Chapter 22: The Prosecution - Raymond Feehan


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Now comes the witness who, in my opinion, dooms Alger Hiss. He gives expert testimony supporting Chambers’ claim that the typed spy documents were passed to him by Alger Hiss after Mrs. Hiss typed them on the Hiss home typewriter. Lloyd Paul Stryker did not ask this witness a single question on cross-examination. Listen to this Podcast to learn who was the witness and how he formed his expert opinion. After the witness left the stand, all ears waited to hear Hiss explain how dozens of documents, obviously prepared for espionage, got typed on his home typewriter but he is still innocent. FURTHER RESEARCH: As one scholar put it, you wouldn’t want to hang a man based on the testimony of Whittaker Chambers and nothing more, but how could you disbelieve Chambers plus 64 pages of typewritten spy documents that had been typed on the Hiss home typewriter? Herbert L. Packer, Ex-Communist Witnesses: Four Studies in Fact Finding (Stanford Univ. Press 1962) at 22. The next witness is Raymond Feehan, sometimes called Ramos Feehan — a great multi-cultural name, perhaps only possible in 1949 in New York City. Mr. Feehan was an FBI employee and a member of the profession of The Examination of Questioned Documents. I have been unable to find a photo of him or any other information about him — which makes him the perfect dispassionate expert. Alistair Cooke describes him as “a vigorous, dark-haired F.B.I. expert, . . .strictly a laboratory man . . . [who] appeared quite untouched by the emotions of the case . . . . [and had] all the basking pride of a travel lecturer much in demand.” Alistair Cooke, A Generation on Trial (1952) at 168-69. Mr. Feehan opined that the typed spy documents and another bunch of documents, which everyone agreed had been typed on the Hiss home typewriter, had been typed on the same typewriter. This opinion, wrote Alistair Cooke (at 168), “provoked quick intakes of breath from many casual spectators.” It is often misstated that this Case turned on a typewriter. That’s not true. Mr. Feehan formed his opinion before the typewriter that everyone agreed was the Hiss home typewriter had been found. Mr. Feehan based his opinion instead on a comparison of two sets of documents — the typed spy documents and the so-called Hiss Standards, which everyone had agreed had been typed on the Hiss home typewriter. It is as if you proved that the fingerprints on a certain glass were my fingerprints by comparing them not to my fingers, but to a fingerprints (say, in the files of the FBI) that everyone agreed were my fingerprints. The Prosecution’s evidence, the evidence that convicted Alger Hiss, would have been exactly the same if no typewriter had ever been found. Concurring in Mr. Feehan’s opinion was the founder of the profession of The Examination of Questioned Documents, one Ordway Hilton. Ordway Hilton, Scientific Examination of Questioned Documents (Revised Edition) (Elsevier Science Publishing Co. 1982) at 224-25, 232. Questions: How will Hiss explain how the typed spy documents got typed on his home typewriter? His Explanation #1, to the Grand Jury, that Chambers snuck into the Hiss house and typed them up himself when no one was looking, didn’t work. He’ll need a damned good Explanation #2, won’t he? You’ll have to wait for Podcast #26 to hear it. In the meantime, can you think of a way that Chambers (or someone with more time and resources) could make a ‘fake’ typewriter and produce typewritten documents that looked exactly like documents that had been typed on the real Hiss home typewriter? For that, you’ll need to wait for Podcast #35.

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