Law: How many autopsies have you done or assisted?
O'Connor: Probably at that time fifty to sixty.
Law: You knew what you were doing when you were in there?
Law: Do you feel that you got an opportunity to follow a normal autopsy?
O'Connor: On the brain?
Law: On any of it.
Law: What was different about it?
O'Connor: Number one, as I said before, the wound was so massive inside of his head there was hardly any brain matter left. There was no brain really. There was no brain really for us, for myself, to take out. There was no need for me to open up the cranium because the cranium was completely shattered. When I say "shattered," not only was the brain blown open, where nothing was left, but the rest of t he cranium - the skull cap - was totally fractured. By "totally fractured," I mean it was comminuted. Comminution means if you took a hard-boiled egg and dropped it on the floor, there are hundreds of fractures in the shell and that's the way the president's skull was. It was just malleable - moved back and forth - and what was left of the cranium was completely shattered. His right eye, as I remember, was poked completely out of the orbit, the eye casing. I remember that Dr. Boswell and I looked into the back of the cranium, looking towards the front, and the orbit-the bony casing around where the eye sits was completely fractured.
Law: When you saw there was no brain, what took place then?
O'Connor: It got very tense. Admiral Galloway started getting very agitated again, because there was a wound in his neck. Now the wound - and of course I had seen tracheotomies, where you make an incision and you make it up to down to put in a tube to help a person breathe-the wound was a big gash and more horizontal-and I remember the doctors were going to check that out when Admiral Galloway told them, "Leave it alone. Don't touch it. It's just a tracheotomy".
Law: So he basically stopped anyone from going further?
O'Connor: He stopped anybody from going further. Drs. Humes and Boswell, Dr. Finck, were told to leave it alone, let's go to other things.
Law: Now you've seen tracheotomies before. You've dealt with them. What was your thought when you saw that? The hole in the president's throat that was said to be a tracheotomy?
O'Connor: It looked very sloppy, very nasty, very ugly. Usually a tracheotomy is made with a very sharp, pointed knife and it's very clean. This tracheotomy, or so called tracheotomy was all macerated and torn apart, and it went this way, both sides, which is very dangerous. If you do a tracheotomy across the throat, you stand a chance of killing a person, because you have on each side of the trachea two large arteries, the carotid arteries, and right beside them are the jugular veins. Arteries run the blood up into the brain and the jugular veins run the blood down back into the heart and lungs. If you make a horizontal incision, you stand a good chance of severing those arteries, which would make a person bleed to death immediately.
Law: Having been told to leave the tracheotomy alone, what happened next?
O'Connor: When we started an autopsy, the first thing we always did - and we never deviated from our procedures-was to weigh and measure the body. We'd check for any scars, contusions, any abnormalities, and so on. But, in this case, we didn't turn the body over to look at the back while we were doing that. Finally we turned the body over, and there was a bullet wound-an entrance wound-in his back, on the right side of his spinal column. To emphasize where it was in proximity to the rest of his body: if you bend your neck down and feel back, you feel a lump and that's the seventh cervical vertebra. This bullet wound was about three inches down and an inch or two to the right of the seventh cervical vertebra. I remember that there was a big gush of surprise that nobody had' actually thought about turning him over right away, you know after we had done our initial investigation of the president's body. Dr. Humes took his finger and poked it in the hole - the bullet-wound hole, the entrance-wound hole- and said it didn't go anywhere. There was a very big argument, a lot of consternation, that he shouldn't have stuck his finger in the hole.
Law: What difference would it make?
O'Connor: Well, when you take your finger and stick it into a bullet wound, you avulse the wound, which means that you make the wound abnormal.
Law: You think that happened when he stuck his finger in the back?
Law: Could it have created a false track?
O'Connor: Well, not necessarily a false track as much as a false impression of the entrance of the missile that went into his back.
Law: Who was arguing?
O'Connor: Dr. Finck had come over from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed Army Hospital. He was a forensic pathologist and he strongly objected to Commander Humes doing what he did. He took a sound. Now a sound is a probe, a metal malleable, non-rigid probe. Malleable means you can move it hack and forth and bend it a little bit and trace a bullet path through the body. Now, there are high-powered weapons that will drive a bullet straight through a body and a rigid probe will trace its path all the way through. We started out with a rigid probe and found that it only went in so far. I'd say maybe an inch and a quarter. It didn't go any further than that. So we used a malleable probe and bent it a little bit and found out that the bullet entered the body, went through the intercostal muscles - the muscles in between the ribs. The bullet went in through the muscles, didn't touch any of the ribs, arched downwards, hit the back of the pleural cavity, which encases the lungs, both front and back. It bounced off that cavity and stopped. It actually went down and stopped. Went through the ribs and stopped (photo 10). So we didn't know the track of the bullet until we eviscerated the body later. That's what happened at that time. We traced the bullet path down and found out it didn't traverse the body. It did not go in one side and come out the other side of the body.
Law: You can be reasonably sure of that?
Law: It was just from the probe then?
O'Connor: Oh yes.
Law: And these doctors knew that?
Law: While it happened?
O'Connor: Absolutely. And another thing, we found out, while the autopsy was proceeding, that he was shot from a high building, which meant the bullet had to be traveling in a downward trajectory and we also realized that this bullet - that hit him in the back - is what we called in the military a "short shot," which means that the powder in the bullet was defective so it didn't have the power to push the projectile - the bullet-clear through the body. If it had been a full shot at the angle he was shot, it would have come out through his heart and through his sternum.
Law: After you traced the wound, what happened then?
O'Connor: After that, we looked at the head wound and found that there were no bullets in the cranium. Minute fragments were scattered through the bone area of the cranium front and back. I remember distinctly because, having worked in funeral homes since I was thirteen years old, I had seen bullet wounds before, and also I served in Vietnam and saw bullet wounds there. It looked to me like a bomb had exploded inside his brain and blew out the whole side of his head. I've never seen a more horrendous destruction of the cranium, unless it was done by a very high caliber weapon. I found out later that it was done by a Mannlicher Carcano - a cheap Italian rifle - just about what I would call a thirty caliber or a thirty-thirty caliber rifle.
Law: In your opinion is it capable of doing that kind of damage?
O'Connor: Absolutely not.