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The King Assassination: Was James Earl Ray A Patsy?

The King Assassination: Was James Earl Ray A Patsy? image The King Assassination: Was James Earl Ray A Patsy? image The King Assassination: Was James Earl Ray A Patsy? image
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Public examination ot' evidence concerning the death of Dr. Martin Luther King has been lareely forestalled since Marcli f969, when James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the mui der and waived his right to a trial. Not only was tliere no nal- there was no "Warren Commission in the King case attempting to lay all lingerv ing questions to rest. The government lad a monopoly on the bulk of evidence, and refused to niake it v public, fn this vacuüm, the ïcial explanation put toget lier by the FBI, the U.S. Dek. partinent of Justice, and ocal prosecutors could remain substantially unchallenged. x Acmrdine to the official story of tlie King assassik nation, Ray act ed alone. Yet Lay interrupted liis own pica hearing , to disavow [ the govern ment's "no-conspiracy" tlieory at the very moment it was being read into the record. Witliin days, Ray renounced the guilty plea itself, saying he had been coerced into it by his attorney, Percy Foreman, wlio liad exaggerated the strength of the prosecution's case and friglitened Ray into believing a guilty plea was his only alternative to the electric chair. The official story is as follows: Ray, a small-time hief who had never committed a violent crime, escapee! from the Missouri State Penitentiary in April 1967. He traveled to M on t real, Alabama, Mexico, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. Then he began stalking Dr. King in Selma, Atlanta, and Birmingham. When King went to Memphis in April 1968 to support a bitter and protracted strike by a largely black sanitation workers' union, Ray followed him there. Under the alias of "John Willard," the FBI says Ray, on April 4, 1968, checked into a skid-row rooming house opposite the Lorraine Motel where King was staying, and fired a single fatal shot from a bathroom window with a telescopic rifle he had purchased on March 30 in Birmingham. They say Ray then ran out of the rooming house, dropped the rifle and other belongings in front of Canipe's Amusement Company next door, and fled the scène in a white Mustanglater found abandoned near an Atlanta housing project. From ihere, the FBI and prosecutors claim, he made his way to Canada, Portugal, and Great Britain (where he was arrested two months later) under a series of aliases. The Gunman In The Bushes Only five of the 300 witnesses the prosecution claimed in support of its case were directly questioned in Ray's plea hearing, and none were cross-examinea. The prosecution had a hard-to-dispute identification of Ray as the man who bouglit the rifle, and FBI continued on page 28 JLvXAJXV continua! froni page 7 experts identit'ied two Ray fingerprints on the gun and iis scope. But prosecutors do nol claim any prooi" tliat Ray fired lliis gun, Snd for a long linie they suppressed an affidavit trom FBI ballistics expert Robert Fraier saying he could not determine whether the missliapen slug removed from King's body was fired by this gun. The FBI failed to conduct (or report findings from) chemical tests whicli could have proved conclusively whether that rifle had killed King. Even before the hearing, defense lawyers and newspaper reporters had found a nuinber of witnesses who had reported seeing a gimman fire at King from a heavy stand of bushes between the rooming house and the motel. Without a trial, prosecutors never had to test the FBl's "star" witness. Charles Q. "Bay Ruin Charlie" Slephens, who they said could identify Ray fleeing from the rooming house a minute after the shooting. An affidavit signed by Stephens was offered as evidence in the Britjsh extradition hearing, but the statement itself was couched in vague language. Stephens' own wife, his landlady, and a cabdriver who had refused him a ride fifteen minutes before the murder all said Stephens was too drunk at the time to see anytliing. (Stephens has a record of over 155 arrests, mostly for offenses lated to alcoholism.) Stephens was the sole "witness" placing Ray at the rooming house during the time of the murder. For more than a year afterward, the Justice Department suppressed the extradition file containing his affidavit, part of the public record. Stephens' common-law wife, Grace Walden, deseribed a man who looked nothing like Ray fleeing the scène after the shot was fired. He was shorter and older than Ray, with "salt-and-pepper" hair, and wore a sport shirt and military jacket. Walden also said she did not hear a gunshot from the bathroom, but from outside her window, which opened onto the bushy area between the rooming house and the motel. The same day the FBI got custody of her husband as a "protective" measurë, Mrs. Stephens was illegally committed to a psychiatrie hospital 60 miles from Memphis. She had no previous history of psychiatrie problems, and later won release in court. According to Memphis Press-Scinütar reporter Wayne Chastain, Jr., someone in the Memphis City government had her committed while she was in the City of Memphis Hospital's psychiatrie ward whicli is controlled by the city pólice department. She claims pólice whisked her away from Memphis to silence and discredit her. Stephens is also the only "witness" claiming to have heard a shot from the rooming house bathroom. Two other residents in the second-story rooming house, and the manager of the bar beneath it, said they heard the shot come from the bushes behind the rooming house. Mrs. Bessie Brewer, the landlady who had rented the room to "John Willard" said "Willard" did not match the FBI photo and description of James Earl Ray, bul was smaller and younger. Bertie Reeves, who was also present, could not identify Ray as "Willard" either. Another eyewitness who eontradicts the official story is llarvey Loeke, a middle-aged shoe repairman who worked in Memphis at the time. With the surreptitious aid of Charles Stephens, Loeke had been living rent-free in the room rented to "John Willard." Locke told