(WASHINGTON) — A cult member scheming to assassinate the president of the United States may sound like the plot for a fictional thriller, but it’s actually a rediscovered page out of American history books made available to the public for the first time.
Footage of President Ford’s testimony against his failed assassin, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, was released Monday after being sealed for nearly 38 years — thanks to a motion filed by the Eastern District Historical Society, a group in Sacramento, Calif.
The testimony marked the first time in history that a sitting American president was called to testify in a criminal trial.
Throughout the nearly 20-minute-long testimony, Ford calmly gestures and sips water as he responds to questions about the events leading up to the incident.
Ford said he noticed a person in a “brightly colored dress” among a crowd of bystanders on his way to the state Capitol in Sacramento. He also noted that the person, who would later be identified as Fromme, “appeared to want to either shake hands or speak, or at least wanted to get closer” to him.
When the woman moved toward him, Ford stated that he assumed she wanted to shake hands, but quickly realized his error.
“As I stopped, I saw a hand come through the crowd [and] in the hand was a weapon,” Ford said.
Fromme, armed with a Colt .45 pistol, was wrestled to the ground by Secret Service agents and bystanders before she was able to pull the trigger. Ford was ushered away from the scene unharmed.
“I only saw [the weapon] instantaneously because almost automatically one of the Secret Service agents…grabbed the hand and the weapon and I was pushed off [the crowd] by other members of the Secret Service,” Ford said before estimating that the gun was about “two feet” away from him.
Fromme was later identified as a devout follower of cult leader and mass murderer, Charles Manson. She was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to assassinate the president, but was released from federal prison in 2009. She was 60 years old.
The Eastern District Historical Society plans to host a panel discussion about the trial in late September. The event will include appearances by attorneys who prosecuted the case, as well as Fromme’s court-appointed defense counsel.
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