Online Collection

Image of Melvin Belli and Joe Tonahill surrounded by reporters

Object Number: 2004.058.0194.0002
Category: Photographs
Photographer: Bill Winfrey
Type of Object: Negative (b&w)
Dimensions: 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 in. (5.7 x 5.7 cm)
Medium: Film
Description
Original black and white negative on Kodak Safety Film by Dallas Morning News photographer Bill Winfrey showing Melvin Belli and Joe Tonahill on the stairs of the Dallas County Criminal Courts Building.

Belli and Tonahill, who represented Jack Ruby in his trial for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, stand surrounded by members of the world press just after the jury returned a guilty verdict on March 14, 1964.

To Mr. Belli's right is Agence France-Press (AFP) reporter Francois Pelou. Dallas Times Herald staff photographer Willie Allen is visible in the center of the image looking back over his right shoulder; he is wearing a white shirt and is holding a camera in his hands. The man in the dark suit on the left edge of the crowd next to the Dallas Police Department officers is Murphy Martin, a reporter with ABC. Cameras from KTVT and KRLD are visible in the foreground.
Curator's Notes

This photograph was taken shortly after the guilty verdict was announced at the Ruby trial. Inside the courtroom, defense attorney Melvin Belli had provided this scathing perspective on the situation: "I hope the people of Dallas are proud of this jury that was shoved down our throats....  Every Texas jurist knows this thing was the greatest railroading kangaroo court disgrace in the history of American law....  Why in a civilized country in the heart of darkest Africa you wouldn't argue a man's life starting at twelve o'clock in the morning. When I think that we're coming into holy week and Good Friday, to have a sacrifice like this, I think we're back 2,000 years. And the blight that's on Dallas with those twelve people who announced the death penalty in this case, they'll make this a city of shame forevermore." Belli continued his critical assessment outside on the steps of the Dallas County Criminal Courts building. - Stephen Fagin, Curator

In November 1964, while the verdict was awaiting appeal, an outraged Melvine Belli, along with Maurice C. Carroll, a journalist who had covered the Ruby trial for The New York Herald Tribune, wrote a book called Dallas Justice: The Real Story of Jack Ruby and His Trial (1964). This hostile account of the trial blamed the judge, jury, prosecutors and Dallas law enforcement for the unjust verdict. You can see this book in the Museum's Reading Room. - Krishna Shenoy, Librarian/Archivist

This image, along with materials from the DA's Ruby file (which is on loan to the Museum) and from the Museum's permanent collection, briefly appeared in a temporary display on the Museum's seventh floor in 2017. - Lindsey Richardson, Curator of Collections

All requests for permission to reproduce, publish or broadcast materials in this collection must be submitted to the Museum's registrar, using the Rights & Reproductions Request Form. Inquiries may be sent to registrar@jfk.org.