Joseph A. Rhodes Jr. yesterday blasted the Ohio grand jury probe into last spring's shootings at Kent State University, saying, "This reveals to me that justice itself is not functioning in Ohio."
"The report contradicts the facts of the case in every instance," Rhodes, a member of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest and a Junior Fellow, said. "This is one way to make sure that this country won't survive."
The grand jury report, released yesterday, indicted 25 students for activities surrounding the killing of four students on May 4, while clearing the Ohio National Guard from any prosecution for deaths and injuries on the campus. The report also sharply criticized the university administration, claiming that it fostered an attitude of "laxity, over-indulgence, and permissiveness with its students."
The report stated that the activities on May 1-4 at Kent State constituted a riot, and that the Guardsmen opened fire only ". . . in the honest and sincere belief . . . that they would suffer serious bodily injury had they not done so." The report also said that 58 Guardsmen were injured by thrown objects, and that a group of 74 Guardsmen were surrounded by several hundred chanting, rock-throwing students.
Rhodes disagreed sharply with the report. He said that a group of students was having a peaceful rally on Monday which was completely legal. The Guardsmen ordered the students to disperse, and then chased them up the hill toward Taylor Hall. He stated that the President's Commission found that no rocks had been thrown up to this point.
When the Guardsmen reached the top of the hill, Rhodes claimed, the only students around them were
these on the veranda of Taylor Hall, coming out of their noon classes. He said that students were 50 yards away from the nearest soldiers-contrary to the grand jury's claim that the Guardsmen were surrounded. Rhodes produced unpublished photographs which documented this claim. Demonstrators had not yet thrown any rocks he said, and there was never any sniper fire.
Rhodes also labeled as "absolute bullshit" the grand jury's claim that 200 bricks had been stolen from a nearby construction site and were being hurled at the Guardsmen.
"There was no evidence that the Guard was in danger," Rhodes said.
"The fact is that the Guard had lied under direct testimony, and that they cannot be trusted as to whether or not they were in danger," Rhodes said. He was referring to sworn testimony by several Guardsmen to the Seranton Commission that they had fired only 11 shots. The President's Commission later found that the Guardsmen had fired over 60 shots, which hit 14 students, all but four of them in the back or in the side.
The Harvard Junior Fellow went on to speculate that the report was heavily influenced by political maneuvering. He claimed that it was a political document, not an indictment. "It's the Governor's fault that the Guard was there. He created the warfare conditions," Rhodes said. He went on to state his feeling that the Governor and his personally-appointed prosecutor "manhandled" the grand jury to come out with a report favorable to themselves.
Prior to appointing the grand jury, Ohio Attorney General Paul W. Brown said on August 14, "I don't see any evidence upon which a grand jury would indict any Guardsmen." Brown added that he would feel obligated to personally provide a defense for any Guardsmen who might be indicted.
Rhodes expressed deep concern over the effect the report would have on students. He cited the prevailing atmosphere of tension in Ohio and the need for both sides in the controversy to take care to avoid another disastrous confrontation.
"I am worried about what this will do to the hearts of students when our judicial system is so blatantly manipulated for political reasons," he said.