Dexter King Visits James Earl Ray in Prison: Says He Believes Ray is Innocent
JET magazine (all black magazine)
April 14, 1997
Martin Luther King, Jr., shakes hands with James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing his father. Dexter King says he and his family believe that Ray is innocent.
In an extraordinary face-to-face prison meeting, Dexter Luther King Jr., son of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., asked James Earl Ray, "Did you kill my father ?" Ray answered: "No, I didn't."
Dexter King responded, "I believe you, and my family believes you."
The historic meeting in a state prison hospital in Tennessee was the first between the two men and also marked the first time the King family has publicly backed Ray's claim of innocence.
Ray, 69, was taken to the meeting room in a wheelchair, and at times he mumbled and rambled. King, 36, sat just three feet away, listening patiently and speaking softly to Ray, who is dying of liver disease.
"My family believes you," said King, who was 7 when his father was assassinated in 1968. "We are going to to do everything in our power to try and make sure that justice will prevail."
King added, "I guess in some strange way our destinies, that of my father's and of yourself, somehow got tied up together, and we still don't feel as a family that we have all of the questions answered."
The King family already had joined the call for a new trial for Ray by saying that's the only way they'll the truth about King's death. ...
The Question That Won't: Martin Luther King Jr.'s family and experts raise new questions about 1968 assassination
Why do so many people, including the King family, doubt that Ray fired the fatal shot that killed Dr. King as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968? Is it possible that we've been hoodwinked and James Earl Ray didn't kill king?
If Ray didn't do it, then who did?
Was it a clandestine group within the government as Dexter King and Andrew Young have suggested? ...
The case Shelby County prosecutors pieced together against Ray weaved a plot of deception and determination by a career criminal on the run, willing to do whatever it took -- rob banks, even kill -- -- to get the money needed to flee the country. While the government's plot was the stuff of a best-selling murder mystery, the case ran into character development problems that forced the public to believe it was possible for Ray to be a calculating professional crook and cold-blooded killer one minute and a bungling nincompoop the next.
Even so, history books and historians have generally told the traditional story, the one in which Ray, a petty burglar, robber and, at the time, an escaped prisoner from Missouri--using a different name--checks into the dilapidated Bessie Brewer rooming house just west of the 32-room, L-shaped Lorraine Motel. He camps out in a bathroom, peering out the window. It is shortly before 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aril 4--at the beginning of the Holy Week. For the last two weeks, Ray has stalked King from Selma to Atlanta to Memphis, waiting for the right moment. With the finger on the trigger, he now patiently waits for King to come into sight. ...
King's door opens and he walks out. From the balcony, he can see all of the activity in the parking lot. He seems to be in a good mood as he leans over the railing and tells Branch: "Tonight, I want to you to play 'Precious Lord.'" At that very instant, a crackle cuts through the Tennessee air. It sounds like a car backfiring or a firecracker exploding. Young looks up and sees King lying on the balcony. He's not moving. ... Young and others point the police in the direction of the gunfire. An ambulance arrives and transports King to St. Joseph's Hospital. Shortly after arriving, the Dreamer--the man who just the night before had all but eulogized himself in a speech in which he said, "I've been to the mountain-top"-- dies. It is 7:05 p.m.
The country soon receives word of the tragedy.The mourning begins. Riots erupt from coast to coast. In Memphis, a police search of the area near the motel turns up a suitcase containing two cans of beer, a pair of binoculars, a newspaper, a six-transistor radio with the numerals 00416 etched along the side, and a pump Remington Gamemaster 30-06 rifle with telescopic sight. The number on the radio turns out to be Ray's prison number. Ballistic tests, although inconclusive, determine that the rifle is the probable murder weapon. The serial number on the rifle proves that it is the gun Ray had recently purchased. Ray's fingerprints on the rile prove that he is the probable triggerman. Police later conclude Ray tossed away all of these incriminating items in his rush to flee the scene. After the assassination, Ray leaves Memphis and travels to four other countries before being arrested two months later attempting to pass through Immigration at London's Heathrow Airport. "Oh God" is his only response as he is surrounded by Scotland Yard detectives.
