Who Killed Martin Luther King?
by Maria Gilardin
This article is based on the work
of a remarkable man. Dr. William Pepper is an attorney, author,
and friend of Martin Luther King and his family. In February 1967
King had asked to meet a young man whose work as a journalist
in Vietnam showed the terrible impact on the civilian population.
King wept and never wavered in his opposition to the war. That
young man was Bill Pepper. He became James Earl Ray's lawyer and
assembled the evidence that exonerated Ray - some of which is
Six-oh-one p.m., April 4th, 1968, Martin
Luther King has been felled by a single shot.
In 1977 the family of Martin Luther King
engaged an attorney and friend, Dr. William Pepper, to investigate
a suspicion they had. They no longer believed that James Earl
Ray was the killer. For their peace of mind, for an accurate record
of history, and out of a sense of justice they conducted a two
decade long investigation. The evidence they uncovered was put
before a jury in Memphis, TN, in November 1999. 70 witnesses testified
under oath, 4,000 pages of transcripts described the evidence,
much of it new. It took the jury 59 minutes to come back with
their decision that Loyd Jowers, owner of Jim's Grill, had participated
in a conspiracy to kill King, a conspiracy that included J. Edgar
Hoover and the FBI, Richard Helms and the CIA, the military, the
Memphis Police Department (MPD), and organized crime. That verdict
exonerated James Earl Ray who had already died in prison.
The news of the verdict, in one of the
most important national security trials in modern history, was
suppressed. And to this day - with very, very few exceptions -
the public does not know that this trial took place and what the
William Pepper's 2003 book, An Act of
State, The Execution of Martin Luther King, published by Verso,
gave a detailed report of the trial. The book was systematically
ignored. Pepper said in February 2003 that he had been personally
turned down by reviewers for major media. They did not want to
put their jobs and reputation on the line.
The New York Times refers to Pepper's
work as "nonsense" in the context of their favorable
reviews of Gerald Posner's book on the King assassination, Killing
the Dream. Richard Bernstein praised Posner for stating once and
for all that: "James Earl Ray murdered the Rev. Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr."
In a new attempt to break the silence
Verso has just issued An Act of State in paperback. Also, for
the first time, parts of the never before seen video record of
the 1999 trial are being released on Youtube.
What was so dangerous about the 1999 Memphis
trial that it had to be suppressed? The evidence presented - under
oath and on the record - made it abundantly clear that the reports
of the 1997 House Select Committee on Assassinations, of the Civil
Rights Commission appointed by Clinton's AG Janet Reno, and the
New York Times were all wrong. James Earl Ray did not murder King.
With the guilty verdict for Loyd Jowers
the jury came closer than anybody before to the identity of the
real killer. Jower's actions in preparation of the assassination
and on the day itself, together with the testimony from witnesses
who had never been heard before, allowed a minute by minute reconstruction
of how and why the crime was committed.
Apparently nobody, not the Mafia, the
Memphis Police, the FBI, the CIA, or the Army Military Intelligence
teams were taking any chances. If the Mafia contract had not succeeded,
someone else was prepared to kill King. When King stepped out
on that balcony at the Lorraine Motel he did not know that he
was under complete surveillance and that more than one gun was
aimed at him.
On December 8, 1999, Dr. William Pepper
made his closing statement to the jury in Memphis. Martin Luther
King, he said, had become more than a civil rights organizer,
and more even than a voice against the war on Vietnam. Pepper
explained why King had become so dangerous to the ruling powers
that a decision was taken at the highest level that he was not
to leave Memphis alive.
I put it to you that his opposition to
that war had little to do with ideology, with capitalism, with
democracy. It had to do with money. It had to do with huge amounts
of money that that war was generating to large multinational corporations
that were based in the United States.
When he threatened to bring that war to
a close through massive popular opposition, he was threatening
the bottom lines of some of the largest construction companies,
one of which was in the State of Texas, that patronized the Presidency
of Lyndon Johnson and had the major construction contracts at
Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. (Brown and Root was the contractor for
the dredging of Cam Ranh Bay - M.G.) This is what Martin King
was challenging. He was challenging the weapons industry, the
hardware, the armament industries, that all would lose as a result
of the end of the war.
