Jack Ruby: Voices from History

All Exhibits

Trial of the Century

Brown Tonahill and Belli
Bill Winfrey Collection

The State of Texas versus Jack Ruby matched District Attorney Henry Wade and Assistant District Attorney Bill Alexander against defense attorneys Melvin Belli, Joe Tonahill and Phil Burleson. Belli was a high-profile personal-injury lawyer from San Francisco. Judge Joe B. Brown of Criminal District Court Number 3 tried the case.

Courtroom proceedings began with bond hearings in December 1963 and January 1964, with a change-of-venue hearing in February. Brown ruled Ruby would be held without bail and tried in Dallas. Brown's decision not to move the trial out of town would become a major issue later in the appeal process. After two weeks of jury selection, prosecution testimony opened on March 4. Nine days later, the attorneys delivered their closing arguments.

Courtroom Cast

These five people were key participants in the trial of Jack Ruby. Brown, Wade and Alexander had long worked in Dallas, Belli was based in San Francisco, and Tonahill practiced in the southeast Texas town of Jasper, near Louisiana. All were subject to extreme media scrutiny before and during the trial.

Henry Wade
Bill Winfrey Collection
Henry Wade, District Attorney

[Henry Wade] was just a rough old lawyer, tough, rough, and pretty proud of himself. … He could chew Belli up in a minute.

Douglas Sowell, Juror, Oral History
"The Jack Ruby Trial Revisited" (2000)


Well, Henry Wade was very businesslike. He didn't fool around. He, as they say today, told it like it is. I had high regard for Henry Wade.

J. Waymon Rose, Juror
"The Jack Ruby Trial Revisited" (2000)
Melvin Belli, Defense Attorney

When Belli came in, he looked like he had got off a stagecoach because he had this red velvet briefcase. … A carpetbagger, that's what he looked like, and then he had on this cape and it had some kind of a velvet collar, and I think it was lined with red, the cape. And it was just … Dracula or something. It was very flamboyant. … He was just full of himself.

Helen Holmes, public relations director, Sam Bloom Advertising Agency
Oral History Collection
Judge Joe B. Brown, Judge

If [Judge Brown] told you it was going to rain, you'd better have your umbrella with you, because it's going to happen.

Al Maddox, deputy sheriff, Dallas County Sheriff's Department
Oral History Collection

He was sort of the last of the old time judges. You know, the personal, the informal. ... And I think a lot of people equated that with maybe just not, you know, being up to the level that he should have been.

Helen Holmes, public relations director, Sam Bloom Advertising Agency
Oral History Collection