James DiEugenio is the editor and publisher of kennedysandking.com and he’s the author of The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today. He’s also a noted researcher of the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. People are aware there was a civil trial in 1999 led by the King family in which the jury found that the assassination was a result of a conspiracy.
I’ve been wanting to talk about this case for a long time so I found an article that Jim wrote at the time about the media’s reaction to the trial’s outcome.
It’s sort of a timeless subject to see how the press deals with events that run counter to their narratives, and Jim is always brilliant at dissecting the tropes that the media uses to kind of get around things that run counter to what they want to say. So that’s what we’re going to discuss today but it’s a wider subject and I think we’re going to go a lot of places with it. But thank you Jim for talking today.
David, the article that you wanted to base this interview around was in Probe Magazine in the January/February issue of 2000.
I wrote the article and it’s about the media’s treatment of the conspiracy verdict in the civil trial in Memphis conducted by William Pepper in December of 1999.
So William Pepper, who was James Earl Ray’s lawyer, and who was an acquaintance of Dr. King.
Now, the remarkable thing about the treatment of the verdict is this: the mainstream media did not have any reporter there for anywhere near close to the whole expanse of the trial. I know this for a fact because James Douglass, who was reporting on the trial for Probe Magazine and he filed his report with us a few months earlier. In fact, I think the prior issue. He was there every day.
James Douglass, he’s the author of JFK and the Unspeakable.
Him and a local friend he knew from Memphis were the only people there for the majority of the days of the trial. He said nobody was there. Not one other single person was there every single day and most of the reporters were there for two or three days and then left. So here’s my question: How on earth do you discuss a trial where you didn’t have a reporter there? Well, this is something that was really kind of startling even for the MSM. So we decided to go ahead and round up these views of the trial and prepare an article for them, about them rather, for Probe, which is what we did. The New York Times—
Before you ... Can you just kind of briefly tell what the facts of the trial and just briefly what they found just for people who aren’t familiar with it.
The trial itself was what is termed the civil trial, which means one private party is suing another private party over what’s called damages. So in this particular case, it was the King family bringing the charges against a man named Loyd Jowers who owned a tavern in Memphis at the time. Now, in 1993 Loyd Jowers had gone on national television with Sam Donaldson on ABC and talked about his part in a conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King. He said that his role was to receive the murder weapon from the guy running the show and then give it to an assassin and then have the assassin give the rifle back to him and then he would go ahead and give it back to his aider and abettor, who had given it to him in the first place.
Now, as time went on, William Pepper worked more and more on this angle and by around 1996-1997, he was ready to go ahead and reopen the King case as a criminal trial. In other words, the state versus defendant on a murder charge. So he actually did try and get the case reopened upon two sets of new evidence. One was the Jowers presentation, the other one was forensically to try and show that the murder weapon in evidence was not the weapon that was used to kill King.
What happened was what the people in Memphis did not want it to happen. In other words, the power brokers in Memphis did not want this to happen. The judge who the case was assigned to, Judge Joe Brown, actually was in sympathy with Pepper trying to reopen the case.
Judge Joe Brown, he later became the famous TV judge but he’s a very interesting character. I think if you have a chance, Len Osanic of Black Op Radio at blackopradio.com has several good interviews of him in his back catalog. If you go to his website you can find those interviews and get your hands on those. They’re really excellent. I suggest people listen to those.
So he actually was going to go ahead and sanction rifle tests to see if the rifle in evidence was actually the rifle used to kill King. They did a round of tests and they came back inconclusive. There was a scar in the track of the rifle on these tests that was not reported in the first round of tests done by the FBI. It was hard to explain how that got there. So Judge Brown was going to sanction a second round of tests. Did the scar come from a buildup of residue in the rifle in the intervening years? Because if it didn’t, then it’s not the rifle that killed King because that wasn’t there.
So Brown said, “This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to go ahead and have a solution, a chemical solution, which will not damage the rifle barrel at all and we’re going to use that to clean the rifle barrel and then we’re going to retest. If the scar is still there, then I don’t think we have a match.” When Judge Brown said he was going to do that, the city of Memphis rose up in rebellion against him. The local DA’s office, the state attorney general, the major media, theMemphis Commercial Appeal. To make a long story short, what ended up happening was that the same thing that happened to Jim Garrison back in 1967 on the Kennedy case, the same thing that happened to Richard Sprague in 1976 on the JFK case, and the same thing that happened with Gary Webb in the late 1990s on the CIA and crack cocaine.