The second aspect of his work that also
dealt with money that caused a great deal of consternation in
the circles of power in this land had to do with his commitment
to take a massive group of people to Washington and there to encamp
them in the shadow of the Washington memorial for as long as it
took. For as long as it took, they would make daily trips to the
halls of Congress and they would try to compel the Congress to
act, as they had previously acted in terms of civil rights legislation,
now to act in terms of social legislation.
Now, he begins to talk about a redistribution
of wealth, in this the wealthiest country in the world that had
such a large group of poor people, of people living then and now,
by the way, in poverty. That problem had to be addressed. And
it wasn't a black-and-white problem. This was a problem that dealt
with Hispanics, and it dealt with poor whites as well. That is
what he was taking on. That's what he was challenging.
The powers in this land believed he would
not be successful. Why did they believe that? They believed that
because they knew that the decision-making processes in the United
States had by that point in time, and today it is much worse in
my view, but by that point in time had so consolidated power that
they were the representatives, the foot soldiers, of the very
economic interests who were going to suffer as a result of these
times of changes. So the very powerful lobbying forces that put
their people in the halls of Congress and indeed in the White
House itself and controlled them, paid and bought them and controlled
them, were certainly not going to agree to the type of social
legislation that Martin King and his mass of humanity were going
So there was a fear. What happens when
they are frustrated? What happens when they don't get any satisfaction?
What would happen? They feared, the military feared, that there
would be a violent rebellion in the nation's capital. And they
didn't have the troops that could contain half a million angry
poor alienated Americans. They didn't have the troops. Westmoreland
wanted another two hundred thousand in Vietnam. They didn't have
them to give to him. They didn't have them.
They were afraid that what Mr. Jefferson
had urged many, many times, that the body politic can only be
cleansed by a revolution every twenty years. They were afraid
that Mr. Jefferson would be listened to and that that revolution
would take place.
Because of that, those factors, Martin
King was not going to be allowed to bring that group of people
Dr. William Pepper, continuing his closing
argument, went on to address the planning of the King murder,
pieced together by his personal decade long research as well as
from the 13 volumes of background material that accompanied the
1997 House Select Committee on Assassinations Report. On those
pages Pepper found much evidence that contradicted the official
findings, including a detailed history of the FBI surveillance
of King and the infiltration of the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, and the Civil Rights movement.
In December of 1963, less than a month
after the Kennedy assassination, FBI officials met in Washington
to explore ways to "neutralize King as an effective Negro
leader". In spite of that material in their files the House
Select Committee declared that the FBI plaid no role in the assassination.
Looking back at the way in which Pepper
summarized the evidence collected throughout the trial it becomes
obvious how carefully crafted his legal approach was. Loyd Jowers
was the defendant and, having been personally so close to the
assassination, he was an extremely valuable witness. But his actions,
the physical location of his bar and grill, adjacent to the brushy
area across from the Lorraine Motel, were only a small part of
a much larger picture, in the words of Pepper the wider conspiracy
to kill King.
Then, as now, the onus that the right
as well as the left puts on the word "conspiracy" has
to be taken into account. Pepper, in his explanation to the jury,
took back that word and gave it its proper legal and historic
meaning. He asked the jury to find that this "constituted
conspiracy, legally civil conspiracy under the law."
Pepper developed for the jury the string
of "coincidences" that constitute conspiracy, a chain
of evidence backed up by 70 witnesses. All of it can be looked
up in detail on 4,000 pages of transcripts or in his book, An
Act of State. Here are just a few questions and examples:
The case against defendant Loyd Jowers
was the best documented, partly by Jowers' own admission. Jowers
testified that he was asked by Mafia- connected produce dealer
Frank Liberto to help in the murder of King. He received money
and a gun to hold.
Three witnesses took the stand and corroborated
Liberto's involvement. John McFerren told the jury that, on the
afternoon of the assassination, he heard Liberto shout into the
phone "Shoot the son-of-a-bitch when he comes on the balcony."
