For King’s April 3, 1968 arrival, however, Williams was for some reason not asked to form the special black bodyguard. He was told years later by his inspector (a man whom Jowers identified as a participant in the planning meetings at Jim’s Grill) that the change occurred because somebody in King’s entourage had asked specifically for no black security officers. Williams told the jury he was bothered by the omission “even to this day.”
Leon Cohen, a retired New York City police officer, testified that in 1968 he had become friendly with the Lorraine Motel’s owner and manager, Walter Bailey (now deceased). On the morning after King’s murder, Cohen spoke with a visibly upset Bailey outside his office at the Lorraine. Bailey told Cohen about a strange request that had forced him to change King’s room to the location where he was shot.
Bailey explained that the night before King’s arrival he had received a call “from a member of Dr. King’s group in Atlanta.” The caller (whom Bailey said he knew but referred to only by the pronoun “he”) wanted the motel owner to change King’s room. Bailey said he was adamantly opposed to moving King, as instructed, from an inner court room behind the motel office (which had better security) to an outside balcony room exposed to public view.
“If they had listened to me,” Bailey said, “this wouldn’t have happened.”
Philip Melanson, author of the Martin Luther King Assassination (1991), described his investigation into the April 4 pullback of four tactical police units that had been patrolling the immediate vicinity of the Lorraine Motel. Melanson asked MPD Inspector Sam Evans (now deceased), commander of the units, why they were pulled back the morning of April 4, in effect making an assassin’s escape much easier. Evans said he gave the order at the request of a local pastor connected with King’s party, Rev. Samuel Kyles. (Melanson wrote in his book that Kyles emphatically denied making any such request.) Melanson said the idea that MPD security would be determined at such a time by a local pastor’s request made no sense whatsoever.
Olivia Catling lived a block away from the Lorraine on Mulberry Street. Catling had planned to walk down the street the evening of April 4 in the hope of catching a glimpse of King at the motel. She testified that when she heard the shot a little after six o’clock, she said, “Oh, my God, Dr. King is at that hotel!” She ran with her two children to the corner of Mulberry and Huling streets, just north of the Lorraine. She saw a man in a checkered shirt come running out of the alley beside a building across from the Lorraine. The man jumped into a green 1965 Chevrolet just as a police car drove up behind him. He gunned the Chevrolet around the corner and up Mulberry past Catling’s house moving her to exclaim, “It’s going to take us six months to pay for the rubber he’s burning up!!” The police, she said, ignored the man and blocked off a street, leaving his car free to go the opposite way.
I visited Catling in her home, and she told me the man she had seen running was not James Earl Ray. “I will go into my grave saying that was not Ray, because the gentleman I saw was heavier than Ray.”
“The police,” she told me, “asked not one neighbor [around the Lorraine], `What did you see?’ Thirty-one years went by. Nobody came and asked one question. I often thought about that. I even had nightmares over that, because they never said anything. How did they let him get away?”
Catling also testified that from her vantage point on the corner of Mulberry and Huling she could see a fireman standing alone across from the motel when the police drove up. She heard him say to the police, “The shot came from that clump of bushes,” indicating the heavily overgrown brushy area facing the Lorraine and adjacent to Fire Station 2.
- The crime scene
Earl Caldwell was a New York Times reporter in his room at the Lorraine Motel the evening of April 4. In videotaped testimony, Caldwell said he heard what he thought was a bomb blast at 6:00 p.m. When he ran to the door and looked out, he saw a man crouched in the heavy part of the bushes across the street. The man was looking over at the Lorraine’s balcony. Caldwell wrote an article about the figure in the bushes but was never questioned about what he had seen by any authorities.
In a 1993 affidavit from former SCLC official James Orange that was read into the record, Orange said that on April 4, “James Bevel and I were driven around by Marrell McCollough, a person who at that time we knew to be a member of the Invaders, a local community organizing group, and who we subsequently learned was an undercover agent for the Memphis Police Department and who now works for the Central Intelligence Agency . . . [After the shot, when Orange saw Dr. King’s leg dangling over the balcony], I looked back and saw the smoke. It couldn’t have been more than five to ten seconds. The smoke came out of the brush area on the opposite side of the street from the Lorraine Motel. I saw it rise up from the bushes over there. From that day to this time I have never had any doubt that the fatal shot, the bullet which ended Dr. King’s life, was fired by a sniper concealed in the brush area behind the derelict buildings.
“I also remember then turning my attention back to the balcony and seeing Marrell McCollough up on the balcony kneeling over Dr. King, looking as though he was checking Dr. King for life signs.
“I also noticed, quite early the next morning around 8 or 9 o’clock, that all of the bushes and brush on the hill were cut down and cleaned up. It was as though the entire area of the bushes from behind the rooming house had been cleared . . .
