Sunday, 6 May 2018

James Earl Ray: Bounty Hunter?

There have been numerous conspiracy theories proposed over the last fifty years as a means to explain the assassination of Martin Luther King. Most of them have them have been almost entirely speculative or just downright silly. In two recent books, authors Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock have attempted to revive a 40-year-old theory proposing that James Earl Ray “probably” shot Dr. King in response to a $100,000 bounty being offered by a group of racist, right-wing extremists. Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that there exists nothing even approaching proof that Ray actually fired the fatal shot, just how well supported is this theory?

In short, not very.

In the late 1970s, the House Select Committee on Assassinations was tasked with reinvestigating the assassinations of both John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King but failed to do so in either case. Far from being a no holds barred search for the truth, what the Committee actually performed was little more than a public relations exercise, aimed at quieting the growing number of critics and reaffirming the official solutions. Or, at least, not straying too far from them. In the case of King's tragic murder, the Committee's primary objective was to ensure that Ray took the blame. But when it became clear that Ray was not the angry, violent white supremacist he had been made out to be, the Committee found itself stuck for a motive.

Enter: Russell Byers.

Russell Byers was a notorious St. Louis criminal whose name came to the Committee's attention via the report of an FBI informant. Byers had apparently told the informant that he had once been offered $10,000 or $20,000 to kill Dr. King by a lawyer and a short, stocky man who walked with a limp. The latter individual, Byers claimed, was the man “who made the payoff to James Earl Ray after the killing.” The Committee liked Byers' story enough to call him to testify. However, someone must have informed Byers that Ray was flat-broke when he was picked up in London two months after the assassination because Byers dropped all reference to a “payoff” when he gave his testimony. He also upped the amount he was supposedly offered to $50,000 [1] and identified the two men as John Kauffmann and John Sutherland—both conveniently dead.

The Committee members ignored the fact that Byers had changed important details of his story and then downplayed the suggestion by his former lawyer, Judge Murray L. Randall, that Byers had concocted the whole thing as a means to identify an FBI informant. [2] Byers' tale was useful to the Committee so, despite a number of contradictions and logical issues, it was deemed credible and became the basis for the Committee's suggestion that Ray had probably murdered Dr. King in response to the alleged bounty. And yet, the Committee was nonetheless forced to admit that it had uncovered “no direct evidence” whatsoever that Ray “or a representative” had even heard of any such offer at any time. [3]

For obvious reasons, few people with a grasp of the facts have ever taken the Committee's theory seriously. It is surprising, then, to see the same basic idea being regurgitated today by Wexler and Hancock. In their version, however, the bounty was being offered by the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and the evidence that Ray heard of and planned to collect it comes in the form of statements made by his fellow inmates at the Missouri State Penitentiary.

To be sure, a few of Ray's fellow prisoners did indeed spin such stories. One of the more famous was Raymond Curtis who wrote a letter to Ebony magazine stating that he and Ray had talked to a man from Mississippi about a KKK contract on King, only to admit later that he had fabricated the whole tale for $5,000. [4] Then there was Donald Mitchell who said that some “friends in St. Louis” had “fixed it with someone in Philadelphia” for Ray to kill King and Ray offered to split the $50,000 he was to be paid with Mitchell if he would act as a decoy. But Mitchell was not done there. He also claimed that after picking up the $50,000 for killing Dr. King, they would be picking up another payment for killing “one of those stinking Kennedy's.” [5]

There was also James W. Brown who is quoted as saying that he had heard Ray state that a “Cooley or Cooley's organization would pay $10,000 to have King dead.” [6] But, when he was located and reinterviewed by Congressional investigators years later, Brown “denied any knowledge of a 'Cooley' organization, or of an offer of $10,000 from any group to kill Dr. King.” [7] Yet another bounty story came from Thomas Britton who said that Ray had spoken of an unnamed “businessmen's association” that was offering $100,000 for the killing of Dr. King. Britton told the FBI that he was “somewhat interested” in being paid for “services rendered.” [8] And finally there was Lewis Raymond Dowda who said simply that Ray was ready to kill King “if the price is right.” [9]

The problems with all of this are readily apparent. The stories are all mutually exclusive since each of the inmates related an entirely different version of the supposed bounty to the other. Depending on whose statement you choose to accept, the money was coming from the KKK, Cooley's organization, someone in Philadelphia or an unnamed businessman's association. Additionally, the amount on offer was either $10,000, $50,000 or $100,000. What's more, two of the inmates expressed an interest in being paid for their stories, two repudiated their own accounts, and one gave a story so vague it was devoid of any real meaning. Yet, if you can believe it, Wexler and Hancock have, at one time or another, cited all except Raymond Curtis in support of their theory.

As far as I can see, the only way it is even possible to reconcile each of these accounts is to suggest that the non-violent, soft-spoken Ray who usually kept largely to himself both inside and outside of prison, somehow got himself in a position to hear about every one of these different bounties and then expressed an interest in each one but to an entirely different individual each time. Does this not seem a tad far-fetched?

It should be fairly obvious to even the most gullible individual that all of these inmates could not possibly have been telling the truth. On the other hand, they could quiet easily have all been lying. Which, if you ask me, they most likely were. And that means, once again, that there is no direct evidence that James Earl Ray ever heard of or planned to collect a bounty on the life of Dr. King.

And that simple fact leaves the HSCA/Wexler/Hancock conspiracy theory dead in the water.

  1. House Select Committee on Assassinations, MLK volume 7, p. 182.
  2. Ibid, 204 – 237.
  3. House Select Committee on Assassination report, p. 372.
  4. FBI Airtel from SAC, Atlanta, to Director, 7/3/68
  5. House Select Committee on Assassinations, MLK volume 13, p. 248.
  6. FBI Interview of James W. Brown, 5/8/68 and FBI MURKIN Central Headquarters File, Section 28, p. 190.
  7. House Select Committee on Assassinations, MLK volume 13, p. 248.
  8. FBI MURKIN Central Headquarters File, Section 33, p. 25.
  9. Stuart Wexler & Larry Hancock, Killing King, p. 73.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Why Did James Earl Ray Plead Guilty?