Liberto told Mrs. Lavada Addison, "I arranged to have Martin
Luther King killed." Addison's son, Nathan, confirmed his
However the Mafia plan would not have
succeeded if it had not been for the involvement of many others:
Why did King end up in the Lorraine Motel where he had never stayed
before? Who made him change his room from a secluded ground floor
room to the second floor balcony space? Who ordered MPD Captain
Jerry Williams, who normally formed a security unit of black officers
when King came to Memphis, not to form a bodyguard this time?
Across from the Lorraine Motel was Fire
Station no. 2. Who ordered the only two black firefighters not
to show up to work that day? Floyd E. Newsum was later told the
order came from the MPD. Norvell E. Wallace was told his life
had been threatened and he needed to stay home.
On the morning of the assassination Carthel
Weeden, captain of Fire Station no. 2, testified that he was approached
by two U. S. Army officers carrying briefcases who indicated they
had cameras and wanted the roof of the station for a lookout on
the Lorraine Motel. They left after the assassination.
Members of the Army's 111th Military Intelligence
Group, based at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, had come to
Memphis and were keeping King under 24 hour a day surveillance.
MPD intelligence office Eli Arkin testified at the trial that
they worked out of his office.
About 10 minutes before the assassination
of King, Guy Canipe, owner of the Canipe Amusement Company, observed
a bundle being dropped in the Main Street doorway of his company,
one block from the Lorraine. The bundle consisted of a 30.06 Remington
Gamemaster rifle and unfired bullets - the rifle James Earl Ray
was supposed to have used for the assassination.
Loyd Jowers testified that immediately
after the killing, MPD Lieutenant Earl Clark, now deceased, came
out of the brushy area and gave him a smoking rifle at the rear
door of his restaurant, Jim's Grill. Jowers did not see who killed
King, but claimed it was Clark, the MPD's best marksman.
Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown, who later
presided over two years of hearings into the evidence, stated,
"It is my opinion that this is not the murder weapon 67%
of bullets from my tests did not match the Ray rifle" The
rifle's scope had not been sited; therefore the Remington from
Canipe's door could not have been properly aimed.
Several witnesses at the 1999 trial testified
that they saw two men running away from the brushy area, one burning
tires as he drove away in a green 1965 Chevrolet past a police
car that took no notice, another getting into a police car and
being driven away. Nevertheless, the official story has always
been that nobody shot from the bushes but that James Earl Ray
fired from a bathroom window of the rooming house.
Why then did Maynard Stiles, a senior
official in Memphis Sanitation Department, receive a call from
MPD Inspector Sam Evans at 7 am on the morning after the assassination
"requiring assistance clearing brush and debris from a vacant
lot near the site of the assassination." Stiles assembled
a crew and cleaned the site under the direction of the police
This is just part of the evidence covered
by the 1999 trial. Much of it had been assembled to be presented
in the trial that James Earl Ray fought to have for almost 30
years. Given the nature of the evidence it is not surprising that
it was never allowed to take place.
The major media and most authors have
perpetuated the myth that James Earl Ray confessed. William Pepper,
who represented Ray until he died, says that Ray pleaded guilty
on advice of his lawyer who told him that this would be the best
avenue for a trial - but that Ray never confessed.
There were several attempts to bribe Ray
into a confession. One of Ray's lawyers, Jack Kershaw, was asked
by a publishing company to offer Ray $50,000, parole and a new
life if he finally confessed. Ray refused. Ray's brother Jerry
was contacted with the same offer with a higher monetary amount
($200,000). Ray, again, refused.
Just before Ray's death MPD officer Tim
Cook, in the presence of William Pepper, leaned heavily on Ray
to admit his guilt. He promised Ray that in return he would be
released and could die surrounded by his family. Ray refused and
died alone on April 23, 1998.
One year and 8 months after his death
a jury listened to the closing statement of Ray's former lawyer,
William Pepper, testing the evidence that should have freed Ray.
