Who Killed Dr. Martin Luther King?

If it wasn’t James Earl Ray, then who?

Photo by Josh Rocklage on Unsplash — EdNote: This is not James Earl Ray

On April 4, 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King gave a powerful speech at Riverside Church in New York in which he laid out the connection between the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement.

Nearly every point in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech was something many of us had thought about at one time or another growing up in the Sixties, or so I believed. We hadn’t articulated it so clearly, but we were uncomfortable with what we were hearing about the war, seeing in the news and reading in the papers.

One year later to the day, while in Memphis in support of striking African American city sanitation workers who were protesting unequal wages and working conditions, Dr. King was assassinated. James Earl Ray, an escaped convict, was branded as the one responsible.

In 1999 the plaintiffs, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III, Bernice King, Dexter Scott King and Yolonda King sued Loyd Jowers and other unknown conspirators alleging that the defendant Jowers was a participant in a conspiracy to do harm and that, as a result of that conspiracy, that harm was done to Dr. King.

Having read a fairly extensive portion of the transcript from the 1999 Martin Luther King Assassination Conspiracy Trial, it’s disturbing to see how frightened our government was of this one man. At the trial’s end, here is the proposition the plaintiff’s lawyer put before the jury:

If you will study over the reports I’ve provided for you, and the exhibits, think about all the testimony that has been given here and what really happened, ladies and gentlemen, your verdict would have to be that the United States government, the FBI, the Memphis Police Department and others were involved in this conspiracy to murder Dr. King.

Before sending the jury away to work out a verdict the judge also presented this brief summing up of what was on the line.

THE COURT: All right. Ladies and gentlemen, in this case the plaintiffs, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King III, Bernice King, Dexter Scott King and Yolonda King have sued Loyd Jowers and other unknown conspirators alleging that the defendant Jowers was a participant in a conspiracy to do harm, and that as a result of that conspiracy that harm was done to Dr. Martin Luther King, that is, that he was killed in the process.

After four weeks of testimony and 70 witnesses, the jury deliberated and “within a very short time all agreed that there was abundant evidence of a major high level conspiracy in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” The civil court’s unanimous verdict was a validation of what many had believed all along.

In a statement after the conclusion of the trial, Coretta Scott King said, “The jury was clearly convinced by the extensive evidence that was presented during the trial that, in addition to Mr. Jowers, the conspiracy of the Mafia, local, state and federal government agencies were deeply involved in the assassination of my husband. The jury also affirmed overwhelming evidence that identified someone else, not James Earl Ray, as the shooter, and that Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame.”

This is a remarkable statement.

A link to the entire transcript of the four week ordeal is a matter of public record and can be found on this page at The King Center website.

As striking as this event was, I find it near incomprehensible that there was so little media coverage. Did the media believe the public would not be interested in dredging up this whole sordid affair again? Nearly every American was aware of the O.J. Simpson murder trial and his initial attempt to flee in a white Bronco. Why does no one recall having heard about this conspiracy trial?

I’m generally not your conspiracy theory type, but this verdict of a public civil court trial has all the earmarks of veracity. You can download the transcript of the trial. It’s quite a compelling read, far more interesting than anything on television today. I recommend section 13 which contains the summing up by both sides and instructions given to the jury, as well as the verdict.

At first the Kings were asking for ten million dollars for wrongful death, but then chose to receive reparations of $100 to show that this trial was not about the money.

As for James Earl Ray, the patsy, he was snuck out of the Missouri State Penitentiary to be on the lam when these events occurred, and then fled the country. He was arrested in London and extradited to the U.S. to be charged, pleading guilty in 1969 and sentenced to 99 years in prison. His numerous efforts to withdraw his guilty plea were denied. He died in prison in 1998, one year before this conspiracy trial.

I can’t help but hear in my mind this Dylan line from his song Hurricane:
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game


In the year 2000 the United States Justice Department rejected the verdict because of insufficient evidence. Some have proposed that Loyd Jowers inserted himself into the story in order to get a book deal.

What they were probably rejecting was evidence based on hearsay. As I thought about this though, an illustration came to mind.

A Hearsay Story

One day near the end of a school year, while the teacher was writing something on the chalkboard (nowadays it’s probably a white board), a chicken egg flew past her ear and splattered against the wall.

The event occurred while all the students had their heads down on the desk, having been instructed to close their eyes for two minutes.

The noise startled them and when they opened their eyes they saw that Ms. Kendall had fury in her eyes. Behind her, the debris from the egg was still drooling down the chalkboard. “Who did this?” she said, voice quavering as she attempted to control her anger.

No one knew. Bill Beatty knew that Tommy Doering brought an egg to school that day. Lana Pagel saw Tommy D writing on an egg during the lunch hour. At the time she assumed it was hard boiled and didn’t think much about it. Earl Hendricks remembered that Ms. Kendall gave Tommy a failing grade on his report card and that Tommy’s father gave him a beating for that two days ago. Jack Kurtz heard Tommy D say he was going to get even and “teach our teacher a lesson.”

In fact, nearly half the class had reason to suspect Tommy for one reason or another. Would this evidence be accepted in court or dismissed as hearsay? There were no witnesses, and no “hard evidence.”

A hard-boiled defense attorney might be able to prove that 90% of the kids in the class could have had a grudge against Ms. Kendall. Examples of her overbearing demeanor could be recited.

If you’d like to imagine yourself in that jury box, read the transcript from beginning and listen to what they heard and see what they saw.

According to a 2013 Gallup poll more than 60% of Americans believe that the JFK assassination was part of a conspiracy and that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. In the mid-seventies it was actually more than 80%.

We know from WikiLeaks that there’s way more stuff that happens than ever sees the light of day through our media. This lack of transparency breeds distrust. My concern is this: how will we ever get it back?

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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