In the March, 1999 issue of High Times, Dick Russell explored a king-sized conspiracy surrounding the April 4, 1968 murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which we’re publishing below in conjunction with the anniversary of MLK’s death.
[Decades] after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the public is being led to believe that the case is definitely closed. James Earl Ray, the alleged killer, died at age 70 [in 1998] of liver and kidney failure while imprisoned for the crime. A new book by Gerald Posner, Killing The Dream, concludes that Ray indeed acted alone. A report issued last March by the Memphis district attorney general’s office calls the evidence against Ray “overwhelming.” All this is being trumpeted by the major media as the last word, despite the King family’s call for a federal commission to examine new evidence which they feel would establish a conspiracy and prove that Ray was a dupe.
Those same media did not see fit to cover a two-day conference on the assassination held in Memphis over the weekend of the 30th anniversary of April 4, 1968. The remarks of Judge Joe Brown, among others, were not reported in the press or over the airwaves. Judge Brown, a 50-year-old African-American first elected to Memphis’ Criminal Court bench in 1990, had been routinely assigned in ’94 to review an effort by James Earl Ray’s attorney, William Pepper, to seek a new trial. Then in March of ’98, the Tennessee Court of Appeals granted the state’s motion to have Brown removed from the proceedings for having, they deemed, “demonstrated the appearance of bias.”
So Judge Brown decided to speak out publicly for the first time about the shenanigans that resulted in his ouster, and about the physical evidence proving that Ray could not have been the perpetrator. The judge, it turns out. is a longtime avid hunter and firearms expert. Ray had supposedly fired a single bullet downward from a rooming-house window, striking King as he stood on the Lorraine Motel balcony 207 feet away. The supposed murder weapon, a Remington 30.06 rifle, was found on a public street after the shooting, bearing Ray’s fingerprints (though none of his fingerprints were ever found in the rooming house itself). When Judge Brown ordered a test-firing of the rifle in 1997, the results proved “inconclusive.” When he called for a second firing, he was taken off the case.
As Brown puts it, “What you’ve got in terms of the physical evidence relative to ballistics is frightening. First, it’s not the right type of rifle. It’s never been sighted in. It’s the wrong kind of scope.” And furthermore, “With a 30.06, it makes a particularly difficult shot firing at a downward trajectory in that circumstance.”
Above all, according to Brown, “Metallurgical analysis excludes the bullet taken from the body of Dr. King from coming from the cartridge case they say was fired in that rifle. That bullet was originally sent to the FBI [lab] intact. What came back was fragments—but there was a piece of the intact bullet. In the last four years that photograph, which was marked into evidence, is missing. A number of items were removed from this case. There was one incident where [Brown’s own] court had to send one of its bailiffs to physically stop an individual from removing the bullet fragments from the courthouse.”
The Original Smoking Gun
The actual sniper seems to have fired from behind some tall shrubs facing the second-floor motel balcony. Wayne Chastain, then a Memphis newspaper reporter, had arrived at the scene within 10 minutes. He was told by two witnesses, King’s chauffeur and a lawyer, that the shot came from those bushes. By the next morning, according to the Rev. James Orange, an associate of King’s in Memphis, “the bushes were gone. The authorities were said to be cleaning up the area.”
Across the street from the Lorraine Motel at the time sat Jim’s Grill, owned by Lloyd Jowers. “If he is permitted to come forward,” says Jowers’ attorney Lewis Garrison, “Mr. Jowers will say that immediately after the shot was fired from the bushes, a Memphis police officer—who had been his hunting companion on many trips—either threw or gave him a gun which was still smoking.” Jowers recently told his story to King’s son Dexter and the Rev. Andrew Young. Shortly before the assassination, he says, five men came to his grill, including two Memphis cops he knew. Jowers was promised a substantial sum if he’d receive a package and pass it along to someone else. He opened the package when it arrived, found a rifle inside, and stashed it in a back room until another man came to pick it up on the day before the assassination. Jowers was also instructed to be standing outside his back door the next night at 6 PM. That’s when he was handed the still-smoking gun, wiped it down with a towel and hid it temporarily in his shop.
The money he received, Jowers claimed, came from a Memphis produce dealer with connections to the New Orleans mob. His story gains corroboration from John McFerren, a gas-and-grocery store owner who’d been shopping at the same produce place on the afternoon of the assassination. McFerren told the 1998 conference that he overheard the store owner saying into a telephone, “I told you not to call me here. Shoot the son of a bitch when he comes on the balcony… You go to my brother in New Orleans and get your $5,000 and don’t bring your damn ass near my place.”
Originally, the motel room slated for Dr. King was not located on the balcony, but in the courtyard. But, says Ray attorney William Pepper, “Someone appeared who indicated representation of Dr. King and the SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] and said he must have an open room on the balcony from which he could overlook the swimming pool—which was empty at that time of year anyway. Lorraine Bailey [the motel’s owner] complied and made the switch.” Immediately after the assassination, Bailey suffered a stroke from which she never recovered.
Judge Brown believes this is what probably transpired: “Somebody at the motel, who was closely privy to the comings and goings of Dr. King, made a call—and notified whoever was the sniper that Dr. King was shortly coming out on the balcony.”
High-level complicity seems to have been the order of the day. The director of both the Memphis police and fire departments at the time was Frank Holloman, a retired FBI agent who’d supervised Director J. Edgar Hoover’s office in Washington.
“What are we looking at here?” asks Judge Brown. “You had a director of the FBI with a pathological hatred of Dr. King. A lot of things were buried because everybody trusted Hoover and the FBI 30 years ago. And nobody questioned the lackadaisical, disgustingly inept work that they had in this case.”