It's a fair question: If James Earl Ray really didn't shoot Dr. King as he claimed, then why the hell did he plead guilty? The answer, according to Ray, is that his own defense lawyer, the world famous Percy Foreman, tricked and intimidated him into it. As much as Foreman denied it, and as much as the State and its defenders refuse to accept it, a review of the facts and circumstances, most especially Foreman's own conduct, clearly supports Ray's contention.
Foreman first entered the case when Ray was falling out with his then lawyer, Arthur Hanes. The main cause of their conflict was author William Bradford Huie who had contacted Hanes before he first visited with Ray in London, saying that he wanted exclusive rights to Ray's story. The three had quickly entered into an agreement in which Huie would give Hanes and Ray a percentage of the gross receipts from his writings and Ray's share would go to Hanes to pay for his defense. Huie never actually met with Ray because he was not allowed to visit him in jail. Instead he would ask him questions via Hanes. But when information Hanes gave to Huie appeared in articles he wrote for Look magazine, Ray became upset. “My anger at Huie”, Ray later wrote, “focused on his revealing the defense too soon.” (Ray, Who Killed Martin Luther King?, p. 117)
Things came to a head when Ray came to believe that Huie was also behind Hanes' insistence that he should not take the stand to testify in his own defense; something Ray was determined to do. Huie, quite clearly, did not want Ray to testify because his story would then become public domain and Huie's exclusive rights would become worthless. In an effort to keep him off the stand, Huie sent Ray's brother Jerry a first-class plane ticket to visit with him in Hartselle, Alabama. According to Jerry, Huie wasted no time in offering him $13,000 up front “if I could get Jimmy to guarantee that he would not take the witness stand on his own behalf...Huie went on to say that the $13,000.00 was just for 'starters,' that there would be 'plenty more' if I could convince Jimmy not to take the witness stand...I countered that possibly the Haneses might not go for that. Immediately, Huie's ego overtook him, and he puffed up like a spoiled kid. 'I'm the one controlling the money here!' he stormed. 'You let me worry about the Haneses; they'll do whatever I tell them to do!'” Disturbed by his meeting with Huie, Jerry went to visit with Ray in prison and informed him that “Huie's controlling the case, not the Haneses.” (Ray & Tamara Carter, A Memoir of Injustice, p. 78-79) He suggested that his brother get a new lawyer. “I saw this famous Texas lawyer, Percy Foreman, on a TV talk show,” Jerry said. “He looked to me like he knew his business.” (Who Killed Martin Luther King?, p. 118)
Ray agreed that it was time to look for new representation but he wanted a lawyer based in Tennessee. Nonetheless, Jerry went ahead and contacted Foreman on his own. Foreman said he was interested in taking the case but wanted a letter from Ray requesting that he visit him in jail. Ray refused to write the letter and and said he would go to trial with Hanes. Jerry again contacted Foreman who asked Jerry and his other brother John to meet him at Memphis International airport and to bring with them copies of the contracts between Huie, Hanes and Ray. Contracts in hand, one day before Ray's trial was to begin, Foreman made his way to the Shelby County Jail. As Ray later testified, once there, Foreman told him that “the only thing Mr. Hanes and Mr. Huie was interested in was money...and if I stuck with them I would be barbecued.” (Mark Lane and Dick Gregory, Murder in Memphis, p. 193) He told Ray that, if hired, he could break the contracts with Hanes and Huie and would ensure that no more stories were written until after the trial. He also boasted about his impressive record of losing only one client to the electric chair in over 1500 death-penalty cases. Suitably impressed by Foreman's spiel, Ray agreed to fire Hanes and retain Foreman.
Within a few days, having had the trial postponed, Foreman had set up residence at the historic Peabody hotel in downtown Memphis where, according to Jerry Ray, he did little more than drink Scotch and talk about himself. As Jerry describes it, “You couldn't get a word in edgewise with Foreman, because he manipulated the entire conversation by loudly revealing his accomplishments...He would knock back a healthy slug of scotch and prance around the room like a rooster. He really enjoyed rehashing the Candace Mossler murder trial in which he had defended Candy Mossler. He said, 'Everybody knew that Candy and her stud nephew cold-bloodedly murdered Jaques Mossler for his money...By the time I was through with the jury, they wanted to raise Jaques Mossler and kill him all over again! And I can do the same damn thing with your brother's case. Hell, boy, they don't have any solid evidence on your brother...This is the easiest murder case I've ever defended...I don't even have to prepare. All I've gotta do is sit here in the Peabody, call up room service, sip on good scotch, and give some interviews to the press until trial.'” (A Memoir of Injustice, p. 82-83)
Foreman's disinterest in preparing a defense was also noted by Arthur Hanes, who said that he offered him all of his files without fee but Foreman didn't want them. “We showed him what we had, advised him he was welcome to everything he could see...We tried to outline the case for him, tell him what we knew. He didn't seem to be too interested. We offered him everything we had. He took nothing with him.” Hanes' son, Arthur, Jr., who assisted in Ray's defense, concurred: “He wasn't interested in the case. He wanted to drink some scotch, eat some dinner, and talk about his famous cases. He also told us about how he made speeches all over the country.” (Murder in Memphis, p. 200) By his own admission, Foreman never even asked Ray if he was guilty or whether or not there had been a conspiracy. In fact he told reporters after the guilty plea hearing, “I don't give a damn if there was a conspiracy.” (Harold Weisberg, Frame-Up, p. 85)
Foreman, of course, would never admit that he had conducted no investigation on Ray's behalf nor that he had never really intended to try the case. He claimed to have devoted 80 to 90% of his time to Ray's case and stated under oath during a civil action that he had employed “six or eight” students from Memphis State University as investigators. And yet he could not provide the name of a single one of these students. Nor could he remember when he hired them, how much they were paid, or how many hours they spent investigating. (HSCA MLK Vol. 5 p. 152-163) The HSCA apparently tracked down one of these students, a man named Thomas Emerson Smith, who “told the committee that neither he nor any of the other students who were chosen to work with Foreman ever conducted a single interview. In fact, according to Smith, the group was never asked by Foreman to carry out any type of investigation whatsoever.” (HSCA MLK Vol. 13, p. 228) Little wonder, then, that Foreman “couldn't recall” the details.
Although he claimed to have personally interviewed many witnesses, the HSCA noted that “Numerous witnesses were never contacted by Foreman or any of his representatives.” (ibid.) Among those whom Foreman admitted he had never bothered interviewing was the State's star-witness, Charles Stephens—the one and only witness whom the State claimed could identify Ray as fleeing the scene. The HSCA also reported that “Foreman has refused to give the numbers or identities of all the witnesses that he claimed to have interviewed.” (ibid.) Which is not surprising really since he was clearly lying through his teeth. He was never able to provide any files from his investigation, to the HSCA or anyone else, for the obvious reason that he never conducted one. He never even attempted to obtain the FBI ballistics report that concluded the death slug could not be matched to Ray's rifle. Among the many lies Foreman told to cover his own ass was that he had spent up to 75 hours questioning Ray. As the HSCA found out, this was demonstratively false. The Shelby County jail logs “indicated that Foreman visited with Ray approximately 20 hours from the time he entered the case in November 1968 to the March 10, 1969, guilty plea. According to the logs, Foreman spent an inordinately small amount of time with his client for a case of such magnitude.” (HSCA Report, p. 320)
The only thing Foreman showed any real interest in once he entered the case was making sure he received his $150,000 fee. Upon replacing Hanes, one of the first things he did was get Ray to sign his Ford Mustang and the alleged murder weapon over to him. Soon after, he contacted William Bradford Huie and, on November 27, 1968, the pair met for lunch. Huie wrote of the meeting: “Mr. Foreman liked my three-way contract with Ray. All he wanted was for Mr. Hanes to get out so he could have what Mr. Hanes had had. 'I like the idea of owning sixty per cent of one of your books,' he said, 'while you own only forty per cent. So you get Hanes out and let me in, then, goddamit, get to work and write us a good book and make us a good movie and make us some money.'” (Huie, He Slew the Dreamer, p. 208) Once he had gotten Hanes out of the way, and had Ray's share of the royalties signed over to himself, Foreman went about thinking up other ways in which he could line his own pocket.
On one occasion, he tried to get Ray to agree to an interview with establishment author George McMillan for which McMillan would be willing to pay at least $5000. Ray declined. On another, without Ray's knowledge, he went before the Judge presiding over the case and asked for permission to have a photographer from Life magazine take pictures of Ray in his jail cell. “In exchange for exclusive rights to publish the photographs”, Ray recalled, “Life would contribute $5000 to my defense fund, better known as Percy Foreman's pocket.” (Who Killed Martin Luther King? p. 124) After Judge Preston Battle turned him down, Foreman showed up at Ray's cell with copies of the infamous photographs of three tramps who were arrested in Dealey Plaza on the day of President Kennedy's assassination. As part of another attempt to cut a deal with Life magazine,  he wanted Ray to identify one of the tramps as “Raoul”, the man Ray said set him up.
On February 13, 1969, Foreman abruptly arrived at Ray's cell with a letter for him to sign. As Ray recalled, Foreman told him that “he needed 'evidence' that he had advised me to let him negotiate a guilty plea on my behalf.” (Who Killed Martin Luther King?, p. 127) Ray signed the letter in acknowledgement of receipt but told Foreman that he didn't intend to plead guilty. What Ray did not know was that Foreman had already been discussing the possibility of a guilty plea with the prosecution for several weeks and he was determined to make it happen. In the letter he had Ray sign, Foreman wrote that in his opinion there was “little more than a ninety-nine percent chance of your receiving a death penalty verdict if your case goes to trial. Furthermore, there is a hundred percent chance of a guilty verdict.” He told Ray that the media had already convicted him, pointing to specific articles in Life, Reader's Digest, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal, and suggested that “the court clerk would manipulate the juror pool so I'd be up against a panel of angry blacks intent on revenge and chamber-of-commerce types who only wanted to lock me up and get back to business.” (ibid.) Nonetheless, Ray stood his ground and insisted on going to trial.
Foreman then travelled to St. Louis and attempted to convince members of Ray's family to help him persuade Ray to plead guilty. Jerry recalled that Foreman was “crying and putting on a show...He told us that if Jimmy demanded a trial and took the witness stand, he would surely fry in the hot seat.” (A Memoir of Injustice, p. 83) The family did not agree but that did not stop Foreman from telling Ray that they did. He worked on Ray relentlessly, insisting, “They're gonna fry your ass”. But Ray still would not give in. He then resorted to what Ray called “terror tactics”. The FBI, he said, had been looking into the criminal history of the family. He said they were going to send Ray's father back to Iowa prison for a 40-year-old parole violation and they were going to arrest his brother Jerry as a co-conspirator in the King slaying. Finally, Foreman told him that if he forced the case to trial, “he couldn't swear he'd do his utmost to defend me.” ( Who Killed Martin Luther King?, p. 131)
Worried that Foreman would purposely throw the case and doom him to the electric chair, Ray wanted to change lawyers again. However, Judge Preston Battle would not allow any further continuances and said that if Ray dismissed Foreman he would have to go to trial with the public defender, Hugh Stanton. Stanton had joined the defense against Ray's wishes on December 18, 1968, and, when Foreman had missed a court appearance due to pneumonia, Judge Battle had promoted Stanton to co-counsel. The most remarkable aspect of his appointment to the defense is that Stanton was already the attorney for the State's star witness, Charlie Stephens. Apparently Judge Battle was unconcerned about the obvious conflict of interest. In any case, Ray did not trust Stanton (with good reason, it turns out, since Stanton was in the prosecutor's office within hours of his appointment offering to plead his new client) and believed he had little choice but to stick with Foreman.
Ray was weakening so Foreman pressed his advantage. He convinced Ray that once the plea hearing was over, he could hire another lawyer who could easily get the case re-opened and Ray could have the trial he desired. He offered to give Ray's brother Jerry $500 to hire a lawyer providing he agreed to plead guilty. He even put this writing in a March 9, 1969, letter that stipulated the $500 advance was “contingent upon the plea of guilty and sentence going through on March 10, 1969, without any unseemly conduct on your part in court.” Finally, feeling he had little choice, Ray relented, agreed to plead guilty, and accepted a 99-year sentence.
There is one important factor that the reader needs to bear in mind here and that is that, thanks to the deeply unsettling conditions of his incarceration, Ray was in a severely weakened mental state when he finally gave in to Foreman's persistent and aggressive campaign. For eight months he was kept in a maximum security cell with steel plates over the windows and blinding lights on him 24-hours-a-day. He was not allowed outside to get fresh air, and cameras and microphones picked up his every move. Two guards were always present in his cell with him and he was not even allowed to use the toilet without supervision. Jerry Ray noted that “It was an obvious attempt by the System to break down Jimmy emotionally, physically and mentally, in hopes of rendering him incapable of making sound decisions.” (A Memoir of Injustice, p. 76) Which, in the end, is exactly what happened. In 1979, the HSCA satisfied itself based on the testimony of Dr. McCarthy DeMere—a plastic surgeon and reserve deputy sheriff who was assigned to look after Ray following his extradition—that “The facilities Ray occupied were comparable to a good motel suite and compared favourably to a first-grade suite in an ordinary hospital”. (HSCA Report, p. 322) Which would almost be funny if it wasn't so disgusting. The committee did not take testimony from Ray's London solicitor, Michael Eugene, who visited with him in early 1969 and was taken aback by the deterioration in Ray's condition; saying that he looked sick, weak, and nervous. (Mark Lane & Dick Gregory, Murder in Memphis, p. 190) Which, Ray said, is exactly how he felt.
Should the reader doubt that his jail conditions had a significant effect on Ray's mental health, and played an integral part in his decision to plead guilty, they need understand only one thing: Shortly after his extradition, the State offered Ray, through the Haneses, a life-sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. A life sentence in Tennessee in 1968 was only 13 years. And, as Hanes Jr. testified in 1999, the plea bargain they were offered at that point “allowed for parole in ten years.” (The 13th Juror, p. 208) Ray turned the offer down and insisted on going to trial. If Ray were in his right mind in March of 1969, would he, having already turned down a sentence of 13 years with possibility of parole after 10, have accepted a 99-year sentence with no possibility of parole? Of course not. The hellish conditions of his jail cell quite clearly deteriorated his physical and mental well-being to the point that he was unable to think clearly or resist the pressure put on him by his own lawyer, the “great” Percy Foreman.
Even so, on the day of his hearing, Ray made sure to get something important on record. When Judge Battle asked “Are you pleading guilty of murder in the first degree in this case because you killed Dr. Martin Luther King under such circumstances that it would make you legally guilty of murder in the first degree under the law as explained to you by your lawyers?” Ray equivocated, “Yes, legally guilty, uh-huh.” [my emphasis] Then, shortly after Foreman had told the jury “Took me a month to convince myself of the fact which the Attorney General of the United States and J. Edgar Hoover...anounced last July; that is, just what Gen. Canale has told you, that there was not a conspiracy”, Ray interrupted the proceedings:
Mr. RAY: Your honor, I would like to say something too, if I may.
THE COURT: All right.
Mr. RAY: I don't want to change anything I have said. I don't want to add anything onto it either. The only thing I have to say is, I don't exactly accept the theories of Mr. Clark. In other words, I am not bound to accept these theories of Mr. Clark.
Mr. FOREMAN: Who is Mr. Clark?
Mr. RAY: Ramsey Clark.
Mr. Ray: And Mr. Hoover.
Mr. FOREMAN: Mr. Who?
Mr. RAY: J. Edgar Hoover. The only thing, I say I am not -- I agree to all these stipulations. I am not trying to change anything. I just want to add something onto it.
THE COURT: You don't agree with whose theories?
Mr. RAY: I meant Mr. Canale, Mr. Foreman, Mr. Ramsay Clark. I mean on the conspiracy thing I don't want to add something onto it which I haven't agreed to in the past.
In other words, despite the intense and disorienting pressure he was under, Ray still found the strength and presence of mind to only agree to being “legally” not actually guilty, and to insist that there had been a conspiracy.
Three days after the hearing, he wrote a letter to Judge Battle stating, “I wish to inform the Honorable Court that famous Houston attorney Percy Fourflusher is no longer representing me in any capacity...I intend to file for a post conviction hearing in the very near future...” A few days later, Ray wrote Judge Battle again: “I would respectfully request this court to treat this letter as a legal notice of an intent to ask for a reversal of the 99-year sentence petitioner received in this aforementioned court.” On March 31, 1969, Judge Battle died of a heart attack. He was found slumped across his desk with Ray's letter under his head. Under Tennessee law at the time, if a Judge died whilst considering an application for a new trial, the application was automatically granted. Battle was considering two such applications at the time he died. One was granted. Ray's was not.
James Earl Ray would spend the rest of his life trying and failing to get the trial Percy Foreman and the State of Tennessee denied him.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The State's Case Against James Earl Ray

