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Home News-Telegram News State News Dispute over JFK 'sniper's perch' to head to court

Dispute over JFK 'sniper's perch' to head to court

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 DALLAS (AP) — A long-running dispute between two men who both claim to own the "sniper's perch" where Lee Harvey Oswald positioned himself to fire on President John F. Kennedy will return to court next month.

Testimony was to have begun Monday to determine the owner of the actual sixth-floor window from the Texas School Book Depository, but the hearing was moved to March 16 because there's a new lawyer in the case.

Caruth Byrd, 67, of Van, has sued Aubrey Mayhew, 81, of Nashville, Tenn. Byrd says he inherited the window from his father, who owned the building and removed it about six weeks after Kennedy's assassination in 1963. Mayhew, who owned the building from 1970-73, claims to own the perch and says the elder Byrd removed the wrong window.

Byrd has already won a no evidence summary judgment declaring that Mayhew does not own the true sniper's perch. He wants the court to force Mayhew to return the window in his possession or pay him the window's value, actions that would end Mayhew's claim to possessing the true perch.

In court papers, however, Byrd has acknowledged that Mayhew's window, if it exists, "could possibly have been the Sniper's Perch."

Joel C. Elliott, Byrd's attorney, said in a statement that Byrd believes Mayhew wrongfully removed a window and the sole issue left to decide is whether Mayhew must return it.

"Mr. Caruth C. Byrd ... is confident and looks forward to the conclusion of this case which concerns such an important part of this city's history, as well as our country's," Elliott said.

The contentious case dates back more than 45 years, when Col. D. Harold Byrd, a wealthy Texas oilman, removed the sixth-floor window and eventually framed and displayed it in his home, his son said. Byrd said he inherited the window in 1986.

"Dad gave me the window," said Byrd, who wore a bolo tie and white cowboy boots to court.

Mayhew, who bought the building from Byrd and owned it for three years until defaulting on his loan, said he had the window removed in 1971. Mayhew, who is in poor health and in need of full-time care, did not attend the hearing Monday.

"Mayhew is a dedicated — I don't want to call him a historian — but he has an interest in history," said his attorney, Paul Fourt. "And (Byrd) is pretty well convinced my client has the window."

Mayhew, enthusiastic collector of JFK memorabilia, had hoped to turn the site into a museum when he owned the building. But city sentiment at the time ran against memorializing the location, and there was discussion about tearing down the building, Fourt said.

"It was an eyesore," Fourt said. "The Byrds wanted to let it become a parking lot."

The dispute was revived in the mid-1990s, when the younger Byrd loaned his window to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, a museum now in the old depository building that examines the life and death of Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists, who still sit outside the museum selling pamphlets and books to tourists, pointed out that the window on display didn't match photos taken of the building at the time of the assassination.

A spokeswoman with the museum declined to comment Monday.

Byrd tried to sell the window in an online auction two years ago. That's when Mayhew resurfaced, claiming he owned the rightful window.

In March 2007, Byrd filed his lawsuit, arguing that Mayhew's claim was fraudulent, created doubt among possible buyers and lowered the value of the window. In court papers, he also argued that Mayhew was forbidden by contract to remove anything from the building.

Byrd is still seeking the window in Mayhew's possession and in court papers acknowledges that Mayhew's window "could possibly have been the Sniper's Perch, thus making Col. Byrd's proud portrayal of his window a potentially embarrassing mistake."

 

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

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