By Dr. William F. Pepper
As a friend and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during the last year of his life, James Earl Ray’s attorney, for the last ten years of his life and, finally, lead Counsel for Dr. King’s family in the 1999 civil trial which brought forward evidence from 70 witnesses over 30 days in Memphis, I am compelled to comment, for the record, on the most recent documentary on the assassination by CNN which is being aired on an ongoing basis. The fact that my participation in the program was used to give it some credibility makes this comment even more relevant.
It is one matter to distort the truth of how this great American prophet was taken from us, but quite another to have mainstream media perpetuate disinformation on matters of such public importance to the citizens of the Republic. An expert witness, at the King family civil trial, William Schapp, set out the historical use of government disinformation through mainstream media, dating back to the 1920’s.
The first half of the program was dedicated to James and his background and history. While the program notably failed to provide a motive as to why this escaped convict would even consider such an act, and racism had been excluded by the earlier Congressional investigation, it was hinted at by a reference of his refusal to go to a work farm attached to the Missouri prison because of the number of blacks in that facility. In fact, James was afraid of becoming tied into drug activity which was going on there and having his term extended. He would regularly roll dice with black co-workers when he worked in a shoe factory.
The program went on to allege that he and his brother robbed a bank in Alton, Illinois, on July 12, 1967. This, allegedly, was the source of his funds, so he did not need the handler he identified as Raoul, who we would eventually identify. I don’t know the former detective they brought on camera, but closer to the time, 1978, I spoke with the president of the bank and the Chief of Police, and both told me that the Ray brothers had never been suspects, and in fact they believed that they knew who did the robbery, but did not have enough proof to charge them. Further, they confirmed that despite mainstream published reports they had never been interviewed by the Congressional investigators, the FBI or the reporting media’s investigative reporter.
In the second half of the program, the disinformation ran rampant; just a few examples illustrate this point. The failure to match the throw down rifle to the death slug became “inconclusive”. What does that mean? There was no ballistics match. The gun was not and could not be regarded as the murder weapon, and introduced into evidence as such. Yet it remains mounted in the Civil Rights Museum as precisely that; now with CNN’s blessing. We had four witnesses who saw figures in the bushes (one New York Times reporter, Earl Caldwell), two observed the shooter coming down over the wall, another (Reverend James Orange) saw smoke kicked up and rising from the bushes, and another who saw the owner of the Grill which backed on to the Lorraine Motel, rush, from the bushes, past her into his kitchen still carrying the smoking gun he took from the shooter. CNN converted all of this evidence into one “unreliable” witness. The next morning that crime scene was cut down and cleaned. The CNN report supported the official story that the shot came from the bathroom window. It was well known that we had a reliable witness who saw the bathroom door open, with the light on, minutes before the shooting, and no one inside. It was empty, of course, because the shot came from the bushes. A clip from a CBS interview with a roomer who saw someone running down the hall was cut off just before the reporter showed him a photo of James, and he said that was not the man he saw. The man carrying the throw down bundle of items James was told to leave in the room (which also contained the throw down gun) dropped them in a doorway and got into the second Mustang and drove away. We had a witness who identified that Mustang as having Arkansas plates. It was parked south of James’s Mustang. We had two witnesses (one from the Corps of Engineers) and signed statements, evidencing that James drove away from the rooming house about 20 minutes before the shooting. All of this was known and put under oath, and ignored by CNN.
Perhaps the most egregious action involved the use of the aged Captain of the fire station, diagonally opposite the Motel. When I learned from military sources that a psy ops unit of two photographers was on the roof of the station, and one of my investigators interviewed both army photographers, I sought him out ten years ago. At that earlier time he, testified under oath that he put them on the roof, watched them unpack their still cameras and then left them there. He never saw them again. Now 9 years later CNN puts on this old man who is clearly confused about what he did back then and may not even have remembered his courtroom testimony. They use that interview along with a photograph of the roof taken at a time when the soldiers would have had ample time to disappear, to assert that they were never there. It gets worse. When I suggested to the CNN reporter that they interview the Captain, he said he was dead. They obviously did not want me to speak with him.
There was more of the same, but surely, this is enough to constitute an insult to the memory and legacy of Dr. King, an injustice to James Earl Ray and a violation of every tenet of fair and objective reporting.
William Pepper was the attorney for the King family In the Memphis civil action against Loyd Jowers and others, known and unknown, for causing the wrongful death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr…
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