So what happened was that when Brown was on vacation, there was a kind of unauthorized invasion of his office by a guy named Mike Roberts in cahoots with a Judge named John Colton. Colton was the guy whose court the original case was assigned to way back there in 1969. But during a routine rotation, it had been assigned to Brown in the ’90s. Colton and Roberts went ahead and hijacked the files out of Judge Brown’s chambers while he was on vacation. Judge Brown was very angry about this; he blamed in it on local Republican politics but this was more or less the beginning of the end for Brown’s reinvestigation of the Kennedy case. Excuse me, of the Martin Luther King murder case.
Once he got back, he was removed from the case by the appeals court. The local prosecutor, John Campbell, was overjoyed at this because now the case would not have to be reopened and he wouldn’t have to go ahead and retry the case on a criminal ground. Now, I should add here that when this happened, when the criminal case was finished in Memphis, it more or less coincided with the death of James Earl Ray. He passed away around this same time period. Now, all the great work that Bill Pepper had done on this case ... He wrote that good book, Orders to Kill. He had done all this wonderful research in Memphis, found these new witnesses.
It seemed that it was now essentially going to go down the drain. Because now of course there was no defendant and the case, as far as being a conspiracy, was pretty much wrapped up in Memphis.
So, the people you have to give the credit to for keeping the thing going and getting it into a civil court is the family of Martin Luther King. I don’t think there’s any question about that. They decided to go ahead with the case and they decided to file a civil suit in Memphis against Jowers. This trial took place in the latter part of 1999, I believe in November and December of 1999. I think the verdict came in on December the 8th of 1999.
There’s actually a book that contains the entire transcript of the trial, it’s called The 13th Juror. A literal cascade of information came out at this trial. I mean, it’s really kind of incredible when you go ahead and look at all the great stuff that Pepper was able to introduce into the court record. Just to give you some highlights. There’s a fascinating couple of witnesses by the name of Floyd Newsum and Ed Redditt and a third one Jerry Williams who testified how somebody called off the private body guards that King usually had when he came to that city. They all said they really don’t know how the heck it happened.
But whenever King had come to Memphis, and he had been there before a few weeks earlier of course, for the sanitation workers strike, he had his own private security detail. He also had a surveillance detail that his people would just watch out from across the street to see if anything was coming up. That whole detail was called off on this particular visit.
Now, what Pepper did at the trial is he coupled that evidence with the testimony of a man named Leon Cohen who was a friend of the manager of the Lorraine Motel, Walter Bailey. Cohen testified that Bailey received a call from a member of Dr. King’s group in Atlanta the night before he arrived in Memphis, and the request was to change King’s room. Bailey was not interested in doing that. In fact, he didn’t want to do it, but the guy insisted that they wanted to change the room from an inner courtyard room to an outside balcony room.
Now, I don’t have to tell you how important that is. I think anybody who knows anything about the King case understands how important that is. Because if the room had not been changed, then the assassination could not have taken place. At least not the way that it actually did, from allegedly a rifleman across the street hitting King as he comes out to the balcony of his room.
When you couple the stripping of the security with the changing of the room, things start getting really kind of fishy, don’t they? So, in other words, now what Pepper did is he went ahead and he began to bring witnesses in who questioned the official story of where the fatal shot came from.
See, if you believe the Memphis authorities, the shot came from a place called Bessie’s Boarding House, which is right above Jim’s Grill which was Jowers’ place. It came from a communal bathroom about something like about 210 feet away. First of all, who the heck would ever want to use a communal bathroom if you’re an assassin? Because what that means of course is that anybody could knock on the door or come in and want to use the bathroom or be waiting for you when you ran out. That’s got to be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of.
What Pepper did is he brought in about three witnesses who disagreed with the location of the shot coming from Bessie’s Boarding House. These were Earl Caldwell, a former New York Times reporter was one of them. Solomon Jones who was King’s chauffeur driver and Maynard Stiles who his testimony was really interesting. First of all Caldwell and Jones both said they thought the shot came from below the balcony, these bushes below the balcony. Now, Maynard Stiles received a phone call the next morning saying that the bushes had to all be trimmed and cut down. Get this, the next morning, he gets an order from the parks department saying, we want all the bushes trimmed and cut down.