Brought back to the U.S., Ray admits to buying the high-powered single-barreled gun, and initially confesses to murdering King. But three days later, he recants and maintains his innocence. He says he was in Memphis at the time King was shot, but that he was at a gas station blocks away from the murder site, checking a leak in a tire on his Ford Mustang. But no one saw Ray there, he doesn't know the name of the gas station, and has no alibi. Ray admits the rifle is his, but says that he had given it to a gun smuggler named 'Raoul.' But Raoul is never found, and to this day is widely considered to be a figment of Ray's imagination. It should also be remembered, if only for perspective, that Ray's ex-wife has been quoted in the press as saying that Ray told her that he shot King.
The evidence and inconsistencies, combined with Ray's initial confession and guilty plea, are enough to convince Judge W. Preston Battle to sentence Ray to prison for the rest of his life. The entire court hearing takes less than three hours. Since then, Ray has been confined to a windowless,maximum-security prison cell, from which he has tried to escape on several occasions.
On its face, the details seem to add up, and Ray appears to be guilty of murder. But what most historical accounts fail to mention are the other details that have made and continue to make the question of "Who killed King?" the question that won't go away. ...
With King under constant surveillance, many found and continue to find it hard to believe that the FBI didn't have the Lorraine Motel staked out when King was assassinated. At the time King was assassinated, King was under attack from forces inside and outside the government. The FBI, for example, was pressing a major campaign against King, and right-wing forces were openly offering rewards for the murder of the civil rights leader who had made conservative forces uneasy with his criticism of the Vietnam War.
Then there are the disturbing questions about Ray. How did he finance his interstate travels during the time he stalked King? Where did he get the $1,995 to buy his Mustang, which was purchased only days before the assassination? One week after King was killed, the car was found locked and abandoned in the parking lot of an Atlanta housing project. How did it get there, and why were there dozens of cigarette butts in the car's ashtray, when Ray doesn't smoke? And furthermore, how did Ray pay for his airplane ticket and accommodations to England and three other countries.
Rep. louis Stokes, D-Ohio, who from 1977 to 1979 served as chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which investigated the King and John F. Kennedy murders, says he can't answer all the questions, but that based on what he knows, he believes Ray committed the murder--but not alone. "I agree with our committee's findings that James Earl Ray was the triggerman who assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Stokes says. "During our investigation, we uncovered facts that point to the conclusion that it is unlikely that James Earl Ray acted alone.
After the multimillion-dollar probe, during which investigators turned up hundreds of boxes of evidence--all of which are sealed in the national Archives until the year 2029--Stokes says the committee concluded that Ray committed the murder in hopes of getting $50,000 in underground blood money a St. Louis businessman and a lawyer had reportedly offered to anyone who assassinated King. The committee also concluded that Ray financed his travels through a series of bank robberies, including one in Illinois that netted $27,000.
"We found that there was substantial evidence to establish the existence of a St. Louis-based contract on the life of Dr. King," Stokes says. "However, while the committee found it likely that Dr.King was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy, the evidence pointed to James Earl Ray as the gunman."
Dexter King says his "gut" tells him that not only was Ray not the triggerman, but that he had nothing to do with the assassination of his father. He believes "covert clandestine forces," possibly within the government, were responsible for the murder and the framing of an unknowing Ray. Dexter King believes his reasons for thinking Ray could be innocent are just as compelling as the reasons others have for believing he is guilty. "There are so many loose ends, so many unanswered questions, that it's hard to believe that we really don't know what happened," King says. "I believe James Earl Ray was told to go certain places, do certain things, and he did them. A great deal has of information has come out over the last five years that points to the fact that Ray was nothing more than a pawn who thought he was taking part in a gun-running operation, when in fact, he was being set up for murder."
Dexter King says it is virtually impossible to believe that Ray would be smart enough to use aliases to stalk his father from state to state, and get a passport and other items needed to go to another country, while at the same time would be so dumb that he would throw down his belongings--including the murder weapon--near the scene of the crime. In addition, Dexter King says he believes Ray was incapable of actually firing a rifle with such accuracy. "Ray was no sharpshooter," says King, who has expressed an interest in meeting Ray. "In fact, he knew very little about rifles."
Even members of King's inner circle--people who were at the Lorraine Motel within feet of King when he was assassinated--have somewhat different opinions about who actually shot King. Andrew Young, in his new book 'An East Burden', says he believes there was an element of conspiracy and a degree of involvement by some segment of the U.S. government. "I cannot dismiss the roll of the FBI in nurturing hostility toward Martin among influential members of American Society, including the president."
Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, says it has always been clear to him that James Earl Ray was involved in Dr. King's assassination. "There is too much evidence that James Earl Ray stalked Dr. King," says jackson, who met with Ray in prison several years ago. "Why would you stalk him if you did not plan to kill him? So we know Ray was involved. We don't know who was paying him to do the stalking. We don't know who financed his getaway. We don't know who provided him aliases. james Earl Ray was involved... (and) all the evidence points" to Ray being the triggerman.
Jackson believes Ray did not have the motive, the money or the mobility to pull off the assassination by himself. 'having a trial--if he's willing to be honest and not just scheme--that's the thing to do," Jackson says. "But he must get beyond describing a shadowy figure named Raoul. He knows more than that, If he doesn't go beyond Raoul, he does not deserve the trial, and we will not get any additional information.
The following words have been attributed to the CIA's Robert Crowley during private phone conversations in the late 1990s. Crowley was a person close to Ted Shackley, who ran much of the CIA's drug and arms business, assassinations and foreign and domestic coups. Although chances are Crowley never actually spoke these words, because they were made available by a world class scam artist (whose Crowley conversations stand head and shoulders above anything else he ever produced - and who certainly did speak to Crowley), it does give a very good idea of who J. Edgar Hoover and William Sullivan of the FBI really were capable of.
"Hoover did King. He hated him with a visceral passion ... because he was having an affair with a white woman and, on top of this, had gone to the Lenin school in Russia. ... Hoover was a nut, but a very powerful and very dangerous nut. There is a long-standing rumor here that Hoover had passed the color line and that he was part black. Hoover was a homosexual and there we have two reasons to hate yourself. King was black and he was a womanizer. And Bobby was AG and loathed Hoover. ...
"No, Hoover did King and Hoover did Bobby. Not himself, but he got Bill Sullivan to do it. Sullivan was his hatchet man and we worked directly with Bill. But then Bill got old and was starting to babble like old people do and he was hinting about Hoover, who had sacked him after he had used him. No, that doesn't make it, so some kid shot Bill right through the head. He thought he was a deer. My, my. ...
"Hoover also was probably a queer but again, not proven. He had his areas of great sensitivity, let's say. No, he hated King because J. Edgar hated blacks. I mean, really hated them. Wouldn't let them in the Bureau and persecuted any black leaders he could. Like Marcus Garvey. Hoover was outraged that King had a white girlfriend and did everything he and his Bureau did to slam him. Finally, as he got older, Hoover got nuttier and decided to have him killed. Sullivan ran that operation. First they tried to tap his phones and plant stories about him and when that didn’t work, they offed him. ...
"[MLK killer James Earl Ray:] Another Oswald. You see, the Bureau has a very small group of miscreants who do jobs on people. Sullivan ran them for Hoover. Ray was a very minor and very low class crook. A smash and grab type. Bust a window in an appliance store and run off with an iron or a toaster. Break into a laundromat, jimmy open the coin boxes on the machines, steal the coins and then cut his bare feet on the broken glass he left breaking the window. Hardly sophisticated enough to shoot King, escape to Canada, get a fake Canadian passport in the name of a Montreal police officer and flee to England. Not likely. If Ray knew who put him up to being a front, they would have killed him just like they shot Oswald. Ray didn't know, although he probably guessed at one point, and off he went for the rest of his life. He can scream innocent until he dies and no one will listen. ...
"Bill [Sullivan] and Hoover had a falling out and Hoover sacked him. Not only did he sack him, Hoover began to threaten him. I guess Bill got terminated finally because he had begun to grumble too much and to the wrong people. ... He went out for a walk one morning and some young hunter thought he was a deer and shot him in the head. ... Terribly remorseful. Severe punishment for [the hunter]. Lost his hunting license for a year. Think of that. For a whole year. A terrible tragedy and that was the end of that. ... Bill thought that because J. Edgar was dead, he could mouth off. He was a bitter man and then he was a dead one. With all his baggage, Bill should have stayed in New Hampshire and enjoyed his retirement. ...
"The man who shot King, Ray, knew nothing, so he got to live and end up in jail until he died. He knew there was something wrong but, and this is important to note, he had no proof."