Ray’s Flight: A Moron Eludes the FBI?
James Earl Ray, who had escaped from a Missouri penitentiary in 1967, was undeniably in Memphis the following April 4. But he then somehow made it to Toronto, to England, to Portugal and back to London again before he was apprehended, successfully eluding his supposed pursuers for two months.
“You want to say,” remarks Judge Brown, “that a three-time loser, an escaped convict with no obvious financial resources and no technical knowledge, is going to not only miraculously learn how to become a good marksman? This one individual is able to acquire the resources to get identities of deceased individuals, come up with very good forgeries for passports and fake identification, and somehow acquire funds for a very expensive itinerary and travel schedule? Then he gets himself caught because he goes through Heathrow Airport, but does not know whether he is a citizen, an alien or has Commonwealth status? Now, be real! You have to be the worst culpable moron to go for that story. An analysis suggests that what you’ve got in this case was a stooge whose task was to throw everybody off the trail.”
Ray did plead guilty to the crime in 1969, under what he soon afterward said was considerable pressure, and then after a hasty conviction recanted his confession. He maintained for years thereafter that he’d been set up by a Latino gunrunner he’d known only as “Raoul.” Among other things, Ray said that Raoul had accompanied him when he purchased a high-powered rifle five days before the assassination. Raoul then instructed him to take the weapon to Memphis, where Ray handed it over to someone and never saw Raoul again.
The FBI: ‘Racist From Top To Bottom”
Last March, retired FBI agent Donald Wilson came forward asserting that he was among a team which searched Ray’s abandoned Mustang found at an Atlanta housing project six days after the assassination. Inside it, said Wilson, he found two pieces of paper bearing the name “Raoul,” one of which also contained “a laundry list of payments to other people and other entities.”
The FBI quickly responded that, although Wilson had worked in the Atlanta office at the time, he was not among the vehicle-search team and was creating “a total fabrication.” Wilson responded at the Memphis conference that he “would testify under oath anywhere. These documents can be authenticated. I recovered them, and I didn’t turn them in because the Bureau was a racist organization from top to bottom.”
John Billings, a private investigator for Pepper’s legal team, says that Raoul was ultimately traced to suburban New York. “We had five separate identifications of him,” says attorney Pepper, “by individuals who are certain he’s the right man.” One was Ray himself. who was anonymously sent a photo of this Raoul in 1994. Another was Lloyd Jowers, who recalled this person once coming to his grill.
Gerald Posner, whose 1993 Case Closed tried to prove that Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy singlehandedly, suggests in Killing the Dream that Martin Luther King’s assassination may have involved a “kitchen conspiracy” among James Earl Ray and his brothers John and Jerry—the same scenario espoused by the Memphis district attorney general’s office. “It’s typical Posner,” says Prof. Philip Melanson, an expert on the King case. “You look at the pyramids of his ‘new discoveries,’ and it’s all based pretty much on the official record.” At the April conference in Memphis, Jerry Ray confronted Posner at a local bookstore and says he “pointed out all the lies about me and other family members.”
Indisputably, Judge Brown’s dismissal from the official investigation of Dr. King’s assassination shows that somebody has something to hide. “Judge Brown didn’t always agree to rule with us, and was very critical of Ray at various times,” says Pepper. “But he wanted to get at the truth and open up doors that have long been closed.”
Brown pulls no punches about his defenestration from the case. ‘The conduct of the attorney general’s office in this case is highly unusual. They had a direct committee formed, at taxpayer expense, supposedly to conduct an investigation that resulted in this report they’ve released. Well, I don’t know what it had to do with any investigation. But a lot of their activities had to do with following the judge”—that is, Brown himself—”videotaping the judge coming out of restaurants and with his associates, sending individuals to attempt to contact the judge and place him in compromising situations.”
The Court of Criminal Appeals that ousted Brown included, the judge says, “former prosecutors involved in the James Earl Ray case, who had sat on or were sitting on that bench.” They accused Brown of being too involved in personally grilling witnesses, though the Tennessee rules of evidence explicitly allow that.
Brown also castigates the Memphis attorney general’s office for “engaging in a national campaign of slander against the King family. Some reporters have called me up and let me hear tapes they made of comments by members of that office. It’s disgusting, it’s revolting, it’s a defamation of character. The same group that runs around saying a victim’s family has an absolute right to be heard,” says Judge Brown, “doesn’t want Coretta Scott King or Dexter King to have a right to say anything.”
Last April, however, King’s widow met personally with US Attorney General Janet Reno, asking for a truth-and-reconciliation commission to look at “all new and unexamined evidence” in the case. In August. Reno quietly reopened it.
Many will say it’s a moot point. After all, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concurred with the FBI in 1979, proclaiming Ray the assassin. His death ends any hope for a new trial. Still, Judge Brown insists, “The federal government ought to do an investigation. It’s obvious, from looking at everything in the existing case file, this matter is not resolved. The reason we must go forward… is for the children. Generation X is coming of age. and there’s going to be leadership which will come out of this generation and the one behind it. They will do things to offend the power structure, just like we did in the ’60s…. To protect this new generation from this type of response by the system, we must do something profound so that somebody is brought to justice as a deterrent.”
“A demand needs to be made as to why this farce has been perpetrated among the people,” Brown goes on. “I’m probably going to catch all kinds of hell for these remarks, but I really don’t care that much about being a judge, if I’ve got to sit there and keep my mouth shut when I see this kind of injustice. They can take this job and shove it!”