“I will always remember the puff of white smoke and the cut brush and having never been given a satisfactory explanation.
“When I tried to tell the police at the scene as best I saw they told me to be quiet and to get out of the way.
“I was never interviewed or asked what I saw by any law enforcement authority in all of the time since 1968.”
Also read into the record were depositions made by Solomon Jones to the FBI and to the Memphis police. Jones was King’s chauffeur in Memphis. The FBI document, dated April 13, 1968, says that after King was shot, when Jones looked across Mulberry Street into the brushy area, “he got a quick glimpse of a person with his back toward Mulberry Street. . . . This person was moving rather fast, and he recalls that he believed he was wearing some sort of light-colored jacket with some sort of a hood or parka.” In his 11:30 p.m., April 4, 1968 police interview, Jones provides the same basic information concerning a person leaving the brushy area hurriedly.
Maynard Stiles, who in 1968 was a senior official in the Memphis Sanitation Department, confirmed in his testimony that the bushes near the rooming house were cut down. At about 7:00 a.m. on April 5, Stiles told the jury, he received a call from MPD Inspector Sam Evans “requesting assistance in clearing brush and debris from a vacant lot in the vicinity of the assassination.” Stiles called another superintendent of sanitation, who assembled a crew. “They went to that site, and under the direction of the police department, whoever was in charge there, proceeded with the clean-up in a slow, methodical, meticulous manner.” Stiles identified the site as an area overgrown with brush and bushes across from the Lorraine Motel.
Within hours of King’s assassination, the crime scene that witnesses were identifying to the Memphis police as a cover for the shooter had been sanitized by orders of the police.
- The rifle
Probe readers will again recall from Mike Vinson’s article three key witnesses in the Memphis trial who offered evidence counter to James Earl Ray’s rifle being the murder weapon:
Judge Joe Brown;
Judge Arthur Hanes Jr.;
Judge Joe Brown, who had presided over two years of hearings on the rifle, testified that “67% of the bullets from my tests did not match the Ray rifle.” He added that the unfired bullets found wrapped with it in a blanket were metallurgically different from the bullet taken from King’s body, and therefore were from a different lot of ammunition. And because the rifle’s scope had not been sited, Brown said, “this weapon literally could not have hit the broad side of a barn.” Holding up the 30.06 Remington 760 Gamemaster rifle, Judge Brown told the jury, “It is my opinion that this is not the murder weapon.”
Circuit Court Judge Arthur Hanes Jr. of Birmingham, Alabama, had been Ray’s attorney in 1968. (On the eve of his trial, Ray replaced Hanes and his father, Arthur Hanes Sr., by Percy Foreman, a decision Ray told the Haneses one week later was the biggest mistake of his life.) Hanes testified that in the summer of 1968 he interviewed Guy Canipe, owner of the Canipe Amusement Company. Canipe was a witness to the dropping in his doorway of a bundle that held a trove of James Earl Ray memorabilia, including the rifle, unfired bullets, and a radio with Ray’s prison identification number on it. This dropped bundle, heaven (or otherwise) sent for the State’s case against Ray, can be accepted as credible evidence through a willing suspension of disbelief. As Judge Hanes summarized the State’s lone-assassin theory (with reference to an exhibit depicting the scene), “James Earl Ray had fired the shot from the bathroom on that second floor, come down that hallway into his room and carefully packed that box, tied it up, then had proceeded across the walkway the length of the building to the back where that stair from that door came up, had come down the stairs out the door, placed the Browning box containing the rifle and the radio there in the Canipe entryway.” Then Ray presumably got in his car seconds before the police’s arrival, driving from downtown Memphis to Atlanta unchallenged in his white Mustang.
Concerning his interview with the witness who was the cornerstone of this theory, Judge Hanes told the jury that Guy Canipe (now deceased) provided “terrific evidence”: “He said that the package was dropped in his doorway by a man headed south down Main Street on foot, and that this happened at about ten minutes before the shot was fired [emphasis added].”
Hanes thought Canipe’s witnessing the bundle-dropping ten minutes before the shot was very credible for another reason. It so happened (as confirmed by Philip Melanson’s research) that at 6:00 p.m. one of the MPD tactical units that had been withdrawn earlier by Inspector Evans, TACT 10, had returned briefly to the area with its 16 officers for a rest break at Fire Station 2. Thus, as Hanes testified, with the firehouse brimming with police, some already watching King across the street, “when they saw Dr. King go down, the fire house erupted like a beehive . . . In addition to the time involved [in Ray’s presumed odyssey from the bathroom to the car], it was circumstantially almost impossible to believe that somebody had been able to throw that [rifle] down and leaave right in the face of that erupting fire station.”
When I spoke with Judge Hanes after the trial about the startling evidence he had received from Canipe, he commented, “That’s what I’ve been saying for 30 years.”