Pepper's closing words were:
Let me close by saying to you that long
after people forget what has been said in this courtroom, all
the words that you've heard from witnesses and lawyers, and long
after they have forgotten about accounts that they have read about
this case, they are going to remember what was done here. They
are going to remember what action you took, what decision you
You have got to understand the monumental
importance of your decision. (The public) are going to forget
everything I said, everything defense counsel has said, everything
the witnesses have said. They are going to remember one thing,
the ruling of this jury, the verdict of this jury because you
have heard evidence that has never before been put on in a court
That is why your decision at this point
in time is the most significant decision that will have been taken
in thirty-one years in terms of this case. Please don't underestimate
the importance of it.
In our view, what has happened in this
case, the injustice that has happened in this case is representative
of the failure that symbolizes to me the failure of representative
democracy in this country. Isn't it amazing that one could say
that over a simple murder case? But when you look at the wealth
of evidence that has come forward and you understand how this
case has been conducted and you understand how it has been covered
up, and when you see how unresponsive elected officials and government
have been and how complicit they have been, you can come to no
Governmental agencies caused Martin Luther
King to be assassinated. They used other foot soldiers. They caused
this whole thing to happen. And they then proceeded with the powerful
means at their disposal to cover this case up.
You know, these things do not happen as
a rule without the involvement of other people and in this case,
this type of murder, without the involvement of seriously prominent
individuals in government. So it is in my view a failure of democracy
and this Republic that it has not been able to bring this forward.
What we're asking you to do at this point
in time is send a message. We're asking you to send a message,
not just right a wrong. That's important, that you right a wrong
and that you allow justice to prevail once and for all. Let it
But in addition to that, we're asking
you to send a message, send a message to all of those in power,
all of those who manipulate justice in this country that you cannot
get away with this. Or if you can get away with it, you can only
get away with it for so long.
Send that message. You, you twelve, represent
the American people. You are their representatives with respect
to justice in this case. They cannot be here. The media will keep
the truth from them forever. You represent the people of this
land. You must speak for them.
You have this duty to yourselves, this
obligation to your fellow citizens, and you have an opportunity
to act in a most significant way that perhaps you can ever imagine,
because your verdict of conspiracy in this case, your verdict
of liability for the defendant and his other co-conspirators,
means history is rewritten, means textbooks have to be rewritten,
means the actual result of this case and the truth of this case
now must come forward formally.
On behalf of the family of Martin Luther
King, Jr., on behalf of the people of the United States, I ask
you to find for the plaintiff and find that conspiracy existed
and that those conspirators involved not only the defendant here
but we're dealing in conspiracy with agents of the City of Memphis
and the governments of the State of Tennessee and the United States
We ask you to find that conspiracy existed
and once and for all give this plaintiff family justice and let's
cleanse this city and this nation of the ignorance that has pervaded
this case for so long.
After less than an hour the jury returned
with the verdict, read by Judge James E. Swearengen.
THE COURT: In answer to the question did
Loyd Jowers participate in a conspiracy to do harm to Dr. Martin
Luther King, your answer is yes. Do you also find that others,
including governmental agencies, were parties to this conspiracy
as alleged by the defendant? Your answer to that one is also yes.
Memphis, TN, December 8, 1999.
Their verdict finally lifted responsibility
for the murder from James Earl Ray and should have opened the
investigation of organized crime, the FBI, the CIA, the military,
and the Memphis Police Department.
1. Given all the new evidence presented
in the trial, the King family approached President Bill Clinton
and asked for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Clinton refused
and turned the matter over to AG Janet Reno who appointed a civil
In June 2000 the United States Department
of Justice published their conclusion that quote: "the trial's
evidence fails to establish the existence of any conspiracy to
kill Dr. King we found no credible evidence to disturb past judicial
determinations that James Earl Ray killed Dr. King."
2. In February 2008 news from New York:
Dr. Pepper makes the case for the NYC 911 Ballot Initiative and
the re-investigation of 9/11 by an independent citizens commission.
The transcripts of 1999 Memphis trial.
The video of major parts of the court
proceedings on Youtube can be reached via the following site.
The audio recording of Pepper's closing
Maria Gilardin produces TUC Radio, a weekly
half-hour radio program that is distributed for free to all radio
stations via Pacifica Radio's KU Band, and as an mp3 file on TUC
Radio's web site. She may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read
other articles by Maria, or visit Maria's website.
Luther King, Jr. page