DYING JAMES EARL RAY SEEKS RE-TRIAL
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.