Panel rejects request for new probe of King shooting Men submitting evidence suspected conspiracy

December 21, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A grand jury panel has rejected a request to open a new investigation into the 1968 assassination here of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

For the past month, a panel of three people on the Shelby County grand jury here considered evidence submitted by a Memphis lawyer and two private investigators who contended that the slaying of the civil rights leader was a result of a conspiracy.

The lawyer, Jack McNeil, and the two detectives, Kenneth Herman and John Billings, said they hoped that the information, which they collected during the past 10 years, would result in an indictment of Lloyd Jowers, who owned a restaurant beneath the boarding house window where James Earl Ray is believed to have shot and killed King on April 4, 1968.

Jowers said on the ABC program "Prime Time Live" in 1993 that he had been paid by a Memphis grocery store owner to hire someone to kill King. Jowers asked for immunity from prosecution to tell more, but it has not been granted.

The grocery store owner, Frank Liberto, is dead. But a transcript of an FBI investigation interview with Liberto in 1968 and a videotape of the ABC broadcast were part of the information submitted to the grand jury panel.

The foreman of the grand jury, Herbert Robinson Jr., said in a letter to McNeil on Thursday that his panel would not recommend that the full, 12-member grand jury look into the conspiracy theory because "there was not credible evidence presented in this matter to warrant an investigation by the grand jury."

In an interview on Friday, Robinson said: "If you're going to prosecute an individual, you have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and their evidence did not meet that standard. It was not even close."

McNeil, who briefly worked on recent efforts to have Ray's 1969 guilty plea thrown out but was dismissed by the convicted assassin earlier this year, said on Friday, "It is so difficult to rewrite history."

"The accepted legal theory that James Earl Ray worked alone is not credible to at least 75 percent of the American people now, and I think James Earl Ray really had no significant role in the assassination," McNeil added. "I gave it my best shot, and I have no plans for future involvement in this case."

Herman, one of the private investigators, said on Friday that he, too, would end his involvement in the case, which he has been investigating on and off for the last 10 years.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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