Lee Harvey Oswald, the convicted assassin of President John F. Kennedy, today walked out of the doors of the Federal Detainment Facility at Ft. Meade, just south of Baltimore.
To all intents and purposes, he is, at the age of 43, a free man. The Federal Parole Board last month ordered his release without restrictions, stating that he had been a model prisoner who had made a total psychiatric recovery.
Though sentenced to death by a Dallas jury in 1964, Oswald was saved by two stays of execution granted by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Snivel. The first was on the ground that pretrial publicity had made it impossible for Oswald to have a fair trial and the second on the humanitarian ground that anyone who kills a fellow human being must be insane.
Shortly after the second stay, the Justice Department, leaning over backwards, transferred him to Ft. Meade. The Detainment Facility (dubbed the Entertainment Facility by envious occupants of other prisons) allows its inmates to wear their own clothes, set their own work hours and receive visits from relatives and friends on weekends and legal holidays.
Outside the gates, Oswald faced a throng of representatives of the media from all over the world. Behind them a police barricade held back thousands of members of the public, many with children.
They saw a far different man from the one of 19 years ago. Oswald is now bald, portly and bearded.
Introduced by his public relations counselor ("Ladies and gentlemen of the media, Mr. L.H. Oswald"), he pulled a short statement from his breast pocket and read it into the forest of microphones around him. He said he had always regarded himself as a political prisoner, a casualty in the war on creative violence, and that the U.S. government had abused him by treating him as a common criminal.
He then introduced a young woman beside him as the official representative of the American Civil Liberties Union who is permanently assigned to protect his civil rights. She said her presence showed the ACLU's ability to rise above emotional issues for the sake of principle.
Oswald then announced that he would answer questions.
What were his immediate plans?
A lecture tour, to begin with. A lecture agency had contacted him, and the first invitation, at a more than satisfactory fee, had already been accepted. When Oswald added that he planned to donate half his entire income to social causes, the crowd murmured its approval. He identified the source of the invitation as the Student Lecture Board at the University of Wisconsin, which had made an enviable reputation for inviting the most challenging possible speakers.
What would his subject be?
"Oswald's Own Story." It would explain his actions and describe the ideals that made those actions proper. Also, he would soon start writing his second book. He had known some dark days in prison but had been much encouraged by the reception of his "Letters From a Modern Martyr," which had been hailed by the New York Review of Books as "truth burnt clean to the bone." He hoped to explore other publication possibilities.
Had he really told some cellmates that there were still too many Kennedys? The truth was, he wished the Kennedys well and hoped they wished him the same. That remark had been a peevish piece of political rhetoric on his part, made before the finish of his psychiatric treatment. Incidentally, he believed that President Kennedy would have recognized the rightness of his release.
Oswald lost a bit of his composure for the first and only time when a television newsman asked him a bit roughly what he thought of Sirhan Sirhan and John Hinckley. Oswald snapped that he considered Sirhan a kook and Hinckley a juvenile delinquent with glands instead of brains.
Where would he live?
He was sorry, but he had to keep that a secret for the time being. His lawyers had expressed fears for his safety because of the rise in senseless violence during recent years.
With "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," Oswald closed the questioning and was inundated by autograph seekers from the media