Monday, 01 August 2016 19:54

John Avery Emison, The Martin Luther King Congressional Cover-Up

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Jim DiEugenio reviews John Avery Emison’s The Martin Luther King Congressional Cover-Up, which presents valuable information on the case, though its title is somewhat misleading.

 

 


John Avery Emison’s The Martin Luther King Congressional Cover-Up is an interesting effort. But it has a somewhat misleading title. From that title, the reader would think that Emison was going to primarily focus on the House Select Committee on Assassinations inquiry into the King assassination. That is not really the case. The author spends more time on the local forces in Memphis who railroaded Ray and also on Ray’s unfortunate choice of Percy Foreman as attorney. He does deal with the HSCA inquiry, but this is later in the book.

James Earl Ray

One of the first elements of the King case that the author deals with is the racist factor. The authors who have done so much to frame Ray, for example George McMillan, have used that aspect to try and supply a motive to Ray’s alleged crime. As Emison notes, Ray was not a southerner. He was born in Illinois. (p. 25) If one goes through his military records and prison records, there are no credible indications that Ray was a racist. As for his life in crime, all the indications are that he was an inept, small-time criminal, one who was rather easy to capture by the police. But, after the murder of King, this was drastically altered. As the author notes, “Yet, for two months following King’s murder, Ray—a man who had never before flown a commercial airline—eluded the biggest manhunt in the history of the United States…" (ibid) Hiding out in such locales as Canada, England, and Portugal. Once captured at Heathrow Airport in London, he was sent back to Memphis, the scene of King’s murder.

I

And this is where Emison’s book really begins. As he notes, the entire proceeding of Ray and his attorney Foreman pleading before Judge Preston Battle took less than four minutes. (p. 26) During which Battle never asked any of the following questions: Did Ray have confederates, what was the origination of his funds for all the traveling he did prior to and after the assassination, where did he sight in the rifle, why did he flee to Canada and how he did he get a passport—or even, the most fundamental question of all: Why did he shoot King? (p. 27)

Judge Preston Battle

But a week later, Battle began to express some doubts about the efficacy of what he had done. For instance, in an interview with a reporter, he asked rhetorically: how did Ray choose the spot from where he fired? Because there was no public knowledge that King had a room at the Lorraine Motel, across from Bessie’s Boarding House. Which was the place where the police said Ray shot King. (p. 27)

Which leads to the question: Was there an inside man in King’s entourage? It turns out there was. Many years later, it was revealed that the FBI had a paid informant in King’s camp. His name was Ernest Withers. The sheer mass of Withers’ reports is stunning. They come to a total of 93 single spaced pages. And they are absolutely complete. Down to the plans for demonstrations, who was at certain meetings, and the names and room numbers of King’s hotels. (p. 126)

But Battle then also asked the reporter: How was it possible for Ray to escape from Memphis to Atlanta even though there was an APB out for him and his car? Which was an easy to identify white Mustang? (p. 27) As the author notes, Battle died about three weeks after the interview. At his desk when he passed away were letters from Ray requesting a new trial, which Battle was about to grant.

Only one other person in officialdom showed any doubts about the case. That was Harry S. Avery of the Tennessee Commission of Corrections. But when Avery spoke of the possibility of a conspiracy, the governor, Buford Ellington, removed him from office. (p. 29) And this rather untoward behavior continued up until Ray’s death, when Governor Sundquist refused to grant his cooperation in a private effort for a liver transplant to keep Ray alive. He therefore died in 1998, as his lawyer William Pepper was trying to get a new trial for his client. John Avery Emison was related to the late Harry Avery. Which inspired his interest in the case and his subsequent interviews with Ray.

Ray told the author what he has told everyone else. He purchased the alleged murder rifle, a Remington Game Master 760, while he was under the control of a man named Raoul. He had met Raoul in Ontario, Canada in the summer of 1967. He then went to work for him as a well-paid courier. To do so, Raoul bought him his one-year-old Mustang. (p. 41) Raoul paid for the Game Master rifle and Ray gave it to him the night before King was shot.

