President Gerald R. Ford became the first sitting President to provide oral testimony in a criminal trial when he participated in the trial of Squeaky Fromme. On November 1, 1975 President Ford videotaped a session that was then played for the jurors on November 15, 1975. President Ford’s testimony was recorded in Room 345 of the Old Executive Office Building which is the building next to The White House.
President Ford’s testimony was requested by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme’s defense attorney, John Virga, as part of her trial and later conviction for attempting to assassinate President Ford. The assassination attempt occurred on the morning of September 5, 1975 in Sacramento as President Ford was walking to a meeting at the California State House with Governor Jerry Brown. Fromme was sentenced to life in prison and was released in 2009.
John Virga and the defense team believed the testimony was critical to their approach in showing that Fromme did not intend to assassinate President Ford though she was pointing a gun towards him. She has maintained that she was not “I was not determined to kill the guy” and her lawyers noted that there was no bullet in the chamber when she pointed it at President Ford, along with the fact that President Ford testified to never hearing a gun shot though he did recall seeing a large weapon.
The historic testimony was ordered to commence by Judge Thomas J. MacBride. Three tapes were created and when it was determined two were of working order, one of the tapes was destroyed. Judge MacBride ordered that tapes be provided to the court for previewing by jurors and then a second tape be provided to President Ford’s legal counsel.
The court sealed and maintained the tape until 1987 when Judge MacBride ordered it unsealed but only to be previewed & copied from the grand jury room of the federal courthouse. The widespread public viewing of the tape was a result from a motion filed by the Eastern District Historical Society, which is a non-profit dedicated to preserving the history of the feral courthouse in Sacramento, CA. Soon after the motion, The Sacramento Bee added a second motion to join the effort.
In August 2013, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller allowed for the tape to be transferred to the Society for copying to DVD format and then to have an extra copy of the DVD version provided to the court and to the National Archives.
Information for this summary from The Sacramento Bee article “President Ford video testimony released on Squeaky Fromme assassination attempt” on August 26, 2013. Written by Denny Walsh and Sam Stanton.