Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 10 Num. 19

("Quid coniuratio est?")


Ray NOT Trigger-man In Martin Luther King Assassination?

           What Role Did the FBI Play In Dr. King's Death?

On Wednesday, Feb. 5, 1997, National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast news that James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is suffering from liver disease and probably has just months to live. Ray, who for more than 25 years has insisted he did not murder Dr. King, has been fighting over the years for a re-trial of his case. Here are excerpts from the NPR broadcast (transcription by Conspiracy Nation):

NPR: James Earl Ray has chronic liver disease, and doctors give him only months to live. Ray has long maintained that he is innocent. He says his lawyers coerced him into pleading guilty to the 1968 King assassination. Now, many civil rights leaders and members of King's family say James Earl Ray should go on trial before he dies so people can learn more about what happened 29 years ago. A hearing in February may be Ray's last chance of getting a trial. Joshua Lanz(?) of member station WABE(?) reports:

JOSHUA LANZ: The single bullet that killed Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4th, 1968, left a void in the civil rights movement that has never been filled. The fact that someone was convicted of the crime helped assuage some of the pain felt in the years after King's death. But in the nearly 3 decades since King was killed, civil rights leaders' doubts have grown over whether the assassination was actually solved.

King was shot while standing outside his room on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Official reports said the shot came from a rooming house across the street. The evidence solidly implicated a petty thief and escaped convict named James Earl Ray: He had rented a room in the rooming house; his gun was found wrapped in a cloth on the sidewalk; and a witness named Charles Stephens said he saw Ray drive away in a white [Ford] mustang [automobile]. Later, authorities captured Ray in Europe, where he had fled, using a fake passport. They brought him back to Tennessee where, after 9 months in jail, he pleaded guilty.

John Pierotti is a former Memphis District Attorney who was in charge of Ray's case.

JOHN PIEROTTI: I think the evidence is absolutely overwhelming, and I think that's why James Earl Ray pleaded guilty. I think James Earl Ray pleaded guilty, fearing if he did not he might receive the death penalty.

JOSHUA LANZ: The day after his plea, Ray wrote a letter to the judge saying that he was innocent, he had been coerced as he walked into trial. The judge died before ruling on the request. Since then, Ray has gone into court 7 times requesting a trial. Each time he was denied.

Two years ago, Ray asked to have his own experts test the murder weapon, claiming the latest technology could prove that his gun did not shoot the bullet. A judge granted permission, but the ruling was overturned on appeal. Ray's attorney, William Pepper, re-submitted the request and will be heard on February 20th. He says that could be Ray's last shot at a trial.

WILLIAM PEPPER: He [Ray] was convinced to give a guilty plea because lawyers negotiated a plea bargain behind his back for two months, and then hit him with it under every conceivable means of pressure.

JOSHUA LANZ: Ray claims he was framed by a man named Raoul. Raoul had paid him to deliver packages and buy things, he says, including a gun and a white mustang. And, Ray says, Raoul was staying with him in the rooming house on April 4th.

In a mock trial, arranged and televised by HBO in 1993, Ray said he was not in the room during the shooting; he was driving, he says, and turned on the radio.

JAMES EARL RAY: There was a report that they were looking for a white man in a white mustang, which could have been my description. Well I soon saw the strong possibility I was in some trouble, so I decided then I'd go back to Atlanta. But the news wasn't any better so [I decided] I'd best be out of the country.

JOSHUA LANZ: Authorities say Raoul is pure fiction. They say Ray once described him as a Canadian and later as a Latino. William Pepper says Ray has identified Raoul in a stack of police photographs.

When Ray was first captured, many civil rights leaders believed that the evidence proved he was guilty. Reverend Hosea Williams was among the few who doubted Ray's guilt immediately.

HOSEA WILLIAMS: He ran out of the building, dropped the rifle on the sidewalk. Who in the world is gonna murder Martin Luther King, Jr. and leave the rifle on the sidewalk?

JOSHUA LANZ: Over the last 28 years, more and more civil rights leaders aligned themselves with Ray. Martin Luther King's family and Reverend Jesse Jackson have called for a trial. Jackson wrote an introduction to Ray's book, saying "no thoughtful person can believe Ray organized the assassination."

Representative John Lewis was a young follower of Dr. King and leader of the Selma march.

JOHN LEWIS: How can someone like James Earl Ray have been in prison, get a gun, get a passport and a whole lot of money, get an airline ticket, travel to Europe... He needed help and assistance!

JOSHUA LANZ: Longstanding resentment and suspicions about the FBI have contributed to speculation among civil rights leaders that some FBI agents may have been involved in the assassination or in a cover-up afterward. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI harassed King and threatened him regularly. Agents broke into King's home and followed him on his travels.

Dr. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was a close associate of King's.

JOSEPH LOWERY: It was no secret that J. Edgar Hoover had a terrible hatred -- a vicious, villainous hatred -- of Dr. King. He said so. He called him "one of the most notorious liars" and so forth. So we don't know what role they played. But something's very strange, that they couldn't either prevent [the shooting] or immediately go after [the shooter], even though they kept [King] under constant surveillance.

JOSHUA LANZ: Lowery has a list of questions, including why a sworn affidavit says the FBI's chief witness, Charlie Stephens, was drunk on the day of the assassination and could not have seen anything.

The NPR broadcast, excerpted above, touches on many things. Unfortunately it does not "plumb the depths," perhaps due to lack of time. (Yet on such an important story as this, it is hoped that much more in-depth coverage might be forthcoming from NPR.)

Mentioned in the excerpted portion of the NPR broadcast is James Earl Ray's attorney, William Pepper. Pepper was closely involved with Dr. King and associates during the 1960s, and struggled with them for civil rights, labor, and anti-war causes. Pepper was also a major force behind the 1993 HBO broadcast of the "mock trial" of James Earl Ray. Not mentioned by NPR in their report is that Ray was found "not guilty" at the close of the HBO broadcast. Pepper has recently written a book on the King assassination: Orders To Kill by William F. Pepper (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1995. ISBN: 0-7867-0253-2). The book is admirably written, and presents an iron-clad case that Ray did not shoot Dr. King. If you are interested in getting the book, here's a tip: I was able to purchase an original, hard-copy edition, for just $4.98, at a Barnes & Noble store in their "Bargain Books" section. Alternatively, I plan to present an in-depth report on this subject in the April 1997 issue of the hardcopy Conspiracy Nation Newsletter.

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Aperi os tuum muto, et causis omnium filiorum qui pertranseunt. Aperi os tuum, decerne quod justum est, et judica inopem et pauperem. -- Liber Proverbiorum XXXI: 8-9