After 25 Years, Truth Begins to Emerge

CARL ROWAN

April 07, 1993|By CARL ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- So the jury in HBO's gripping mock trial has declared that James Earl Ray did not murder Martin Luther King Jr.

I am not surprised, because I don't believe any open-minded person can look at the evidence presented and conclude that Ray alone committed one of the most shocking murders of the century.

This absorbing HBO ''trial'' is a great public service, because it makes available to ordinary Americans facts, evidence, testimony that make it clear that while Ray is a scoundrel, he is also the pawn, the fall guy, in a murder perpetrated by powerful law-enforcement figures who could manipulate the courts, lawyers and politicians.

I reached the same conclusion as this diverse, interracial mock jury two decades ago when FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley permitted me to read thousands of secret FBI documents.

It was in those files that I learned the sordid details of 25 separate campaigns ordered by J. Edgar Hoover to discredit and destroy King.

That is why I wrote two years ago, in my autobiography, ''Breaking Barriers,'' that ''I shall go to my grave believing that Hoover . . . and others in the FBI had a role in silencing the black man they professed to fear, but surely hated.''

This HBO trial produced chilling testimony that Memphis lawmen Why has Ray for a quarter-century been unable to get a real trial in a real court.

took a whole and almost perfect bullet from King's body. This bullet was from a 30.06 Springfield rifle like the one that, incredibly, was left near the murder scene bearing Ray's fingerprints. Memphis police turned the bullet over to the FBI. It came back mangled into three pieces -- meaning that ballistics experts could never say that this killing missile could not have been fired from the ''Ray'' rifle.

If you didn't see the HBO ''trial'' Sunday night, take a look when it is rerun. You'll be convinced that:

* James Earl Ray could not have schemed to get King to switch plans and stay at the death site, the Lorraine motel.

* Ray had no power to detail black policemen and firemen so as to ensure that no African-American was around to see the murder plot unfold.

* Someone other than Ray -- some law-enforcement people -- ordered the electronic spying on King just prior to the assassination, and Ray could not have directed the cutting of bushes and other alterations of the crime scene -- both of which occurred.

* Ray could not have suppressed evidence that the gunman who shot King fired from the bushes rather the bathroom of the nearby rooming house.

You may even be convinced that there was something fishy about the way Ray's lawyer persuaded him to ''confess'' so as to avoid the electric chair.

Unlike the movie ''JFK,'' which asks us to embrace wild conspiracy theories, this HBO program compels us to look only at solid evidence, and then to ask why Ray has for a quarter-century been unable to get a real trial in a real court.

I don't think you can watch these actual witnesses from the Memphis police force or from other places without concluding that Hoover's FBI is the sophisticated villain in this tragedy.

The pity is that the old monster J. Edgar is dead, and Americans now seem more interested in whether he privately wore dresses and pumps than whether he secretly used assassins. Hoover's closest accomplices also are dead and cannot be tried, questioned or punished in any way.

But James Earl Ray is withering away in prison for a murder he did not commit -- in my judgment and that of the mock jury.

Surely there is a way for the governor of Tennessee or the Justice Department to take a closer look and at least give Ray some hours in a real courtroom.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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