the mock trial presented here. Like many people I have always believed in the probable existence of a conspiracy in the JFK assassination, nevertheless, my mind was changed after reading the very lengthy Bugliosi book. Frankly, I was unaware that a mock trial had ever taken place until reading of it in this book. Learning that Gerry Spence had been the defense attorney, and being an attorney myself, I was very eager to get a chance to see these two attorneys cross swords in a courtroom.

Unfortunately from an attorney's perspective, this DVD presentation of the mock trial was disappointing. From the very beginning I was shocked at the degree to which Mr. Bugliosi persisted in leading his witnesses, seemingly with no objection from Mr. Spence. I realize that leading the witnesses in a mock trial for television might be simply a means of saving time, but when Mr. Spence did finally object, he did so with a statement that he did not usually object to his opponent leading witnesses during trial testimony. Somehow I found this statement difficult to believe.

Naturally the trial made use of the Zapruder film. Unfortunately, however, the viewer was provided with no view of the diagrams of the wounds or bullet paths that played so important a role in determining whether Oswald acted alone or only as part of a conspiracy. I know that the jurors in the mock trial were made aware of those photos and diagrams since I saw some of the blow-ups of them in the courtroom. Perhaps if I had not seen them or already known of their existence, I would not have felt as cheated as a viewer by not having them presented as part of the trial on the DVD.
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I am a long-time Bugliosi fan (had the distinct pleasure to meet and talk with him as well). I didn't know about the three-day 1986 docu-trial until reading his Reclaiming History in 2007, which is the definitive work on the lone-assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. Only recently I checked to see if it was available on Amazon and ordered "On Trial" right away. I didn't read the fine print and expected about 20 hours of courtroom drama. Seeing Vincent Bugliosi in action verified my admiration of his lawyerly skills and incredible intellect. Watching and listening to some actual witnesses who had first-hand knowledge of the assassination and other details (like Mrs. Ruth Paine), for anyone who has an interest in this seminal historical event ensures that it will keep your attention.

Gerry Spence, a capable and compelling defense attorney in his own right, did the best he could under the circumstances. Many times though sidestepping the facts and diving headlong into the conspiracy babble.

I would have rated the program a "5" but for the following: I've spent many days in federal courtrooms as a case agent or witness and never saw this kind of banter; the leading questions (which Spence objected to but did the same himself) and the accelerated pace of the testimony. I had to grudgingly accept the fact that this was still theatrics and the condensed version (of the DVD) robbed us of many more important details. Five and a half hours wasn't nearly enough time to get a real sense of what (probably a three or four month) trial of Oswald would have been like.

I would have preferred, and paid for, the full 20 hours or so of the original docu-trial, but, even at that, it's well worth the price. Having offered some criticism, I would still strongly recommend "On Trial."
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