defense investigators he saw tlirce men il that room between 3 and 4 p.m. on the day King was shot. Locke said he could identify one of these men. Defense investigators also interviewed a Nashville shoe salesman who gave an astonishingly convincing account of having been in the actual room during the shooting. He later proved to have a long record of over one luindred arrests for offenses related to alcoliolism, but one detail of his description a man wearing a military jacket matched Grace Walden's account. Were Pólice Watching? A man named Harold "Cornbread" Carter told defense investigators he was sitting and drinking wine in the bushes between the rooming house and the motel. Carter said he was surprised by a loud shot from the bushes riglit beside him, and saw a man in a highnecked white sweater running away with a long gun in his hand. When the man got to the edge of the lot. said Carter, he took the stock of the gun off, threw it in the bushes, and put the barrel under his jacket. Then, Carter says, the man melted into the crowd. King's chauffeur, Solomon Jones, also testified that the shot came from the bushes rather than the rooming house. Jones was on the ground level talking to King, who was standing on the second Floor balcony, when he heard the shot. He turned and saw a man with a white sheet on his face holding a rifle in the bushes, then saw the man throw something into the bushes and hunker down out of sight. Jones was frightened and ducked behind King's limousine. When he looked again a moment later, he saw the same man, without rifle and sheet, walk slowly out of the bushes and mingle with a group of firemen rushing toward the motel. The man walked to within 25 feet of him, Jones says, before disappearing in the crowd and confusión. Jones' statement that he saw King's body lurch upward at the moment of impact was corroborated by SCLC attorney Chauncey Eskridge, who was also looking at King when he was shot. Their testimony contradicts the official version of the slaying, which is based on a downwerd trajectory of a shot alleged to have come from the rooming-house bathroom window. Several other witnesses who were not skid-row alcoholics also contradicted the official version-either claiming to have heard the shot come from the bushes behind the rooming house, or to-have seen a gunman fire from the bushes. A Memphis pólice "intelligence" team was admitted by pólice officials to have been conducting visual surveillance of King's room at-the time of the shooting. They could probably testify as to whether King moved upward or downward with the shot. But pólice, anxious to play down the spying, have said nothing about what they saw. Ray's Support Team Many other disturbing questions must be answered before a "conspiracy theory" of King's assassination can be definitely proved or disproved. The official storywhich came out largely through a series of FBI news leaks and a list, of "facts" narrated by prosecutois at Ray's plea hearing .offers only superficial and unsubstantiated answers to them. llow did Ray predict King's presence at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, pinpoint his room in advance, and determine that he could successfully shoot King from the rooming-house bathroom window? Ray contends he could not have done these things without inside information. Who made a phony citizen's-band radio broadcast moments after the shooting, when Memphis pólice were searching for the alleged getaway car, a white Mustang witnesses had seen pull away from the rooming house at the time of the shooting? The broadcast drew pólice attention to a nonexistent high-speed chase of a white Mustang, complete with gunfire. Where did Ray get more than S 10.000 he is alleged to have spent between his stay in Montreal (where he says he niet a mysterious man named Raoul) and his capture in London a year later' cotïtinued on page 29 MLK continued from page 28 How did Ray learn the identities of three Canadians closely resembling him- whose ñames he used as aliases- uniess he had expert help? One of them was Eric St. Vincent Galt, whose signature "St. V." was easily misread as "Starvo," the name Ray used. Galt's description matched Ray's down to the small scars they both had on the forehead and right palm. Who Was Raoul? Ray himself maintains that he did nol kill King, but was unwittingly set up as a "patsy" to take blame for others. He has often said that the mysterious "Raoul" told him to buy the telescopic rifle as a sample for possible bulk sale to an antiCastro gunrunner. Ray also says Raoul told him to check into the Memphis rooming house and gave him S 2,000 to buy the white Mustang alleged to be the getaway car. According to Ray's story, he met Raoul on the Montreal waterfront in 1967 after his escape from prison. Raoul promised the fugitive Ray some $ 1 2,000 and new identification papers if Ray would do a few jobs (presumably criminal ones) witliout asking too many questions. Some investigators claim strong ration for Ray's suggestion that lie subsequently ran unidentitled packages, possibly drugs, across the Detroit-Windsor and U.S.-Mexican borders. Immediately after leaving Canada, Ray went to Birmingham- one of King's home bases in the civil rights struggle. One clue to Raoul's identity may be a traceable plione cali Ray reportedly made to Raoul on his way to meet him in New Orleans in December 1967. Songwriter Charles Stein, Ray's travelling companion on the trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans, claims he jotted down the number Ray was calling and can pinpoint the phone Ray called from. Los Angeles Times reporter Jerry Cohen called this number and reached a Louisiana State Pólice barracks in the New Orleans-Baton Rouge area, well known as a staging ground for CIA-sponsored guerrilla operations against Castro. A man nanied Raoul Esquivel answered Cohen's cali, and one source identified Esquivel as knowing every Cuban in the area. The name itself could prove a coincidence or an alias, but it is noteworthy that Grace Walden later identified a picture of a Louisiana State Trooper as the small man she saw leaving the roominghouse bathroom. .loc Davis is an Ann Arbor-bascd frcc■ lance writer.