Ray had checked into the boarding house on the afternoon of April 4, 1968, the day of the assassination. He used an assumed name, that of John Willard. Although the local authorities say that there was a chip in the window sill where the assassin laid his rifle, the FBI said such was not the case. (p. 43) Two witnesses reportedly saw a man move from the vicinity of the entrance to the communal bathroom. But neither one, Willie Anschutz nor Charlie Stephens, could make a positive identification. And Stephens was, by all accounts, stone drunk at the time. (ibid) This is what Stephens said the evening of the murder. He later changed his story.

Continuing with the official story, it has Ray going into his room and putting together a bundle of his items in a green blanket. This included the rifle, ammunition and a prison ID. He then went downstairs, turned onto South Main Street, took a few steps to his left, and dropped the bundle in the alcove outside a store called Canipe’s Amusement Company. (p. 44)

These last two movements create serious problems for the official story. Because although neither Anschutz nor Stephens could make a positive ID, a woman with Stephens, Grace Walden, said the man was not Ray. (p. 45) Both Walden, and another witness that Arthur Hanes (Ray’s first lawyer) secured, said the man they saw was short and wearing an army jacket. Neither of which fit the description of James Earl Ray. But further, when Hanes got the inventory of what the FBI found in Ray’s abandoned Mustang in Atlanta, it contained a small army jacket. (ibid) Hanes called this an “electrifying" piece of evidence. He thought it indicated that Raoul took the shot, because Ray could not fit into the jacket.

The other problem was that the owner of the amusement company, Guy Canipe, was ready to testify that the bundle with Ray’s things was dropped a few minutes before the shot rang out. Hanes told the author that with these two pieces of evidence, he was confident that the defense could stymie the prosecution’s case. Hanes was ready for a full trial, and expected an acquittal. (p. 46) He even advised Ray to refuse a plea bargain that would have sent him to prison for a maximum of 13 years. Which was a much better deal than the one Foreman got for Ray.

II

Confounding the prosecution even more was the ballistics evidence. This came as a result of tests performed by the FBI. The death slug could have come from the Game Master, but its deformation and absence of clear-cut markings precluded a positive identification. The death slug could not be metallurgically matched to the other Remington Peters rounds. (p. 47) Further, in the bundle, there were rifle rounds that Ray did not purchase at Aeromarine Supply Company in Birmingham, where he purchased the rifle. The HSCA concluded that the cartridge found in the weapon was the only cartridge in the magazine. Which indicates that whoever loaded the rifle was supremely confident in his marksmanship abilities. And no one has ever stated that Ray was a fine marksman.

Making this even worse for the official story is that the HSCA could find no evidence that the other cartridges had been loaded into the rifle. Therefore, the idea held out by more than one author, that Ray practiced with the Game Master, is very hard to support. (p. 53)

And beyond that, there is no evidence that the rifle was ever mechanically sighted in, since Aeromarine Supply did not have that kind of equipment., called a collimator. Neither did Ronald Wood, the rifle salesman, take the weapon out to a firing range to test the sighting. It is also hard to think that Ray manually sighted in the rifle, because he simply did not know very much about firearms. Wood made that comment about Ray. (p. 53) All Wood did was a simple bore sighting; hence the FBI found the rifle was off three inches to the right. (p. 54)

But there is still something else about the ballistics that raises more serious questions. Among the nine rounds found in the bundle were 4 military type bullets. The HSCA found that the markings on these differed from the sporting rounds. These appeared to have been loaded into an M1 rifle or machine gun belt. Where did those weapons come from? Where did the rounds come from, since they were not sold to Ray at Aeromarine? (p. 55)

Ray’s fingerprints were not found in the bathroom. And his room did not have a proper line of sight to King’s room at the Lorraine. (p. 66) Considering all the acrobatics that Ray would have had to perform to shoot at King from the rim of a bathtub, it’s hard to buy this as part of a genuine case.

