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The Memory Lingers On

Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy in Chappaquiddick (Claire Folger)

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the April 21, 1970 issue of National Review.

So the Kennedy–Kopechne case is closed. One has to sympathize with Leslie Leland, foreman of the Dukes County grand jury, who felt it was the jury’s duty to “come up with an answer for the public.” He and his fellow jurors were all set to conduct an independent investigation of the events at Chappaquiddick when — wham! First there was the hour-long lecture from the presiding judge, enjoining them to absolute secrecy (“I don’t mean for today, I mean forever”) about their proceedings. Then there was that ruling (unusual, indeed unprecedented) by the State Supreme Court last fall, that the transcript of the coroner’s inquest and the judge’s report thereon must remain secret until all possibility of criminal prosecution has ended. Even if the inquest records were withheld, said some jurors, they were prepared to go ahead with their investigation. Four witnesses were called; then, after just two days, the jury suddenly disbanded without making presentment. One suspects that Massachusetts justice winked at the final Kennedy.

And yet suspicions of all kinds remain. No need to go over the still-unanswered old ones — new ones keep popping up. There is the matter of the driver’s license that Teddy was required to turn in after he pleaded guilty to “leaving the scene” of the fatal mishap: According to a reporter for the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, an official of the Registry of Motor Vehicles said Teddy’s license “does not appear ever to have been immersed in water.” The official denied ever having talked with the reporter. Telephone company records show that he had. And of course there is the unorthodox handling of the case by various Massachusetts judges.

Now that Mr. Leland and his jury are out of the way, perhaps the inquest records will be released to the public; perhaps they will throw some new light on the case. More likely, the truth will remain uncertain, and suspicion will thrive. The grassy knoll never had it so good.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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