Homer Thornberry was born in Austin, Texas, on 9th January, 1909. His parents were teachers in the State School for the Deaf. Thornberry himself attended Austin High School. According to Alfred Steinberg (Sam Johnson's Boy) Thornberry became friends with Lyndon B. Johnson in the early 1920s.
After graduating from the University of Texas in 1932 Thornberry attended law school. He was admitted to the bar in 1936 and began working as a lawyer in Austin. Later that year he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives.
Thornberry became district attorney of the fifty-third judicial district of Texas in 1941. The following year he resigned to serve in the United States Navy. He served during the Second World War and by the time he left the service in February, 1946, he had reached the rank of lieutenant commander.
Thornberry was a member of Suite 8F Group. The name comes from the room in the Lamar Hotel in Houston where they held their meetings. Members of the group included George Brown and Herman Brown (Brown & Root), Jesse H. Jones (multi-millionaire investor in a large number of organizations and chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation), Gus Wortham (American General Insurance Company), James Abercrombie (Cameron Iron Works), Hugh R. Cullen (Quintana Petroleum), William Hobby (Governor of Texas and owner of the Houston Post), William Vinson (Great Southern Life Insurance), James Elkins (American General Insurance and Pure Oil Pipe Line), Morgan J. Davis (Humble Oil), Albert Thomas (chairman of the House Appropriations Committee), Lyndon B. Johnson (Majority Leader of the Senate) and John Connally (Texas politician). Homer Thornberry, Alvin Wirtz, Thomas Corcoran and Edward Clark, were four lawyers who also worked closely with the Suite 8F Group.
In 1948 Thornberry helped Lyndon B. Johnson in his campaign to be elected to the U.S. Senate. His main opponent in the Democratic primary (Texas was virtually a one party state and the most important elections were those that decided who would be the Democratic Party candidate) was Coke Stevenson. On 2nd September, unofficial results had Stevenson winning by 362 votes. However, by the time the results became official, Johnson was declared the winner by 17 votes. Stevenson immediately claimed that he was a victim of election fraud. On 24th September, Judge T. Whitfield Davidson, invalidated the results of the election and set a trial date.
Thornberry was elected to Congress and served from January 3, 1949 until his resignation fourteen years later. According to Dick Russell (The Man Who Knew Too Much), Lyndon B. Johnson described Thornberry as "my congressman". Thornberry is quoted in the book as saying: "It's just unbelievable how many things he (Johnson) and Mrs. Johnson did to help us when we went to Washington".
When John F. Kennedy offered Lyndon B. Johnson the post of Vice President, one of the first people he contacted was Homer Thornberry. He replied: "I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. Tell Jack (Kennedy) anything you want, but don't take it." However, soon afterwards he phoned Johnson back to say he changed his mind and that he should accept the post.
On 5th June, 1963, Thornberry attended a meeting with John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, John Connally, Fred Korth and Clifton C. Carter at the Cortez Hotel in El Paso, to discuss the president's forthcoming trip to Dallas. Thornberry was in the presidential motorcade with Johnson when Kennedy was assassinated.
A few days after the assassination Johnson phoned Homer Thornberry and invited him to "come down and have a drink with me". The two men had two meetings in December, 1963. In a taped White House conversation on 17th December, 1963, Lyndon Johnson admitted that he went to parties held at the house of Bobby Baker with Homer Thornberry and Walter Jenkins. On 20th December, Thornberry resigned his congressional seat. The following day Johnson appointed Thornberry as U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Texas. This enabled him to replace R. E. Thompson as the judge in the case of Richard Case Nagell.
Nagell admitted that he was working for theCentral Intelligence Agency as a double agent. This involved becoming an activist in the American Communist Party. Nagell also claimed he was involved in monitoring a group of Cuban exiles plotting against Fidel Castro. In 1963 Nagell discovered that this group was planning to assassinating John F. Kennedy while making it appear that it had been ordered by Castro. When he told the KGB they ordered him to warn Lee Harvey Oswald about what was happening. Nagell also claimed he told the FBI and CIA about the plot. In September, 1963, Nagell walked into a bank in El Paso, Texas, and fired two shots into the ceiling and then waited to be arrested. Nagell claimed he did this to isolate himself from the assassination plot.
Three days after being appointed as District Court Judge, Thornberry presided over Nagell's first hearing. When Nagel mentioned the name of Oswald, Thornberry cut him off by saying that he ruled that he was "competent to stand trial" and announced that the "court is now adjourned".
At the next hearing on 10th April, 1964, Richard Case Nagell asked if "all FBI reports and data which is pertinent to the charge against me for attempted bank robbery be subpoenaed for my trial". Thornberry immediately denied the request and the trial began on 4th May. Found guilty, Nagel was sentenced to ten years in prison.
In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Abe Fortas as a member of the Supreme Court. In June 1968, Earl Warren retired as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Johnson had no hesitation in appointing Fortas as his replacement. Johnson also suggested Thornberry should replace Fortas. The Senate had doubts about the wisdom of Fortas becoming Chief Justice. It was later discovered that Fortas had lied when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In October, Fortas asked for his nomination to be withdrawn. Johnson was also forced to withdraw the name of Thornberry.
Thornberry remained as Judge of US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit from 1965 until his death in Austin, Texas, on 12th December, 1995.