[NOTE: All references to the transcript of James Earl Ray's guilty plea hearing are noted with a “T” followed by the page number i.e. T27 for page 27 of the transcript.]
On March 10, 1969, lifelong petty criminal and recent prison escapee, James Earl Ray, pled guilty to the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But despite entering this plea, Ray never admitted to shooting Dr. King and maintained until the day he died that he had been manipulated and set-up for the assassination. As I hope to show, the facts support his contention. There is not a scrap of hard forensic evidence or even reliable eyewitness testimony to establish guilt on his part. And the evidence that exists is, in fact, exculpatory. I will detail in an upcoming post the reasons why he entered a guilty plea when he so clearly was not the assassin. But for now I wish to concentrate on the evidence alluded to at the guilty plea hearing that was said to prove his guilt, and the evidence not offered in court that actually proves the opposite.

As Shelby County District Attorney Philip M. Canale explained to the jury, “It is incumbent upon the State in a plea of guilty to murder in the first degree to put on certain proof for your consideration. We have to put on proof of what we lawyers call the proof of the corpus delicti which is the body of the crime” (T12) I can only begin to imagine how Ray must have felt sitting through what followed Canale's opening remarks, realising how flimsy the case against him really was, and how utterly unconvincing and worthless was the State's so-called “proof”. Because it is without doubt that nothing the prosecution presented at the hearing came anywhere close to proving that “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by James Earl Ray and James Earl Ray alone, not in concert with anyone” as Canale insisted. (T14)
The prosecution offered the testimony of five witnesses whom Canale told the jury would “fill you in on certain important aspects of the case.” (T12) The first of these was Reverend Samuel B. Kyles, a friend of Dr. King who was on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel with him at the moment he was shot. Having turned his back to walk away, Kyles did not see King as he was struck and mistook the sound of the shot for a car backfiring. (T32) He did not have any personal knowledge of the origin of the shot but mentioned looking towards the front of the rooming house opposite “because there were bushes and things.” (T35) Next up was King's attorney Chauncy Eskridge who was also at the Lorraine that evening. Asked, “did you look back over towards a rooming house there shown on the mock-up?” Eskridge replied, “I did.” (T40) He was not asked and did not explain why. Neither Eskridge nor Kyles saw any movement in the area of the rooming house.

