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Recording renews interest in Kent State shooting

Posted by Ellen Jan Kleinerman May 01, 2007 20:13PM

Ron Dunkan of Middlefield traveled to Kent State University on Tuesday to hear a 37-year-old recording that supposedly could answer why National Guardsman fired on students during an anti-war protest May 4, 1970.

He was joined by a small gathering of people who wanted to see if the tape showed that there was a command to fire.

Alan Canfora, shot in the wrist during the protest, said he came upon the recording in the archives of Yale University while doing research online. These are the words Canfora believes are on the tape:

"Right here. Get set. Point. Fire."

Canfora said this unconditionally proves that officers issued a command that set off a 13-second barrage, killing four Kent State students and wounding nine involved in anti-Vietnam protests.

Dunkan, who has taken his family to May 4 memorial observances for years, wasn't sure of the exact words in the muffled recording but said "they sound very methodical, like an order." His wife, Laura, said she heard the word "point."

Carole Barbato, a KSU grad and associate professor at the university, admitted that she didn't hear the words as clearly as Canfora, though others who listened with earphones said they did.

"If the tape is verified, we can put the blame on the person who gave the order to shoot," she said.

Eight guardsmen were acquitted on federal civil rights charges in 1974.

Canfora said he doesn't seek revenge or retributions. He wants the government to reopen the investigation so families can hear the truth and heal.

The reel-to-reel audio tape recording was made by then-KSU student Terry Strubbe, who placed a microphone in his dorm window. The FBI made a copy of the tape and returned the original to Strubbe.

Canfora said he worked with a sound technician who used modern technology to enhance the audio on his copy.

But many are skeptical about Canfora's claims.

The tape has been analyzed repeatedly for criminal and civil trials over the years. Joyce Kuzmin of BBN Technologies said in a phone interview from her Cambridge, Mass., office that her company's analysis focused on the order of gun shots and not voices. But a BBN scientist indicated that voices would have been inaudible on the tape because of the distance, she said.

William Gordon, who wrote "Four Dead in Ohio" said in a phone interview that he's dubious. He has heard the original tape but not Canfora's version.

"He's throwing a curve ball, because his claims don't mesh with any of the other evidence," Gordon said.

Sanford Rosen, a California lawyer who represented shooting victims and families of the dead, said it's surprising that digitalization of the recording could bring out sounds that had never been heard before. That's particularly true since the tape had been copied so many times before it got to Canfora.

Meanwhile, Dunkan, who took a copy of the recording with him, said he will listen to it again. It's important, he said, for those who "really want to know the truth."

Reporter Harlan Spector contributed to this story.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: ekleiner@plaind.com, 216-999-4631