III

None of the authors who have written books to convict James Earl Ray—William Bradford Huie, George McMillan, Gerald Posner, and Hampton Sides—ever met James Earl Ray. (p. 69) Which allows them to make some rather bizarre and unfounded assumptions. For instance, McMillan wrote that after Ray escaped from prison in 1967, he tried to recruit his two brothers—John and Jerry—into a plot to kill King. (p. 71) They refused and therefore Ray proceeded on his own. This makes the timeline about ten months before the assassination. McMillan makes no allowances for how Ray got the money to do his rather extensive traveling from Canada to Mexico to Los Angeles at this time.

Hampton Sides promotes the HSCA theory that Ray heard about an offer from a racist group in St. Louis, which put a fifty thousand dollar bounty on King’s head. But again, Sides makes for no allowances about how Ray lived prior to this, how he could prove that he had killed King to the promoters, or how he could have either found out about the bounty, or collected from the proper people. (p. 72) But further, the FBI did interviews with several wardens and inmates and there were no indications that Ray was a racist, or knew about this offer. Or that Ray ever caused any disturbances in prison. (pp. 73, 84, 88) But McMillan tried to fabricate stories that showed he was. The author does a nice job showing these are false.

Gerald Posner writes that Ray knew where King was staying in Memphis at the time of the assassination. Yet, as the author shows, this was not broadcast on either TV or radio until after the shooting. Only one newspaper said he was at the Lorraine, and that was published on the fourth at about 3 PM. This story mentioned only that King had lunch there on the 3rd. And there was no mention of a room number. By the time the story appeared, Ray had already checked into his boarding house room. (p. 73)

Sides also used a story that somehow Ray was helping the George Wallace presidential campaign while he was in Los Angeles. There has never been any credible evidence to support this. The most anyone has come up with is that Ray once gave a ride to three people who wanted to vote. Ray himself had never been registered to vote. (p. 79)

Foreshadowing his main focus in the rest of the book, Avery now writes that one of the main problems the HSCA had was that they tried to characterize Ray’s plea bargain as voluntary and not made under duress. (p. 89)

IV

In what Emison labels as Part 2 of his book, he tries to forge his own theory as to how the King assassination came off. There is a large problem with trying to do this. There has yet to be the equivalent of the JFK Act passed concerning the King case. Consequently, there has been no Assassination Records Review Board constructed to declassify all the documents that are still classified pertaining to that case. Just considering what the HSCA did, there must be tens of thousands of pages still locked up. So the picture we have of what happened is, by necessity, not yet complete. (Although Ray’s last attorney, William Pepper, has made an interesting stab at explicating the case. And paid a high price for that attempt.)

Emison tries to locate a CIA-based conspiracy amid limited files released on CIA officer Richard Ober. Ober was the man James Angleton placed in charge of Operation Chaos. This was a rough equivalent to the FBI’s COINTELPRO domestic operations, except Ober worked more with media. It turns out that the CIA opened a file on the King case when Ray was attempting to move for a new trial. Ober opened the file. (pp. 96-98)

Another connection concerns William Bradford Huie. Huie went to Arthur Hanes because he wanted the rights to Ray’s story. These were granted since Huie’s name guaranteed a sale of essays and a book, which would help finance Ray’s defense. And at first, Huie wrote a couple of fairly sympathetic essays in Look. But this changed later with both the third installment and his 1970 book, He Slew the Dreamer. In these Ray went from Ray as part of a plot, to Ray as lone gunman.

The author tries to account for this in the following way. He says that Huie hired William F. Buckley once he got out of the CIA to his magazine, American Mercury. Emison says there were other CIA linked authors that came in at this time, like Sidney Hook. He then writes that a TV show Huie appeared on, NBC’s Longines Chronoscope, was a part of the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird program. (See pp. 102-103)

This may or may not be true. But another way to explain Huie’s behavior is the fact that Ray changed attorneys. He went from Arthur Hanes, a man who was going to defend him as an innocent victim, to Percy Foreman, a man who did not defend him, and essentially sold him out. So as the defense attorneys changed, so did Huie’s agreement with them.