The third witness was Shelby County Medical Examiner Dr. Jerry T. Francisco who performed the autopsy. Dr. Francisco testified that the cause of death was “A gunshot wound to the cervical and thoracic spinal cord” and identified for the court the bullet that was removed from Dr. King's body. (T44-45) He also testified that the angle of the incoming bullet was “from above downward” (T45) and claimed the wound was consistent with a shot from the rooming house. (T46) However, Dr. Francisco gave no indication that he considered Dr. King's posture at the time the shot was fired when, according to Eskridge, King was leaning over the balcony talking to people in the parking lot below. (T40) Also not mentioned in his testimony, but reported by the HSCA 11 years later, is that Dr. Francisco did not dissect the path of the bullet as he should have done. (HSCA report, p. 289)
Dr. Francisco was followed on the stand by Memphis Police Inspector N.E. Zachary who committed perjury by falsely swearing to being the officer who found a bundle of evidence in the doorway to Canipe's Amusement Company (next door to the rooming house) minutes after the assassination. (T49) In fact, the bundle was first observed by Lieutenant Judson E. Ghormley who called it in and arranged for an officer to guard the evidence. (see April 16, 1968 statement of J.E. Ghormley) As Zachary described it, the “package rolled up in a bedspread...consisted of a blue briefcase and a Browning pasteboard box containing a rifle.” (T49) He further testified to turning the rifle, the briefcase, and it's various contents over to the FBI on 10:00 PM that night—all except for a T-shirt and shorts. (T52) He did not explain why he kept these two items.

Last up was FBI Special Agent Robert G. Jensen who testified to receiving the bundle from Zachary. (T55) He further testified to ordering his agents to make a canvass of hotels and motels in Shelby County and finding a registration card at the Rebel Motel bearing the name Eric S. Galt (one of Ray's aliases); tracking the recovered rifle to Aero Marine Supply Company in Birmingham, Alabama; recovering a white Ford Mustang that was abandoned in Atlanta, Georgia; and tracing other items from the suitcase—including the T-shirt and shorts Zachary said he did not turn over— to Los Angeles. Finally, Jensen was asked, “Did the investigation made by the FBI culminate in the arrest of James Earl Ray?” to which he replied, “Yes it did.” (T59) Canale's executive assistant Robert Dwyer then informed the court, “That is all the proof the state cares to offer at this time.”
And with that, with none of facts of the crime established, and nothing about Ray's guilt even close to proven, the witness testimony came to a pitiful end.

Following a short recess, assistant James W. Beasley began to narrate “a stipulation of the facts and evidence that the State would prove in addition to the testimony that you heretofore heard in the trial of this case.” (T60) Beasley's narrative runs for 40 pages and is brimming over with trivialities that have no bearing on whether or not Ray killed King. As Harold Weisberg noted, Beasley was trying to make it appear as if a proper, thorough investigation had been conducted and to make the evidence against Ray seem stronger than it actually was. Therefore, in what follows, I have ignored the numerous irrelevancies that require and deserve no response and concentrated solely on the salient points of the State's case.
Ray at the Rooming House

According to Beasley, the State could show through the testimony of Bessie Brewer, manager of the rooming house, that at around 3:00 PM Ray rented room 5-B under the name of John Willard. On this point the State is undoubtedly correct and Ray never denied it. He claimed, however, that he rented the room at the request of the man whom he believed set him up for the assassination; a man he knew only as “Raoul”. Beasley made sure to note that Ray had rejected the first room he was offered, a room on the south side of the building, in favour of a room on the north side, facing the Lorraine Motel. (T61-62) Thus the implication is made that Ray was specifically looking for a room with a view of Dr. King's room at the Lorraine. But as Brewer said in her April 4, 1968 interview, Ray didn't ask for a room on the north side or check the view from the window before accepting 5-B, he just “looked in” and “said that was fine.” Ray's reason for rejecting room 8, according to Brewer, was that “he didn't need the stove and the refrigerator. He just needed a sleeping room” This is what Ray always maintained was his reason for rejecting what he called a “housekeeping room”, adding that this type of room is “for couples, I believe. And, uh, they're usually roach-infested...” (HSCA MLK Vol. 9, p. 41)
To further support the notion that Ray was spying on Dr. King from room 5-B, Beasley claimed that after the shooting, when police searched the rooming house, they found that a chest of drawers had been moved away from the window and a wooden chair had been placed in front of it. Beasley told the jury that “You could sit in this chair and...could see the Lorraine Motel.” (T68) Beasley's claim is contradicted by the April 4, 1968, Homicide Officers Report which states, “ was noted by sitting in the chair at this angle the spot where Dr. King was standing was not visible but you must lean partially out the window to see the spot.” So a view of King's room was not possible from 5-B unless one hangs half out of the window! Beasley also leaves out the inconvenient fact that neither the chest of drawers nor the chair had Ray's fingerprints on them. In fact, Ray's fingerprints were not found anywhere in the rooming house. (HSCA MLK Vol. 13, p. 112) This quite obviously does not support the claim that he was up there moving furniture around. Conversely, it appears to support Ray's account in which he claimed that the total amount of time he spent in the rooming house was around 15 minutes. (see HSCA MLK Vol. 9, p. 15)
The Bathroom

In discussing the sniper's alleged position in the rooming house bathroom, the State made a number of highly dubious and clearly fallacious claims. According to Beasley, when homicide officers first searched the bathroom, they “found marks in the bottom of the tub consistent with shoe or scuff marks.” They discovered that the window was open and a small wire-mesh screen had been “pushed off” and found lying on the ground outside. And Inspector Zachary observed a “fresh indentation” on the old wooden window sill. Beasley further claimed that “the proof would show through expert testimony that the markings on this sill were consistent with the machine markings as reflected on the barrel of the 30.06 rifle” found in the doorway of Canipe's. (T69) From this the State made its case that Ray had stood in the tub, pushed the screen off with his rifle, rested the barrel on the window sill. and fired the fatal shot. For 45 years this scenario has been accepted uncritically by journalists and historians the world over and actively promoted by establishment-friendly authors like Gerald Posner, Gerold Frank, and Hampton Sides. And yet the evidence disproves it.
Despite the importance the State placed upon them, the scuff marks in the tub are of no value whatsoever in establishing Ray's guilt or innocence. Assuming they really were caused by shoes, there is no way of knowing who's shoes made them or when they were made. In fact, the HSCA admitted that it was “unable to eliminate the alternative possibility that these marks, apparently made by someone wearing shoes, were left by police officers attempting to check possible shooting angles immediately after the assassination.” (HSCA report, p. 292) Similarly, it was never established when the wire-mesh screen had actually become detached from the window frame of that run-down old flophouse. And the claim that it was pushed off with the rifle is contradicted by the FBI examination which found that “No aluminum, screen-type scratches, paint, wood or other foreign material was found on the muzzle or side of the barrel” of the rifle. (April 17, 1968, FBI Lab Report) As to Beasley's claim that “expert testimony” would show that the dent in the window sill was made by the barrel of the rifle, the FBI lab reports prove he was blowing smoke. After it was removed, examination found that “insufficient marks for identification were left on the board due to the physical nature of the wood.” And, totally undermining the notion that a rifle was fired whilst rested on the sill, “No gunpowder or gunpowder residues were found on the Q71 board.” (April 11, 1968, FBI Lab Report) Beasley's claim, then, was a deliberate falsehood; one he knew he could get away with because there was to be no trial, no cross-examination, and no need to ever produce the proof he promised.
In 1974, world-renowned forensics expert and Professor of Criminalistics, Herbert L. Macdonell, was contacted by Ray's defense team and asked to examine the physical evidence and testify at Ray's evidentiary hearing. According to Harold Weisberg, who was the defense team's sole investigator, MacDonell “erupted with laughter” when he saw the dent on the sill because he immediately recognized the impossibility of the State's allegation. MacDonell testified that it was not possible “to determine even the class of the object that made that indentation, let alone a specific or positive identity of that object.” (Click HERE for the complete transcript of MacDonnel's testimony) He further stated that the “only portion of the barrel that would be capable of making such a clean, fine cut...would have to be the muzzle”. But because of where that dent was, if the rifle was fired with the muzzle resting in that dent, “It would have torn up the windowsill.” Not only that but, as these pictures of MacDonell show, with the rifle rested in that dent, the butt would be up against the wall so the rifleman himself would have to be partially inside the wall!:
This is not the only seeming impossibility with the State's shooting scenario. In fact, the very idea that a sniper could have stood in the bath tub and fired the fatal shot is unfeasible. A team from Paris-Match magazine visited the rooming house bathroom in April, 1968, and attempted to simulate the sniper's supposed position.
What they found was that the old-fashioned bath tub had a steeply slanting back which made it impossible for the gunman to stand in the tub and aim a rifle down on the Lorraine motel balcony. The best their stand-in could manage was to stand precariously on the slippery edge of the tub and this put him up so high that he had to raise the window. This meant that he would be fully exposed to anyone on the street below and would have had to have turned his head almost on its side; making aiming more difficult. But more importantly, the Homicide Officers Report reveals that when police searched the bathroom they found that the window was only raised by “3 and 7/8 inches from the bottom sill.” Which, as I said before, means that the State's scenario is ostensibly impossible.
The Bundle and the Ballistics

