The state of Ohio has quietly ruled out a new investigation of the May 4, 1970 shootings at Kent State. This despite a front-page story in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer (May 9, 2010) reporting that two audio forensics experts, using modern-day enhanced technology, concluded they heard someone issue a “Prepare to fire” order on a tape recording made by a student.
Amanda Wurst, the press secretary for Ohio Governor George Strickland, sent me an e-mail saying: “We do not have the resource [sic] to conduct such an analysis.” There has not been an official announcement, and there may not be, but Wurst’s statement seems to rule out any further study of the recording by the state of Ohio.
It also appears that the U.S. Justice Department will join the state in pretending this new evidence does not exist. Joe Bendo, a friend and business partner of Terry Strubbe, the Kent State alumnus who taped the gunfire from a close by dormitory window, told me that no one in the Justice Department ever contacted Strubbe or asked to review the original tape. It is now been more than two months since the Justice Department was also asked to conduct additional tests. The Department also has not made a public announcement, which comes as no surprise to long-time May 4 observers.
The closures leave the Kent State case still without resolution. No further light will be shed on the most important unresolved mysteries: What happened in those final moments before four students were killed, and who gave this “prepare to fire” order and why?
The controversy over the tape began over three years ago when one of the wounded students, Alan Canfora, who survived the gunfire claimed to have had the Strubbe tape enhanced by a rock and roll buddy. Canfora claimed he could hear an order: “Right here. Get set. Point. Fire.” However, none of the eyewitnesses who gave statements to the FBI and other investigative bodies heard those words. The authenticity of his claim was also questioned by former military men, who insisted that no officer would issue such a nontraditional command.
Last spring a reporter for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer asked two nationally known forensics audio experts, Tom Owens and Stuart Allen, to independently review the tape. As the Plain Dealer reported, the experts could not hear the words “Right here. Get set. Point. Fire.” However, the experts reported hearing something else that no one had anticipated: a “prepare to fire” order six seconds before the Ohio National Guardsmen did precisely that.
Significantly, the two audio experts’ conclusions directly contradicted the sworn testimony of more than 30 Guardsmen who testified at the 1975 civil trial which considered wrongful death and injury claims brought by the parents of the four slain students and the nine wounded survivors. Almost to a man, the Guardsmen denied there was such an order. If Owens and Allen are right, that means that the Guardsmen committed extensive perjury at the trials. Such a cover-up would have been one of the most expansive in modern history.
It now appears that if there are any further developments in the case, they will not come from any official government entity. Strubbe and Bendo have hired their own experts and plan to produce a documentary based on their findings. There is no way of knowing whether further analysis will confirm or cast doubt on the recent findings.
In the meantime, the surviving victims are left only with new suspicions as to why the Guardsmen resorted to lethal force. We are only somewhat closer to learning what happened when the war in Vietnam was brought home.