The case with George McMillan seems qualitatively different to me. McMillan worked for the Office of War Information during World War II. Which means he was a propaganda officer. He then became a favorite of the FBI, specifically J. Edgar Hoover and Cartha DeLoach. (p. 103) In 1965, McMillan wed fellow journalist Priscilla Johnson. As many, many writers have noted, Johnson was clearly a CIA asset by this time. (See James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pp. 286-88)

McMillan denounced in public the formation of the HSCA. This was in an article published by The New York Times. (Emison, p. 105) He then wrote his book. He told a friend that it really was not an investigation of the crime, but actually a biography about James Earl Ray. In this, it resembled his spouse’s book Marina and Lee. Is it just a further coincidence that his book was published in 1976, and hers in 1977?—just as the HSCA was being formed and then in session? The book was immediately praised by longtime CIA asset Jeremiah O’Leary, who stated that McMillan had done the committee’s work for them already. (ibid)

There is little or no doubt that these two books and authors did much to poison the public’s attitude toward Ray. But it’s another matter to base your theory of the crime on Huie and McMillan.

The author seems to understand this. So he now shifts gears. He now begins to enumerate all the information that appeared back in the nineties about military intelligence spying on domestic disturbances in the USA. According to Emison, this began under General Creighton Abrams in May of 1963. It was never officially approved. And it stayed in effect until it was exposed by Captain Chris Pyle in 1970. (p. 115) The program tried to make the case that many of these disturbances were communist inspired. This included urban riots and civil rights demonstrations. One of the higher ups in the surveillance program thought that King and other black activists were being financed by the USSR and China. (p. 117) All told, the military had in excess of 1500 men in plainclothes garb spying on leftist groups, including King. Abrams employed a large conference room to run the program at Fort Holabird. That room divided up the country into seven sectors and had 300 officers running the program. (p. 117)

The 113th Military Intelligence Group out of Evanston Illinois was so extreme it had a file on Adlai Stevenson III. Why? Simply because he had talked to Jessie Jackson. (p. 118) They spied on groups like the League of Women Voters and the ACLU. And they formed their own record keeping system called CRIS, which stood for Counterintelligence Records Intelligence System. When Pyle exposed this system, a full-blown cover up followed. (p. 119) But it was discovered that military intelligence did have files on King, reports on his activities, and had his office at Ebenezer Baptist Church wired. (p. 122)

Poor People's March on Washington, May-June 1968

This surveillance activity ratcheted upwards when King announced his concept to hold a Poor People’s March on Washington. This was formally planned in November of 1967, and was to take place in May of 1968. As Gerald McKnight notes in his book, The Last Crusade, the Pentagon had readied 20,000 troops to be rotated into Washington in May. (McKnight, p. 93) McKnight also wrote that the FBI prepared a special COINTELPRO program to disrupt the march and its preparations called Operation POCAM (ibid, pp. 9-10) As others have done before him, Emison notes how the FBI maneuvered King out of the Rivermont Hotel in Memphis and into the Lorraine. They did this by using their media assets to harangue him for not staying at a black-owned motel. (Emison, pp. 126-27) On April 3rd, informant Withers told the FBI that King would be staying at the Lorraine and gave them his room number. Emison makes the case that this information was closely held. It is unlikely that James Earl Ray could have known about it. (pp. 128-29)

V

Of course, very little of this information was available at the time Ray was apprehended in London and returned to Memphis. Even at that, for reasons noted above, Arthur Hanes Sr. was ready to go to trial. He was so confident he would win that he turned down a plea bargain deal. Which leaves the question: How then was Ray convicted? The answer to that question can be expressed in two words: Percy Foreman.

The issue of how Foreman entered the King case has always been clouded . The main reason being that Foreman told many lies about it. Even when he was under oath before the HSCA. And either the HSCA did not do its homework on the issue, or they were not going to call him on it for the record.