As noted above, very shortly after Dr. King was shot, a bundle of evidence was found dumped in the doorway to Canipe's Amusement Company. This bundle contained much evidence implicating Ray— including a personal radio from Missouri State Penitentiary with his prison ID number engraved on it—and most importantly it contained the Remington Gamemaster 30.06 pump action rifle alleged by the State to be the murder weapon. That Ray purchased the weapon is not in question. However, as with the renting of the room, Ray claimed that he did so on the orders of a man named “Raoul”. Interestingly, fingerprint experts for the HSCA disagreed about whether or not Ray's prints were found on the rifle. The FBI had discovered and lifted only one identifiable fingerprint on the rifle and one other on the telescopic sight. Two of the HSCA experts, Ray H. Holbrook and Darrell D. Linville, agreed that the print on the scope belonged to Ray but could not positively identify the print on the rifle. (HSCA MLK Vol. 13, p. 117) The third expert, Vincent J. Scalice, positively identified the print on the rifle as Ray's but not the print on the telescopic sight. (Ibid, p. 113)

 In any case, what really matters is not whether or not Ray's prints were on the rifle, but whether or not that rifle was the actual murder weapon. Beasley told the jury that “The death slug removed from the body contained land and groove impressions and direction of twist consistent with those that were in the barrel of this rifle.” (T96) Anyone who is remotely familiar with ballistics will understand that Beasley's words are largely meaningless. As Herbert MacDonell explained in his 1974 testimony, Beasley “is referring to class characteristics. In other words, like a right shoe is a right shoe and six lands and grooves to the right are six lands and grooves to the right...It doesn't really say anything...” What the State did not and could not offer was proof that the death slug was fired from the rifle Ray purchased to the exclusion of all other rifles. When FBI Agent Robert Frazier examined the ballistics evidence, he reported that “it was not possible to determine whether or not Q64 was fired from the Q2 rifle.” This he blamed on the condition of the bullet, writing, “The Q64 bullet has been distorted due to mutilation and insufficient marks for identification remain on this bullet.” (April 17, 1968, FBI Lab Report)
Herbert MacDonell did not agree with Frazier's assessment. He testified, “I feel there is sufficient detail there that with a good comparison microscope and several test-firings that an identification ought to be possible. I have seen several fineline striations in grooves No. 1 and 5, and the mutilation to the projectile is negligible from the standpoint of firearms identification. It's mushroomed, but it's not distorted. You have six lands and grooves to work with, not just one fragment. I believe an identification is possible, or could be made.” In 1979 the HSCA essentially shifted blame for the non-identification from the bullet to the rifle itself. The firearms panel reported that when test bullets “were compared microscopically, the panel found so much variation among the individual identifying characteristics that most could not be identified with each other. The panel concludes that the Q2 rifle inconsistently engraves individual identifying characteristics on successively fired bullets.” (HSCA MLK Vol. 13, p. 63-64)
In 1994 Ray's lawyer, William Pepper, sought further testing of the rifle and Judge Joe B. Brown granted his request. Frustratingly, the results were once again inconclusive. However, as Judge Brown testified at the 1999 King V. Jowers civil trial, 12 of the 18 test bullets showed a similar “unusual characteristic”, in the form of a bump on the surface, that Brown (himself a ballistics expert) felt was a result of “shattering in the tool” used to make the barrel. Inspecting the barrel, Brown said that it was “absolutely filthy” with jacket powder and believed that it was this build-up that was causing the inconclusive results. He testified, “Now, because this weapon was not cleaned, what happened was that the filing material was being blown out of this flaw. So one of these bullets would have a gross reflection of this flaw. The next shot through it would be somewhat less impressed because of the filing that had filled up this defect. The third one would have even less of an impression. Then the filing would get blown out. The next bullets through would not show it to a gross extent. So you've got twelve bullets with the same common characteristic, that is, this raised area on the surface of the bullet...that was not found on the corresponding portion of the bullet removed from Dr. King.” (13th Juror: The Official Transcript of the Martin Luther King Conspiracy Trial, pgs. 235-236)

To solve the problem, Brown suggested that the rifle be cleaned with a chemical solution that would remove the filings without harming the barrel. At that point, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals had him removed from the case on the grounds that he had lost his objectivity. Clearly the State of Tennessee was disturbed by the fact that the results of this last round of testing were around 66% consistent with the use of a different 30.06 rifle in the assassination. It is worth noting at this point that, as Herbert MacDonell testified, based on the class characteristics Beasley described, their were millions of rifles in the US that could have fired the death slug.

What may further rule out the rifle in the bundle as the murder weapon is the statement Guy Warren Canipe gave to public defender Hugh Stanton Jr. on February 4, 1969. Canipe, who did not hear the shot fired, claimed that the bundle was dropped “in front of his place of business about 10 minutes when a Deputy Sheriff came up to take charge of them.” As noted above, the first member of the Sheriff's department on the scene was Judson E. Ghormley who said that he arrived at the doorway of Canipe's approximately 2 minutes after the shot was fired. When Harold Weisberg and attorney Jim Lesar retraced his steps, it took them just 45 seconds. (Weisberg, Whoring with History, p. 99) So if there is any truth at all to Canipe's statement, since it is impossible for the Remington Gamemaster to have been in two places at once, that rifle simply could not have been used to shoot Dr. King.

The obvious question that Beasley did not seek to answer is why Ray would have dumped that bundle full of incriminating evidence at the scene of the crime. Memphis police speculated that Ray was on his way to his white Ford Mustang when he was spooked by the sight of a police cruiser parked in front of the fire station. The HSCA borrowed this idea for its report, stating, “ official police cruiser parked in the fire station parking lot protruded onto the sidewalk on the east side of South Main Street and would have been clearly visible to Ray as he fled from the rooming house. The committee believe that Ray threw the bundle of evidence down in a moment of panic, probably triggered by his seeing police activity or the police vehicle.” (HSCA report, p. 331) The problem with this theory is that the driver of that police cruiser, Emmett Douglass insisted that he was parked approximately 60 feet back from the pavement where he would not have been visible to Ray. (Pepper, Orders to Kill, p. 214) Additionally, on April 4, 1968, there was a large hedge that ran along the edge of the fire station driveway, extending out to the sidewalk, that would have blocked Ray's view of a car parked where the HSCA claimed it was. This hedge was apparently cut down the following morning. (Ibid, p. 363)
White Mustangs and Ray's Alibi

The State has always maintained that after firing the shot, Ray exited the rooming house, dropped the bundle, climbed into his white Ford Mustang, which they claimed was parked a few feet south of Canipe's, and quickly made his getaway. As proof of this getaway, Beasley cited the statements of Guy Warren Canipe and two customers who were in his store at the time; Bernell Finley and Julius Graham. All three heard the bundle drop, saw a white man walking south and, moments later, saw “a white Mustang pull from the curb” and “head north on Main Street with one occupant.” (T65) Beasley did not mention that none of the witnesses saw whether or not the man who dropped the bundle was the same man who drove off in the white Mustang. He also kept hidden the fact that there were actually two white Mustangs parked on Main Street that afternoon and one of them was observed leaving the scene right around the time Ray said he left the rooming house to get his tire fixed.
There is no doubt that one of the Mustang's was parked south of Canipes because it was seen there by a number of witnesses including Elizabeth Copeland and Peggy Hurley. (T63) But Ray always insisted that he parked his Mustang directly in front of Jim's Grill, located underneath the rooming house. Loyd Jowers, owner of Jim's Grill, confirmed in his April 7, 1968, statement to Memphis police that there was indeed a white Mustang with out-of-state license plates parked directly in front of the grill that afternoon. According to Ray, the car was parked in that spot until around 5:45 PM when he “eased the Mustang north onto Main Street” and drove a few blocks to an intersection “where there were two or three service stations.” He pulled into the nearest one and asked the attendant if he could repair the tire in the trunk but was told it was too busy. According to Ray, he filled up with gas and made his way back towards the rooming house but as he approached the area he spotted a police car seemingly blocking off the intersection. Being an escaped convict who was in town to conduct a gun deal, Ray said he quickly turned off and made his way out of downtown Memphis. A few minutes later, Ray claimed, he heard on the car radio that Dr. King had been shot. (See Ray, Who Killed Martin Luther King?, p. 96)