William Hamblin testified not about the rifle thrown down in the Canipe doorway but rather the smoking rifle Loyd Jowers said he received at his back door from Earl Clark right after the shooting. Hamblin recounted a story he was told many times by his friend James McCraw, who had died.
James McCraw is already well-known to researchers as the taxi driver who arrived at the rooming house to pick up Charlie Stephens shortly before 6:00 p.m. on April 4. In a deposition read earlier to the jury, McCraw said he found Stephens in his room lying on his bed too drunk to get up, so McCraw turned out the light and left without him — minutes before Stephens, according to the State, identified Ray in profile passing down the hall from the bathroom. McCraw also said the bathroom door next to Stephen’s room was standing wide open, and there was no one in the bathroom — where again, according to the State, Ray was then balancing on the tub, about to squeeze the trigger.
William Hamblin told the jury that he and fellow cab-driver McCraw were close friends for about 25 years. Hamblin said he probably heard McCraw tell the same rifle story 50 times, but only when McCraw had been drinking and had his defenses down.
In that story, McCraw said that Loyd Jowers had given him the rifle right after the shooting. According to Hamblin, “Jowers told him to get the [rifle] and get it out of here now. [McCraw] said that he grabbed his beer and snatched it out. He had the rifle rolled up in an oil cloth, and he leapt out the door and did away with it.” McCraw told Hamblin he threw the rifle off a bridge into the Mississippi River.
Hamblin said McCraw never revealed publicly what he knew of the rifle because, like Jowers, he was afraid of being indicted: “He really wanted to come out with it, but he was involved in it. And he couldn’t really tell the truth.”
William Pepper accepted Hamblin’s testimony about McCraw’s disposal of the rifle over Jowers’s claim to Dexter King that he gave the rifle to Raul. Pepper said in his closing argument that the actual murder weapon had been lying “at the bottom of the Mississippi River for over thirty-one years.”
The vision behind the trial
In his sprawling, brilliant work that underlies the trial, Orders to Kill (1995), William Pepper introduced readers to most of the 70 witnesses who took the stand in Memphis or were cited by deposition, tape, and other witnesses. To keep this article from reading like either an encyclopedia or a Dostoevsky novel, I have highlighted only a few. (Thanks to the King Center, the full trial trascript is available online at http://www.thekingcenter.com/tkc/trial.html.) What Pepper’s work has accomplished in print and in court can be measured by the intensity of the media attacks on him, shades of Jim Garrison. But even Garrison did not gain the support of the Kennedy family (in his case) or achieve a guilty verdict. The Memphis trial has opened wide a door to our assassination politics. Anyone who walks through it is faced by an either/or: to declare naked either the empire or oneself.
The King family has chosen the former. The vision behind the trial is at least as much theirs as it is William Pepper’s, for ultimately it is the vision of Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta King explained to the jury her family’s purpose in pursuing the lawsuit against Jowers: “This is not about money. We’re concerned about the truth, having the truth come out in a court of law so that it can be documented for all. I’ve always felt that somehow the truth would be known, and I hoped that I would live to see it. It is important I think for the sake of healing so many people — my family, other people, the nation.”
Dexter King, the plaintiffs’ final witness, said the trial was about why his father had been killed: “From a holistic side, in terms of the people, in terms of the masses, yes, it has to be dealt with because it is not about who killed Martin Luther King Jr., my father. It is not necessarily about all of those details. It is about: Why was he killed? Because if you answer the why, you will understand the same things are still happening. Until we address that, we’re all in trouble. Because if it could happen to him, if it can happen to this family, it can happen to anybody.
“It is so amazing for me that as soon as this issue of potential involvement of the federal government came up, all of a sudden the media just went totally negative against the family. I couldn’t understand that. I kept asking my mother, `What is going on?’
“She reminded me. She said, `Dexter, your dad and I have lived through this once already. You have to understand that when you take a stand against the establishment, first, you will be attacked. There is an attempt to discredit. Second, [an attempt] to try and character-assassinate. And third, ultimately physical termination or assassination.’
“Now the truth of the matter is if my father had stopped and not spoken out, if he had just somehow compromised, he would probably still be here with us today. But the minute you start talking about redistribution of wealth and stopping a major conflict, which also has economic ramifications . . . “
In his closing argument, William Pepper identified economic power as the root reason for King’s assassination: “When Martin King opposed the war, when he rallied people to oppose the war, he was threatening the bottom lines of some of the largest defense contractors in this country. This was about money. He was threatening the weapons industry, the hardware, the armaments industries, that would all 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. . . . Now he began to talk about a redistribution of wealth, in this the wealthiest country in the world.”