Percy Foreman

First of all, the idea that James Earl Ray ever wanted Foreman as his lawyer or ever mentioned his name to his brothers is false. Arthur Hanes came into the case through the efforts of the English barrister Michael Eugene, who was representing Ray in London. Eugene called Hanes since he knew that Ray was going to be shipped back to Memphis to stand trial. Ray’s brothers had no contact with James in England in June. So unlike what Foreman maintained: 1.)There is no letter that James Earl Ray sent to Foreman, either on his own, or through his brothers, and 2.) James Earl Ray did not want Foreman to represent him from the start. (pp. 131-34)

The facts indicate that Foreman did not enter the case in any way until November of 1968, about five months after he said he did. Emison states that the reason that the Ray brothers—John and Jerry—even thought of switching lawyers was simple. James wanted to take the stand in his own defense. Arthur Hanes strongly disagreed. Because of this dispute, the brothers now believed that William Bradford Huie was calling the shots, since he did not want James to testify either. (p. 148) This turned out to be a terrible miscalculation.

The brothers first went to a local lawyer. But this attorney told them that he needed a big name partner in the case. So Huie then floated Foreman’s name. Jerry Ray then got in contact with Foreman on or about November 9, 1968. (p. 134) When Foreman flew into Memphis, there was still no letter from James Earl Ray to allow him into the jail. But he proceeded there anyway. When he got there, James did not want to see him. The warden had to call Judge Preston Battle. And after about 90 minutes, Foreman was allowed to see the prisoner. (p. 139) In short order, Hanes exited the case. The contract Huie had with Hanes over a royalty split was replaced with one with Foreman. Which is another point Foreman lied about. Since he proclaimed in public that he was foregoing any fees in this case. (p. 131)

Just how far was Foreman willing to go in order to conceal the true circumstances of his entry into the case—which was, at the least, unethical, if not illegal? He actually insisted on his “James Earl Ray sent me a letter" story to the HSCA. When asked to produce the letter, he said that it had been transferred to the offices of a lawyer friend in Nashville, from which Foreman said they were lost. Through a partner in that Nashville firm, Emison makes a good circumstantial case that this is another lie by Foreman. (p. 137)

The point is simple. Because Hanes was still the lawyer of record and the defendant had not solicited a change, then Foreman’s entry could be challenged as unethical, or even illegal. If that would have been established, then everything that Foreman did after could have been challenged in an effort to reopen the case.

After Foreman took over, he briefly talked about how he would win an acquittal for his client. (p. 146) But that did not last long. Foreman had his client declared indigent so he could get help from the public defender’s office. But there really was not much point in this aid since Foreman changed his mind and decided not to put on a defense. Foreman’s deal with the DA was essentially a plea of guilty in return for the promise not to request the death penalty. And there is no doubt that Foreman used every unethical trick in the book to get James Earl Ray to go along with the plea bargain. He told his client the FBI would pick up his father on a probation violation unless he copped a plea. He told Jerry and John that unless there was a plea, the state would implicate them in a conspiracy with James to kill King. (p. 151) Foreman told his client that the state had bribed witnesses who would place him at the scene; he therefore faced electrocution.

But that was not the worst of it. The day before the court proceeding, Foreman had sent out two letters. One was to James and one to Jerry. The latter contained a check for five hundred dollars. (The equivalent of about three grand today.) The letter to James was an adjustment in the Huie/Foreman royalty rate, which would allow James a share of the profits. These rewards were both contingent upon there being no unexpected stunts pulled during the court proceeding. (p. 153) Is there any way not to construe this as bribery?

This relates to an important discovery by Emison. Namely that there are two transcripts of the Ray/Foreman pleading in front of Judge Battle. And they differ in a most important way. In what the author proves is the genuine transcript, the following exchange occurs:

Battle: Has any pressure of any kind by anyone in any way been used on you to get you to plead guilty?

Ray: Now, what did you say?

In other words, Ray was answering a question with a question. There was no answer. Amazingly, Battle did not repeat the question, as Ray requested. He went to another question. (p. 156) Now, someone in the DA’s office obviously saw that this was a problem for an appeals court to deal with, and would therefore open up all kinds of avenues for an attorney to bring in evidence that Foreman did pressure Ray into pleading guilty. So therefore, someone altered the original transcript. In this version, Ray’s reply to the question about pressure is as follows:

Ray: No. No one in any way.