Two potentially important witnesses gave statements to the FBI on April 25, 1968, that corroborate important details of Ray's story. Ray Hendrix and William Reed ate dinner at Jim's Grill and left at approximately 5:30 PM. As they walked outside, Hendrix realised that he had forgotten his jacket and went back inside the grill to retrieve it. While he did so, Reed stood outside checking out the Mustang that was parked there which, he noted, was “an off white color”—Ray's Mustang was, in fact, a very pale yellow called “spring Time Yellow”. When Hendrix reappeared, the two men walked north along Main Street until they came to the corner of Main and Vance. Just as they were about to cross the street, according to Hendrix, “Bill Reed pulled him back to the curb because the car was turning the corner.” This car, he said, was a white Mustang with a lone male driver that Reed told him “was the Mustang that was parked in front of Jim's Grill..” (13th Juror, p. 351-352) Hendrix and Reed, then, saw a car matching Ray's, with a single male occupant, leaving the scene around the same time Ray said he left, and heading in the same direction Ray said he was headed in. Which means that they provide partial corroboration for Ray's alibi and possible evidence of his innocence. Unbelievably, these witness statements went overlooked until attorney William Pepper brought them to light in 1993.

The “Star Witness”

With no forensic evidence of any kind to put Ray in the rooming house bathroom with a rifle in his hands, and no proof that the dropped rifle was the actual murder weapon, the State's case is entirely dependent on a single alleged eyewitness: Charles Quitman Stephens. Stephens lived with his wife Grace in room 6-B which adjoined both the bathroom and the room Ray rented. “At approximately 6 PM”, Beasley stated, “Mr. Stephens heard the shot coming apparently through this wall from the bathroom (indicating). He then got up, went through this room out into the corridor in time to see the left profile of the Defendant as he turned down the passageway which leads to an opening with a stairwell going down to Main Street.” (T65) The way Beasley tells it, there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it; Stephens heard the shot and identified Ray as the fleeing assassin. I'm sure by now the reader will not be surprised to learn that the truth is more than a little different.
Stephens was an alcoholic who, on April 4, 1968, was as drunk as a skunk. As usual. He was so drunk, in fact, that no more than 15 minutes before the assassination his usual cab driver, James McCraw refused to take him anywhere. As McCraw said in a sworn statement to the public defender's office on February 3, 1969, when he arrived at the rooming house he found Stephens lying on his bed in such a drunken condition that he “could not get off the bed.” Memphis police officer Tommy Smith found much the same when he entered the rooming house very shortly after the assassination. As he said in his sworn testimony at the King V. Jowers civil trial, Stephens was “intoxicated” and “leaning up against the door”. Asked if he thought Stephens was in a condition to identify anyone Smith replied, “No, sir. No Way...I didn't think enough of his statement that I took to take him downstairs and take a formal statement from him and so put it in my arrest report that he was intoxicated to the point that there was no sense in bringing him downtown.” (13th Juror, p. 56)
Nevertheless, a few hours later, someone did decide to take Stephens downtown to take a statement from him. At that point, Stephens told police that he would not be able to identify the man if he saw him again because he “didn't get that good a look at him...I just had a glimpse of one side of his face...he wasn't turned around where I could see him.” As if this wasn't damaging enough to the State's claim, when Stephens was interviewed on April 18, 1968, by CBS news correspondent, Bill Stout, and was shown a picture of Ray, the following exchange took place:
STOUT: Mr. Stephens, what do you think of that picture? Does that look like the man?
STEPHENS: Well--[clears throat]--Excuse me—from the glimpse that I—that I got of his profile, it doesn't.
STOUT: It Doesn't?
STEPHENS: Certainly—No, sir, it certainly doesn't. For one thing, he's too heavy. His face is too full. He has too much hair, and his nose is too wide—from the glimpse that, as I said, that I got of his profile. But that definitely, I would say, is not the—the guy. (Orders to Kill, p. 97)
Definitely not the guy.
That's the State's star witness, it's one and only witness, looking at Ray's picture and saying he was “definitely not” the man he saw!
What else needs to be said?
No Case to Answer
Several years ago, retired British Police Detective, Ian Griggs, wrote a book on the JFK assassination titled “No Case to Answer.” As Griggs explained, the phrase “No Case to Answer” is a “loosely legal expression in England...It basically means that despite thorough investigation, insufficient evidence has been obtained to justify taking the case before a court of law.” I submit that this should unquestionably have been recognised as true of the case against James Earl Ray. There is no forensic evidence of any kind implicating Ray; no fingerprints, ballistics or gunshot residues or anything else remotely resembling scientific proof. What the State offered instead was a handful of lies it knew were disproven by the FBI's own analysis. In a very real sense, the entire case rested on a single eyewitness whose own statements exonerated rather than incriminated Ray. The very fact that this utterly fabricated, wholly unsubstantiated case actually made it before a judge is a travesty. The fact that it ended with Ray serving a 99-year sentence while the real killers got off scot-free is a shameful injustice. An injustice that the State of Tennessee needs to own up to once and for all. For, as Martin Luther King once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Awful Grace of God, Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock

Reviewed by Martin Hay

In 1979 the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) released its report stating that there was a “likelihood of conspiracy” in the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Predictably, and in spite of the evidence, the HSCA found that James Earl Ray was the assassin and suggested that he was responding to an alleged “bounty” offered by a few right-wing southern extremists. For all intents and purposes, Stuart Wexler’s and Larry Hancock’s "The Awful Grace of God" is an updated and even more speculative version of this scenario. That there does not appear to be a shred of credible evidence to support any of it will hopefully be made apparent in the course of this review. The authors distinguish their work from that of the HSCA by not committing themselves 100% to Ray as the shooter. But this feels like little more than a token gesture intended to appease those of us who have actually studied the crime scene evidence. If the authors ever seriously considered anyone else in that role, or what other role Ray might have played, then I missed it.

From the moment Hancock and Wexler introduce the reader to Ray, it is crystal where they are headed. When asked by "The Daily Beast" whether or not Ray fired the fatal shot, Wexler replied, “He probably did, but the physical evidence is a morass we didn't really want to get into.” To most serious observers, this is a rather unusual viewpoint in the investigation of a murder case. The crime scene evidence is the most important evidence there is and should be the first port of call for anyone writing a book on this subject. This is especially so given that it all but proves Ray's innocence.

As I see it, one of the biggest flaws of "The Awful Grace of God" is its reliance on dubious, discredited, and biased sources. So before we get into the review proper, I believe it would be instructive to begin by briefly exploring a few of those sources the authors most frequently cite and most heavily rely upon.

William Bradford Huie
In 1960, author William Bradford Huie attempted to sue NBC over its program, "The American". He claimed it was based on his story, "The Hero of Iwo-Jima". Since Huie had claimed in his book that the story was true, the motion was denied, since historical facts not being subject to copyright laws. But Huie demonstrated for the court that elements he had claimed in his book as true were, in fact, “the product of my imagination.” (Mark Lane & Dick Gregory, "Murder In Memphis", pgs. 282-283) Despite his self-proven status as a self-admitted fabricator, Huie is one of the most frequently cited sources in "The Awful Grace of God". The authors write that Huie was “the first reporter to deal directly with Ray” (Wexler and Hancock, p. 151). But this is misleading. Simply because the two men never even met. The pair communicated through Ray's first attorney, Arthur Hanes. Sometimes Hanes would pass Huie notes written by Ray; other times he would simply forward verbal messages (in court this is known as hearsay). But Ray quickly became upset with Huie. Because he thought that he revealed too much of Ray's defense in an article for "Look" magazine, and suspected that he was passing information on to the FBI. From then on Ray began passing on obvious lies to Huie and their “relationship” deteriorated. Huie, who had begun writing about a conspiracy to kill King, now turned 180 degrees and proclaimed that Ray did it all by himself. And, as he had done with "The Hero of Iwo-Jima", Huie began adding details from his own imagination.

