Perry Russo was born in 1943. Russo lived in New Orleans where he worked as an insurance salesman for Equitable Life.
In 1969 Jim Garrison persuaded Russo to give evidence against Clay Shaw. Russo claimed in September, 1963, he overheard Shaw and David Ferrie discussing the proposed assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was suggested that the crime could be blamed on Fidel Castro.
During Shaw's trial Russo's testimony was discredited by the revelation that he underwent hypnosis and had been administered sodium pentathol, or "truth serum," at the request of the persecution. It claimed that Russo only came up with a link between Clay Shaw , David Ferrie and Lee Harvey Oswald after these treatments. The jury found Shaw not guilty of conspiring to assassinate John F. Kennedy.
Perry Russo, who worked as a taxi driver in his later years, died of a heart attack in New Orleans in August, 1995.
Russo was significant because he was the first eyewitness to have overheard Shaw and Perrie engaging in a discussion of the prospective murder of John Kennedy. In my judgment, even without Russo we had sufficient evidence to support a charge against Shaw of participating in the conspiracy to murder the President. But that evidence was circumstantial. As an experienced trial attorney, I knew that laymen are particularly responsive to eyewitness testimony, and Russo provided that in full measure. Consequently, upon first learning how strong the conversation between Shaw and Ferrie was, I decided to take the additional precaution of confirming the veracity of Russo's recollection. The lawyers on the special team and I considered using a "lie detector" test, but since such tests are highly imperfect and inadmissible in court we rejected the idea. Instead, we chose to use hypnosis and Sodium Penrothal. Both treatments were administered to Russo
under close medical supervision. And both revealed that Russo was indeed telling the truth.
So when we called Perry Russo to the witness stand at Shaw's preliminary hearing we were confident. After the usual preliminary questions, bringing out his background and allowing him to relax in the courtroom surroundings, assistant D.A.'s Ward and Oser asked Russo about a gathering at David Ferrie's apartment.
Russo responded that when he dropped in at Ferrie's place, "somewhere around the middle of September 1963," an informal gathering - which he described as "some sort of party" - was just breaking up. Some of Ferrie's usual bevy of youngsters were there but soon left. Russo said a former girlfriend of his, Sandra Moffett, was also there for a while. After she departed, there remained, according to Russo, a scattering of anti-Castro Cubans - a group which occasionally came by to visit Ferrie. A few of them stayed on for a little while.
The press of course had a field day with the entire preliminary hearing and there have been many descriptions of my grim expressions, my chain smoking, etc, etc. etc. One of the curious things about Russo's testimony, was that he did not feel that we had made any definite plans for the assassination of the President but had talked about it in general terms. He did say, of course, that there was much talk about the need for a scape goat, and that none of the three of us could possibly appear at the time of the assassination. It was agreed, according to him, that Ferrie was to go to Hammond, I would be on the West Coast traveling for my firm, as he put it, and it wasn't very clear what was going to happen to Harvey Lee Oswald [sic]. Another startling defect in his testimony was his insistence that the man he had known as Leon Oswald, and whom he identified as Ferrie's roommate, had always been very unkempt, unshaven, with lots of hair. In fact, he was not able to identify Leon Oswald as Lee Harvey Oswald until a police artist had sketched an unshaven beard onto the chin of the photograph he had originally been shown. This of course was directly contrary to all the evidence of people who knew Oswald which indicates that he was psychopathically neat and tidy in his personal appearance. The other incredible part of his story is that Oswald lived with his wife until September 23 and she returned to Dallas and then he himself left for Mexico on the 25th, which would have given him very little time to be Mr. Ferrie's roommate. Above all, the real damaging thing in Russo's testimony is why he did not come forward previously. He says he was busy with school work, had a lot of things on his mind, didn't want to push himself on people, felt the FBI knew what they were doing, and therefore he felt no necessity as a citizen to come forward and describe to the FBI the assassination plot he alleges he overheard sometime in late September or early October, in the apartment of Ferrie. This is manifestly absurd, as is the notion that I would ever undertake such a plot under the conditions he describes.
I can only assume that he is acting out of self-interest, or for publicity, or because he has been hypnotized and this information fed to him. He is certainly not averse to publicity, and some very rapid investigation on the part of our people indicates that he has a very bad reputation in several areas, particularly for his operations in the French Quarter. He has also, by his own admission, been under psychiatric treatment for some time. All in all, not a very reliable witness, but sufficient for the DA to have me bound over.
At the Shaw trial, Russo testified that several months before the JFK assassination, he was at a party also attended by Shaw, Lee Harvey Oswald, and David W. Ferrie, and that assassinating President Kennedy was discussed.
"Ferrie was in control of the gathering," Russo said years later in a videotaped interview. "He was in one of his obsessive evenings concerning his hatred of the President of the United States."
In 1967, before the Clay Shaw trial began, NBC broadcast a documentary on the case, which Garrison defenders generally agree was an attempt to discredit the prosecutor. The documentary's producer, Walter Sheridan, appeared on the program and said, "In my conversations with Perry Russo he has stated that his testimony against Clay Shaw may be a combination of truth, fantasy, and lies."
Russo, however, said Sheridan "was not investigating any facts. His only purpose was - and he stated it pointedly - he said, 'I'm going to take Garrison out of this.' He says, 'You're going down with him.'"
Russo said that Sheridan offered to relocate him, get him a job, and protect him from extradition. In exchange for that, Russo said, Sheridan wanted him to retract his identification of Shaw and his testimony about the party attended by Shaw, Ferrie, and Oswald, where Russo said an assassination plot was discussed.
"What Walter Sheridan was asking me to do was an absolute lie," Russo said. "Shaw was there. Ferrie was there. Oswald was there."