Emison proves in a number of ways, including tape recordings of the hearing and the actual stenographer’s signed copy, that this second transcription is a forgery. In fact, he dedicates a large part of a chapter to proving this piece of fabrication. (See Chapter 7) And he blames Battle for accepting the plea without a full answer to his question about pressure. In fact, this may be the reason Battle had second thoughts about the case and was willing to give Ray a new trial.

What makes it even worse is that the author states that, in the subsequent appeals by Ray’s lawyers, it is this false transcript that was used. (p. 176) Which is hard to believe since, once the page is blown up a bit, it strongly suggests the altered line was typed with a different typewriter. The HSCA also used this altered transcript.

But it may be even worse than that. The author found the surviving audiotape of the hearing, He admits it is not a good recording. But he believes that what Ray actually says in reply to the question about pressure is, “I don’t know what to say." (p. 181)

VI

Emison closes the book with two interesting topics. The first concerns the mechanics behind Ray’s pleading. Harry Smith Avery, as a top official in the Corrections Department, interviewed Ray three times while in prison. He ordered his mail recorded and a log made of all incoming and outgoing letters. When Governor Buford Ellington was told about this effort to investigate the King case, he was not pleased. In fact, he ordered Avery to halt the attempt. When he did not, he was eventually terminated in May of 1969. Later, when the HSCA began its inquiry, they paid Avery a visit. When he went to retrieve his files on the case, they had disappeared.

Avery also told the author an anecdote about visiting the governor’s office prior to the Ray hearing in 1968. As he was waiting outside the doors, he managed to overhear one side of a phone conversation. It was one of the governor’s assistants talking to a higher up of the Justice Department in Washington. Avery could only hear the Nashville side of the call. He heard the following words: “Don’t worry. Ray is going to plead guilty; there won’t be any evidence put on by the prosecution, there won’t be any evidence that is tested in court—there won’t be a trial." (p. 200)

The author also touches on the issue of the Tennessee law in place at the time of Battle’s death. As others have noted, according to the statute, Battle passed away in receipt of Ray’s letters requesting a new trial, and was acting on them at the time of his death; when he died he had dropped his pen on the floor. Ray should have been granted a full trial automatically by the new judge. Not only did this not happen, this part of the law code—Tennessee Code Annotated 17-1-305— was simply ignored upon appeal. (p. 203)

The last major topic the author deals with is the amazing coincidence of the aliases Ray used in the last year of his life. These were Eric S. Galt, Ramon George Sneyd, Paul Bridgeman, and John Willard. None of the names was fabricated. They were all real people who Ray did not know. All four of them lived within a five-mile radius of each other in Toronto. And they all shared ages and physical attributes that were similar to Ray’s. Ray had been to Montreal once. But there is no recorded information he had been to Toronto prior to the assassination. The two names he used the most were Galt and Sneyd. The former alias was used in America the year before the assassination. The latter was used after the shooting, when Ray fled to Canada and then Europe.

Complicating this is the fact that when Ray fled to Canada, he had people in direct communication with him at both places he resided at in Toronto. In the first instance, beginning on April 8, 1968, he used the name Paul Bridgeman. About ten days later, he changed locales and used the name Ramon Sneyd. (p. 274) At the first location, Ray got a phone call asking for “Mr. Bridgeman". At the second location, Ray got a phone call and a visitor. The visitor came calling for “Mr. Sneyd". He then gave Ray an envelope. Within hours, Ray now paid for his passport, which had been waiting for him under the name of Sneyd, and ordered a commercial flight to Europe (p. 224)

As the author notes, the excuses that writers like Gerald Posner and Huie use to explain away the above are ludicrous. How did these other people know 1.) Where Ray was staying, and 2.) The specific pseudonyms he was using. And to any objective person, it certainly appears that the second visitor was giving Ray money to get out of Canada and into Europe. Incredibly, neither the FBI nor the HSCA interviewed the landlords, or tracked down the person who brought the envelope. That was done by the deceased researcher and author Philip Melanson.

Emison has written a credible and important volume on the King case. The author did a lot of valuable interviews and digging into the records of the case. It is a book worth having in one’s personal library.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 21:51
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and Reclaiming Parkland (2013/2016), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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