For example in his book about the King case, "He Slew the Dreamer", Huie claimed that a Canadian woman Ray had spent time with in the summer of 1967 had told him of an occasion when Ray had expressed his true feelings for blacks. According to Huie, Ray had remarked over dinner that “You got to live near niggers to know 'em” and that all people who “know niggers” hate them. But, as the HSCA found out, when the woman was interviewed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police she swore that Ray had never indicated any hatred of blacks at all. (HSCA Report, p. 328) Huie had simply invented the damaging quotations.

Perhaps the most telling incident concerning Huie's credibility occurred at the time the ill-fated congressional investigation was getting under way. As one of Ray's former lawyers, Jack Kershaw, swore at the 1999 King V. Jowers civil trial (in which the jury found “governmental agencies” partly responsible for the assassination), Huie phoned him and offered Ray a large sum of money to confess and explain “how he killed by himself—he and he alone killed—shot and killed Martin Luther King...And I immediately asked him, what good is the money going to do this man? He's in the penitentiary. And Mr. Huie said, well, we'll get him a pardon immediately...he was very confident. I suggested he arrange the pardon before the story, but he didn't agree to that.” ("The 13th Juror: The Official Transcript of the Martin Luther King Conspiracy Trial", pgs. 393-394) Kershaw passed the offer on to Ray and Ray turned it down flat. As Ray noted in his book, when he mentioned the “offer” to his brother Jerry and attorney Mark Lane, Lane suggested Jerry should phone Huie “and ask him to be more specific—taping the conversation for safety's sake.” In two recorded conversations, “Huie said if I would, in effect, confess to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., he'd come up with $220,000 for me, plus parole, which Huie claimed he could 'arrange' with Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton...As for the source of the $220,000, Huie wouldn't say. He knew better than to name his paymasters.” (James Earl Ray, "Who Killed Martin Luther King?", p. 201)

George McMillan
The name George McMillan will no doubt be familiar to students of the Kennedy assassination as the husband of CIA “witting collaborator” Priscilla Johnson McMillan. Priscilla, who had applied to work for the Agency but apparently became one of its media assets instead, authored Marina Oswald's “autobiography” "Marina & Lee"—a book Marina herself would characterize as “full of lies.” But it's not George's obvious ties to the intelligence community that discredit his book, "The Making of an Assassin", so much as it is his self-admitted willingness to knowingly publish falsehoods.

Jerry Ray, James' brother, was a major source for McMillan and, as McMillan knew full well, he made up just about everything he told him for money. As Harold Weisberg wrote, “All the Rays to whom McMillan spoke and whom he quoted denounced the book as full of lies (no small quantity of which were made up by Jerry Ray to fleece McMillan).” (Weisberg, "Whoring with History", unpublished manuscript, chapter 14) When he had gotten all the money he thought he was going to get from him, Jerry wrote to McMillan's publisher Little, Brown, and warned them “There isn't a word of truth in his whole book.”(ibid) On one occasion, when McMillan was desperately seeking a picture of the Ray family, Jerry procured some faded old photographs from an antique shop for a dollar and sold them to McMillan for $2,500. (Mark Lane & Dick Gregory, "Murder in Memphis", p. 240) “Of course he lied to me,” McMillan admitted, ( p. 234). But he went ahead and included the false information in his book anyway. And, according to Jerry Ray, he made up a few quotations of his own.

To typify McMillan, when Mark Lane phoned him and asked him if he had any recordings of his interviews with Jerry, or if he denied making up quotations, McMillan refused to answer (Lane and Gregory, pgs. 236-237)

Gerold Frank
On March 11, 1969, FBI deputy director Cartha DeLoach wrote the following in a memo to associate director Clyde Tolson: “Now that Ray has been convicted and is serving a 99-year sentence, I would like to suggest that the Director allow us to choose a friendly, capable author, or the "Reader's Digest", and proceed with a book based on this case.” The following day, as an addendum to this memo, DeLoach recommended “ Gerold Frank...Frank is already working on a book on the Ray case and has asked the Bureau's cooperation on a number of occasions. We have nothing derogatory on him in our files, and our relationship with him is excellent.” Needless to say, the book that resulted from this “excellent” relationship, "An American Death", is cut from precisely the same cloth as Huie's and McMillan's, and Frank proves more than capable of spinning a tale or two.

Frank writes of an alleged incident from James Earl Ray's time in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, when Ray was drinking at a brothel with a prostitute calling herself “Irma La Deuce.” A group of sailors were drinking at a nearby table and one of the four black members of the party was laughing so noisily that Ray became incensed, telling La Deuce—also known as Irma Morales—that he hated blacks. Ray went over to the table, insulted the man, and went outside to his car. When he came back in, he stopped to insult the black sailor some more before going back to his table. He called Morales' attention to the fact that he now had a pistol in his pocket and that he wanted to kill the blacks. When the party left, Ray wanted to go after them but abandoned the idea after Morales mentioned it was almost time for the local police's 10 pm visit. (Frank, pgs. 304-305) When the HSCA tracked down Morales they found that Frank's version of events was a little out-of-line with the truth. What had actually occurred was that one of the black sailors had drunkenly stumbled as he walked past them and touched Morales in an effort to break his fall. The drunken Ray overreacted and become angry out of jealousy and had “never mentioned his feelings about blacks” to Morales. (HSCA report, p. 329) It might have been a pack of lies but I'm sure the FBI much preferred Frank's distorted version of events.

Wexler and Hancock must be aware of Frank's credibility problems. I was disappointed to find that they do, in fact, admit that documents show he was the author chosen to write the book the FBI wanted written, but they frequently used him as a source anyway. But yet a genuine authority on the subject like Harold Weisberg is completely ignored by the authors. This preference for sources that support the official story, which also includes Gerald Posner and Jim Bishop, has a reflective effect on the credibility of their own book.


The main thesis of "The Awful Grace of God" is that the forces behind the murder of Dr. King were members of a wide-ranging, white supremacist/terrorist network, hell-bent on sparking off a race war. This network included members or affiliates of groups like the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the National State's Rights Party. The first seven chapters of the book are dedicated to identifying the most violent, outspoken, and influential members of this alleged network and detailing the numerous attempts they allegedly made, or planned to make, on Dr. King's life. Including attempted bombings and a planned sniper attack in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. The authors contend that these militant racists began reaching outside of their own groups and offering bounties of up to $100,000 to anyone who could get the job done. Much of the information provided is genuinely fascinating and many readers will likely agree that Wexler and Hancock have identified a number of possible suspects. But suspicion is not enough. For this to have relevance to the actual assassination, Wexler and Hancock need to prove that James Earl Ray had ties to one or more of these far-right organizations. Or that he heard about one of the alleged bounties and planned to collect it. Unfortunately, they cannot even come close to doing so.

The HSCA rejected racism as Ray's motivation for supposedly killing King and so too do Wexler and Hancock. But the authors understand full well that if he had held racist views and had racist contacts he would have been more likely to have been in the company of those discussing the alleged bounties on King. So they write that although Ray “was not fundamentally driven by racism” he nevertheless “wanted no part of blacks” and “opposed integration and the entire civil rights movement.” (Wexler and Hancock, p. 160) In support of this claim, the authors, like George McMillan and Gerald Posner before them, cite the word of Ray's “fellow inmates” at Missouri State Penitentiary. As I see it, this represents an obvious double-standard on the part of the authors since they use Ray's background as a petty crook to undermine his credibility and yet are happy to accept the self-serving word of his fellow convicts, many of whom were paid informants or were seeking relief from lengthy sentences. Can there be any less trustworthy sources? In truth, there is no credible evidence that Ray was a racist or “wanted no part of blacks”. And as far as this reviewer is aware no one has ever come forward claiming they were racially abused by Ray. As William Pepper reported, “He evinced no hostility towards blacks whatsoever and his employers at the Indian Trails restaurant in Illinois had said he got along very well with his fellow workers, most of whom were minorities. They were sorry to see him go.” (Pepper, "Orders to Kill", p. 186)

In their attempt to establish Ray's racist tendencies and associations, Wexler and Hancock try to create the impression that he was politically active on behalf of Alabama governor George Wallace, a staunch segregationist. Writing that he “recruited associates to register to vote and support the Wallace campaign” in California. (Wexler and Hancock, p. 160) In truth, Ray made only a single known trip to Wallace's campaign office, so that three associates could register. But Ray himself never did under any of his aliases. And as Harold Weisberg discovered, no one associated with Wallace's California campaign knew or associated with Ray and “a thorough check of their files showed no sign of any of the names associated with” him. (Weisberg, "Frame Up", p. 360) Ray himself commented on the absurdity of claims that he was a political activist for Wallace: “I was a fugitive, hiding out. I wasn't crazy enough to become active in a political campaign.” (Lane & Gregory, p. 249) The fact is, despite an abundance of speculation, multiple “may haves”, “could haves” and “most likelys”, the authors never come any closer than this to placing Ray in the company of the type of extreme-right individuals they contend masterminded the assassination.

