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 Friday, 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 it also could back up witnesses who said an FBI informer 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 later acquitted.
Despite the central role of the events in turning public opinion against the war, the events of that day in Kent, Ohio, are still not fully understood.
Forensic audio expert Stuart Allen has conducted an extensive review of the tape recording and detected four shots matching the acoustic signature of a .38-caliber revolver firing, the Plain Dealer reported.
Alan Canfora, a protester wounded by the Guard gunfire, found a copy of the audiotape in a library archive in 2007.
Terry Norman, a Kent State student photographing protesters for the FBI, was carrying a loaded .38-caliber revolver under his coat, the newspaper said.
Witnesses reported a confrontation involving angry students and Norman. Some said he fired several warning shots because he felt threatened.
In an interview with an Akron Beacon Journal reporter on the day of the shootings, Norman said he was carrying the pistol for protection because protesters had threatened his life. He has denied firing it, and the presidential commission that investigated the shootings determined that Norman 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 repeatedly 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.