CLEVELAND — A tape recording of the shooting deaths of four Kent State University students by Ohio National Guardsmen in 1970 reveals the sound of pistol shots 70 seconds earlier, a newspaper reported yesterday, citing the work of a forensic audio expert.
If the pistol fire is authenticated, it could prove a theory that the Guardsmen thought they were being shot at during a campus Vietnam War protest and also could back up witnesses who said an FBI informant monitoring the protest fired warning shots because he felt threatened.
The National Guard opened fire on student protesters on May 4, 1970, killing four and injuring nine others. Eight Guardsmen were acquitted of federal civil rights charges four years later.
Many believe the events contributed to the change in the public’s attitude toward the war, which ended with US withdrawal in 1975, but the events of that chaotic day in Kent, Ohio, are still not fully understood.
Forensic audio expert Stuart Allen conducted a review of the tape recording and detected four shots matching the acoustic signature of a .38-caliber revolver firing, The Plain Dealer reported.
Terry Norman, a Kent State student who was photographing protesters that day for the FBI, was carrying a loaded .38-caliber revolver under his coat, the newspaper said. Witnesses reported a confrontation involving students and Norman. Some say he fired warning shots because he felt threatened. Norman denied firing his gun, and the presidential commission that investigated the shootings determined that he played no role in them.
A crew from Cleveland’s WKYC-TV filmed Norman running toward Guardsmen and police the day of the shooting and being chased by two men. One of the men yelled: “Hey, stop that man! I saw him shoot someone!’’
The crew recorded Norman reaching under his jacket and handing a gun to a police officer, saying “the guy tried to kill me.’’ Norman later said he was referring to an assault that happened after the Guard shootings.
Former WKYC television reporter Fred DeBrine and sound man Joe Butano have said repeatedly that they heard a Kent State police detective open the cylinder of Norman’s gun and say: “Oh my god, he fired four times.’’ The police detective later denied making the remark, and a campus patrolman’s report said the gun was fully loaded with no smell of burnt powder.