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August 27th, 2013
06:57 PM ET

Rare tape of Ford testimony recalls 1975 assassination attempt

In September 1975, 26-year-old Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme pointed a colt .45-caliber pistol at then-president Gerald Ford.

The young woman earned her nickname as a member of Charles Manson's cult.

But Fromme had a genteel past – she danced at the White House as a child, and took drama classes with the late Phil Hartman as a teen.

"Anytime she talks about anything Manson-related, it's like talking to someone from another planet," said Jess Bravin, author of "Squeaky," a book about what drove Fromme to join a cult.

According to Bravin, Fromme felt guilty that other members of the "Manson family" went to prison for life, and wanted to prove herself to them. That led her to become the first person in American history sentenced with the crime of attempting to assassinate a U.S. president.

In a decades-old video released to the public for the first time Monday, the thirty-eighth president of the United States remembers the moment he first saw her. It was the first time a sitting president ever gave oral testimony in a criminal trial.

"I noticed a person in the second or third row, in a brightly colored dress, who appeared to want to either shake hands, or speak, or at least wanted to get closer to me. I stopped because I was gradually moving toward the state capitol, and that was my first impression of a person who had a dress on. I, of course, didn't know who it was," Ford testified.

Ford said there was a gun two feet away from him.

"As I stopped, I saw a hand come through the crowd in the first row. And that was the only active gesture that I saw. But in the hand was a weapon," said Ford.

Fromme didn't load a bullet into the chamber, and the Secret Service tackled her before she could fire a shot. Ford did not remember whether the gun clicked or not, and that's why the defense called him to testify.

"The whole purpose of that testimony was to cast doubt on the prosecution theory that she went there to kill him," said Bravin.

In a prison interview, she dodged the ultimate question, saying, "I'm not saying i tried to take a shot. How do you take a shot without a shell in the chamber?"

Ford lived another thirty-one years. He died at the age of 93, just after Christmas in 2006.

Three years later, Squeaky Fromme was released from federal prison. She's now 64, and lives in upstate New York.

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