Wexler and Hancock believe that the Missouri State Penitentiary is one place in which Ray could have learned of a bounty being offered on Dr. King. They write matter-of-factly that the HSCA “seriously investigated one lead regarding a bounty offer that did reach Ray while in prison” (Wexler and Hancock, p. 163). But in using the word “did” the authors are apparently much more certain than the committee ever was. In fact, the HSCA only claimed to have found a “likelihood that word of a standing offer on Dr. King's life reached James Earl Ray prior to the assassination”. They then admitted that due to a “failure in the evidence” it “could not make a more definite statement.” (HSCA Report, p. 373) And even the HSCA's words were more certain than they had any right to be. Not only did the committee uncover no evidence that the alleged bounty reached Ray, it heard compelling testimony that called its very existence into question.

The HSCA's story of a bounty offer began with a March 19, 1974, report from an FBI informant concerning a conversation he had with a St. Louis criminal named Russell Byers:
"(Portion redacted) Beyers [sic] talked freely about himself and his business, and they later went to (portion redacted) where Beyers told a story about visiting a lawyer in St. Louis County, now deceased, not further identified, who had offered to give him a contract to kill Martin Luther King. He said that also present was a short, stocky man, who walked with a limp. (Later, with regard to the latter individual, Beyers commented that this man was actually the individual who made the payoff of James Earl Ray after the killing.) Beyers said he had declined to accept this contract, he did remark that this lawyer had confederate flags and other items about the house that might indicate that he was 'a real rebel'. Beyers also commented that he had been offered either $10,000 or $20,000 to kill King."
For whatever reason, despite the reference to a fictitious “payoff” to Ray, the committee took this report seriously and contacted Byers only to find that Byers denied the offer ever took place. After talking to his lawyer, Byers decided he would “cooperate”, but only under subpoena and with a grant of immunity which the committee gladly delivered. Now, probably hoping he was safe from prosecution for perjury, Byers named the two men at the alleged meeting as former stockbroker John Kauffmann and lawyer John Sutherland—both conveniently deceased by the time he was questioned by the HSCA. Presumably realizing that $10,000 or $20,000 was a fairly paltry sum, Byers also upped the amount he said he had been offered to $50,000. (HSCA Report, p. 360)

In order to establish whether or not the alleged Sutherland-Kauffman offer ever reached Ray, the HSCA examined “four possible connectives” none of which panned out. (pgs. 366-369) Thus the committee was forced to admit that “Direct evidence that would connect the conspiracy in St. Louis to assassination was not obtained.” (p. 370) Unperturbed, Wexler and Hancock claim there is “independent corroboration from another inmate named Donald Mitchell for Ray's knowledge of the offer.” (Wexler and Hancock, p. 164) Indeed, on September 30, 1968, Mitchell did tell the FBI that some “friends in St. Louis” had “fixed it with someone in Philadelphia” for Ray to kill King and he offered to split the $50,000 he was to be paid with Mitchell if he would act as a decoy. But Mitchell was not done. He also claimed that after picking up the $50,000 for killing Dr. King, they would be picking up another payment for killing “one of those stinking Kennedy's.” (13 HSCA 248) Not surprisingly, the HSCA took Mitchell's claims with a grain of salt and his name does not appear in its report.

The HSCA was obviously unable to question Kauffman or Sutherland to confirm Byers' story and was unable to identify the “secret southern organization” supposedly financing the job. In fact, it found no substantiation for the existence of the supposed bounty beyond Byers' dubious word. On July 26, 1978, "The New York Times" reported of an interview with Kauffman's widow in which she told them “it was 'absolutely impossible' that her husband could have been involved in such a matter...and she believed that Mr. Byers had fabricated the information about her husband to 'help himself out of the art case.'” (Byers had been implicated as the buyer of stolen goods following the theft of a well-known bronze sculpture, but prosecutors later dropped the charges.) But the most damning information concerning Byers’ motivation for concocting the story came from a former lawyer, Judge Murray L. Randall, who had previously represented him in a civil case.
Byers told the HSCA that he had spoken of the alleged bounty with two lawyers, Randall and Lawrence Weenick. When contacted, Randall confirmed that Byers had indeed given him the story sometime “near the end of my law practice. I terminated my law practice November 4, 1974.” (7 HSCA 208) This, of course, would have been just after Randall gave the story to an FBI informant. As Randall explained, before the bounty conversation, sometime in 1973, Byers had spoken to Randall about a man named Richard O'Hara who was charged as an accessory to a jewel theft. Because the charge was “nolle prossed”, and because Byers was questioned by the FBI about something only O'Hara knew, Byers asked Randall “is Richard O'Hara the informant in this case”? Randall said he didn't know. After Byers gave his executive session testimony to the committee, Randall was contacted by Carter Stith, author of the aforementioned "New York Times" piece. Stith asked him if he had been the informant who gave the bounty story to the Bureau. Disturbed by this, Randall met with Byers and asked him “if he could tell from the report who the informant was and he said yes...He told me it was Richard O'Hara, said he could tell from the context.” (Ibid, p. 217) And yet, when Byers was asked by the committee if anyone else knew about the alleged bounty, he did not name O'Hara. As Randall concluded, and is most likely the case, Byers had concocted the entire story to smoke O'Hara out. Although the HSCA downplayed the significance of Randall's testimony, it uncovered nothing that invalidated his conclusion and, all things considered, it makes perfect sense. This would explain why the FBI did not act on the report in 1974 and why it made no move to question Byers: the Bureau knew what his game was and was therefore protecting its informant. It made no move to investigate the story because there was no need; Byers' bounty was a fabrication. It should be obvious then that Wexler and Hancock's assertion that the offer “did reach Ray while in prison” is simply not supportable.
The authors make a sizeable blunder when they write that after Ray's escape from Missouri State Penitentiary, and before he left for Canada in July of 1967, Ray “very likely heard more gossip about” the King bounty “at his brother's Grapevine Tavern in Saint Louis.” (Wexler and Hancock, p. 249) Despite their claim, this is not “very likely” at all. In fact, it is downright impossible for Ray to have heard any gossip of any kind in his brother's tavern at that time. It is true that after he quit his job at the Indian Trails restaurant in Chicago on June 25, Ray did spend a few short weeks in the St. Louis area but he could not have spent any of that time at the Grapevine Tavern. Had Wexler and Hancock been a little more careful in their research, instead of clutching at straws to substantiate their theory, they might have discovered that Carol Pepper, Ray's sister, did not even take out a lease on the property until October 1, 1967. And that the bar did not officially open until January 1, 1968! (See FBI MURKIN Central Headquarters File, Section 34, pgs. 290-293 and 8 HSCA 537)
Not only does the book fail to establish that Ray was ever in a position to hear about a genuine bounty being offered for the murder of Dr. King, it also struggles to convincingly explain why he would be interested in taking up such an offer if he had. After all, Ray had no history of violent crime—the only person ever hurt during Ray's petty robberies was Ray himself—and he was certainly no gun-for-hire. What then would possess an escaped convict, whose only desire was to get out of the country and settle somewhere safe from extradition, to become involved in a crime of such magnitude? According to Wexler and Hancock, it was all about the cash. They write that if nothing else, “the individuals who knew him best were in agreement on what had driven James Earl Ray throughout his life: money.” (Wexler and Hancock, p. 147) But if this were the case, then why did Ray turn down the aforementioned offer from William Bradford Huie of $220,000 and a pardon, when he all he had to do was admit to committing a crime for which he had already been convicted? The authors don’t reveal that Huie's offer took place. Therefore, they don't have to answer that question.

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