Pepper went a step beyond saying government agencies were responsible for the assassination. To whom in turn were those murderous agencies responsible? Not so much to government officials per se, Pepper asserted, as to the economic powerholders they represented who stood in the even deeper shadows behind the FBI, Army Intelligence, and their affiliates in covert action. By 1968, Pepper told the jury, “And today it is much worse in my view” — “the decision-making processes in the United States were the representatives, the footsoldiers of the very economic interests that were going to suffer as a result of these times of changes [being actived by King].”
To say that U.S. government agencies killed Martin Luther King on the verge of the Poor People’s Campaign is a way into the deeper truth that the economic powers that be (which dictate the policies of those agencies) killed him. In the Memphis prelude to the Washington campaign, King posed a threat to those powers of a non-violent revolutionary force. Just how determined they were to stop him before he reached Washington was revealed in the trial by the size and complexity of the plot to kill him.
Dexter King testified to the truth of his father’s death with transforming clarity: “If what you are saying goes against what certain people believe you should be saying, you will be dealt with — maybe not the way you are dealt with in China, which is overtly. But you will be dealt with covertly. The result is the same.
“We are talking about a political assassination in modern-day times, a domestic political assassination. Of course, it is ironic, but I was watching a special on the CIA. They say, `Yes, we’ve participated in assassinations abroad but, no, we could never do anything like that domestically.’ Well, I don’t know. . . . Whether you call it CIA or some other innocuous acronym or agency, killing is killing.
“The issue becomes: What do we do about this? Do we endorse a policy in this country, in this life, that says if we don’t agree with someone, the only means to deal with it is through elimination and termination? I think my father taught us the opposite, that you can overcome without violence.
“We’re not in this to make heads roll. We’re in this to use the teachings that my father taught us in terms of nonviolent reconciliation. It works. We know that it works. So we’re not looking to put people in prison. What we’re looking to do is get the truth out so that this nation can learn and know officially. If the family of the victim, if we’re saying we’re willing to forgive and embark upon a process that allows for reconciliation, why can’t others?”
When pressed by Pepper to name a specific amount of damages for the death of his father, Dexter King said, “One hundred dollars.”
The jury returned with a verdict after two and one-half hours. Judge James E. Swearengen of Shelby County Circuit Court, a gentle African-American man in his last few days before retirement, read the verdict aloud. The courtroom was now crowded with spectators, almost all black.
“In answer to the question, `Did Loyd Jowers participate in a conspiracy to do harm to Dr. Martin Luther King?’ your answer is `Yes.'” The man on my left leaned forward and whispered softly, “Thank you, Jesus.”
The judge continued: “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.'” An even more heartfelt whisper: “Thank you, Jesus!”
David Morphy, the only juror to grant an interview, said later: “We can look back on it and say that we did change history. But that’s not why we did it. It was because there was an overwhelming amount of evidence and just too many odd coincidences.
“Everything from the police department being pulled back, to the death threat on Redditt, to the two black firefighters being pulled off, to the military people going up on top of the fire station, even to them going back to that point and cutting down the trees. Who in their right mind would go and destroy a crime scene like that the morning after? It was just very, very odd.”
I drove the few blocks to the house on Mulberry Street, one block north of the Lorraine Motel (now the National Civil Rights Museum). When I rapped loudly on Olivia Catling’s security door, she was several minutes in coming. She said she’d had the flu. I told her the jury’s verdict, and she smiled. “So I can sleep now. For years I could still hear that shot. After 31 years, my mind is at ease. So I can sleep now, knowing that some kind of peace has been brought to the King family. And that’s the best part about it.”
Perhaps the lesson of the King assassination is that our government understands the power of nonviolence better than we do, or better than we want to. In the spring of 1968, when Martin King was marching (and Robert Kennedy was campaigning), King was determined that massive, nonviolent civil disobedience would end the domination of democracy by corporate and military power. The powers that be took Martin Luther King seriously. They dealt with him in Memphis.
Thirty-two years after Memphis, we know that the government that now honors Dr. King with a national holiday also killed him. As will once again become evident when the Justice Department releases the findings of its “limited re-investigation” into King’s death, the government (as a footsoldier of corporate power) is continuing its cover-up — just as it continues to do in the closely related murders of John and Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X.
The faithful in a nonviolent movement that hopes to change the distribution of wealth and power in the U.S.A. — as Dr. King’s vision, if made real, would have done in 1968 — should be willing to receive the same kind of reward that King did in Memphis. As each of our religious traditions has affirmed from the beginning, that recurring story of martyrdom (“witness”) is one of ultimate transformation and cosmic good news
… when gunned down while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. … restaurant owner was sued in civil court as part of a conspiracy to murder Martin Luther King.
Who really killed Dr. Martin Luther King? … flop house” across the street from theLorraine Motel … patsy and an unwitting participant in a conspiracy …