The automobile in which I rode was driven by a Dallas policeman. I sat in the middle of the front seat and held some radio equipment on my lap. Special Agent Jerry D. Kivett sat on my right and Special Agent Len Johns and someone else were in the rear seat. This was an unmarked Dallas police car.Nothing unusual occurred on the motorcade route from Love Field to the downtown Dallas area. The crowds were very large and very friendly, except for two or three signs which contained derogatory comments about President Kennedy. I would estimate that the crowds were twice as big as they were in September of 1960 when Mr. Kennedy campaigned in Dallas. The motorcade slowed down at times, but I do not believe that it stopped.The motorcade proceeded west on Main Street, made a righthand turn onto Houston and then swung around to the left on Elm, proceeding slowly at about 5 to 10 miles per hour. At approximately 12:30 p.m., our car had just made the lefthand turn off Houston onto Elm Street and was right along side of the Texas School Book Depository Building when I heard a noise which sounded like a firecracker. Special Agent Youngblood, who was seated on the righthand side of the front seat of Vice President Johnson's car immediately turned and pushed Vice President Johnson down and in the same motion vaulted over the seat and covered the Vice President with his body. At that instant Mrs. Johnson and Senator Yarborough, who were riding in the back seat along with the Vice President, bent forward. Special Agent Youngblood's action came immediately after the first shot and before the succeeding shots.I distinctly remember three shots. There was an interval of approximately 5 to 6 seconds from the first to the last shot, and the three shots were evenly spaced. The motorcade promptly accelerated and traveled at high speeds up to 75 to 80 miles an hour to Parkland Memorial Hospital. The President's automobile, the President's follow-up car, the Vice President's automobile, and the Vice President's follow-up car pulled into the emergency entrance at Parkland. Attendants from the hospital with two stretchers carried President Kennedy and Governor Connally into the hospital. At one point I briefly helped remove Governor Connally from the car onto the stretcher. After President Kennedy and Governor Connally had been taken into the hospital, Vice President Johnson, Mrs. Johnson, Special Agent Youngblood and I entered the emergency area and were taken to a small room where we waited. I went out on a couple of occasions to secure coffee. Congressmen Henry Gonzalez, Jack Brooks, Homer Thornberry and Albert Thomas came into the room where Vice President Johnson waited. About 1 o'clock Mrs. Johnson left the room, stating that she wanted to visit with Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Connally.At 1:12 p.m. Special Agent Emery Roberts brought the news that President Kennedy was dead. At that moment the only people present were Vice President Johnson, Congressman Thornberry, Special Agent Len Johns, and I. Special Agent Roberts advised Vice President Johnson to return to the White House forthwith because of the concern of the Secret Service that there might be a widespread plot to assassinate Vice President Johnson as well as President Kennedy.Vice President Johnson then asked that Kenny (O'Donnell) and Larry (O'Brien) be consulted to determine what their views were on returning promptly to Washington. Kenny and Larry came down and told Vice President Johnson that they agreed he should return to Washington immediately. Vice President Johnson then asked me to try to alert some of the members of his staff to go to the airport for the return trip to Washington. I then proceeded to look for those members of the staff, and I was later driven to Love Field by a young Dallas policeman. By the time I returned to the Presidential plane (AF-1), Vice President and Mrs. Johnson had already boarded the plane and arrangements had already been made to have Vice President Johnson sworn-in as the President. I do not have any personal knowledge of Vice President Johnson's conversation with Attorney General Kennedy concerning the advisability of a prompt swearing-in or of the arrangements to have Judge Sara Hughes participate in that ceremony. I was present at the swearing-in and shortly thereafter the President's plane took off for the Washington area.The original conversations concerning President Kennedy's trip to Texas occurred on June 5, 1963 at the Cortez Hotel in El Paso, Texas. President Kennedy had spoken earlier that day at the Air Force Academy and Vice President Johnson had spoken at Annapolis. The President and Vice President met with Governor Connally at the Cortez Hotel to discuss a number of matters, including a trip by the President to Texas. Fred Korth and I were present when the three men assembled, but Fred Korth and I left during their discussion of the President's proposed trip. The first tentative date was to have the trip coincide with Vice-President Johnson's birthday on August 27th, but that was rejected because it was too close to Labor Day. President Kennedy's other commitments prevented him from coming to Texas any sooner than November 21st, which was the date finally set.(2) Larry Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked (2003)
On May 5, Richard Nagell was tried and convicted by Judge Homer Thomberry. Judge Thomberry was a long time friend of then President Johnson, had ridden in the Dallas motorcade, flown to Washington, D.C. in AF1 and spent the evening and the next few days after the assassination at Johnson's home and in the new President's company. Within a relatively short time after his involvement in the Nagell legal actions. Judge Thomberry was nominated for a seat on the United States Supreme Court by President Johnson. Judge Thomberry had been a Texas Congressman up to the fall of 1963 when he resigned his Congressional seat, shortly thereafter to take a seat on the Federal Bench for west Texas - a seat granted as part of the Texas patronage allowed to Vice President Johnson by President Kennedy. In addition to Thomberry, President Johnson also nominated and successfully placed Abe Fortas on the Supreme Court. Fortas had been serving as legal counsel for Bobby Baker before leaving him to become part of Johnson's inner circle and being assigned responsibility to coordinate all the assassination investigations for Johnson. Fortas' term on the Supreme Court bench was relatively short as he was forced to resign over a scandal involving payments from a criminal appearing before the Court.