In other words, the next morning, they weren’t there. In other words, the idea of trying to say that the shot came from the bushes below was now really hard to make stick because there weren’t any bushes.
This is a crime scene. They’re uprooting a crime scene...
Isn’t this really something? The next step in the trial was ... By the way, I think you’re beginning to understand why the media didn’t want to talk about this trial. Was the testimony of a guy named Arthur Hanes. Arthur Hanes was going to be James Earl Ray’s original attorney. He was going to defend him back in 1968. Eventually what happened is that James Earl Ray made a terrible mistake and he got rid of Hanes and replaced him with Percy Foreman which, as Ray later said, was probably “the biggest mistake I ever made in my life.”
But Hanes was prepared to go to trial, which Foreman was not going to do. So Hanes decided to do some investigation, which Foreman also did not do. And he found a witness by the name of Guy Canipe who owned a five & dime store underneath Bessie’s Boarding House. Because the strongest evidence against Ray was that he supposedly dropped a bundle of his belongings as he was running from the scene and this included the rifle. Canipe said to Haynes, “That bundle was on my foyer, my exterior foyer 10 minutes before the shot went off.” Now, you don’t get very much better evidence than that. In other words, somebody was trying to frame James Earl Ray by depositing his items there.
Now, another very interesting witness that they produced was a man named William Hamblin who knew a cab driver named James McGraw. James McGraw was called to Bessie’s Boarding House to pick up a guy named Charlie Stephens. This was around the time of King’s assassination. He is supposed to drive him home because the guy was stone drunk. He said that when he went into the room to try and pick up Charlie Stephens that he looked into the communal bathroom across the way. He said the door was wide open. There was nobody there at that particular time. And he said Charlie Stephens was dead drunk. Of course, Charlie Stephens is a guy who was going to identify Ray as the assassin coming out of that bathroom for the authorities in order to get him sent back from London to the United States. How could he identify him, if the guy was dead drunk?
Now, there was also evidence at the trial produced about the mysterious guy named Raoul. Raoul is the guy who James Earl Ray said that he met up in Canada in 1967. Raoul hired him in Montreal rather, in Montreal, Canada in the summer of 1967. Ray said he hired him to do odd jobs for him like delivering things, picking things up and he would do this all throughout the country from the east coast to the west coast. The whole idea was to try and locate Raoul because Jowers said that the guy who dropped off the rifle to him on the day of the assassination was Raoul, this same guy.
So what happened is that Pepper decided to go ahead and try and find other witnesses who knew of this guy named Raoul and had seen him before, and to see if the witnesses all matched up—and they ended up doing that. In fact, Pepper went ahead and he found at least three witnesses who identified the very same picture of this guy named Raoul to the point that Pepper actually thought that he found Raoul. Who was living ... It was either New York or Philadelphia in 1997. But he would never answer the door, he would always send his daughter or his wife to answer the door, he would never answer the door to be interviewed.
If that’s not good enough for you, there was also some very interesting evidence introduced about the role of the military intelligence in the stalking and perhaps the shooting of King. Dougl Valentine is a pretty prominent author about CIA operations who wrote a book called The Phoenix Program in 1990. That of course was about the notorious program in Vietnam to snuff out and torture and kill sympathizers of the Viet Cong. When he was doing that book, Doug talked with some veterans who had been redeployed from Indochina to do surveillance on the ‘60s anti-war movement in the United States. He found out that the army’s 111th military intelligence group kept King under 24-hour a day surveillance. Its agents were actually there in Memphis in April of that year when King was killed.
From this information, they reportedly watched and took photos while King’s assassin moved into position, fired and walked away.
There are a couple things. There’s the Doug Valentine interview on Porkins Policy Radio which I will put a link to in the comments.
Now, what’s so interesting about that is that, also produced at the trial was a guy named Carthel Weeden who was a captain of the fire station across the street from the Lorraine Motel, the place where King was gunned down. He testified that he was on duty the morning of the 4th, April 4th and two US army officers approached him and they wanted to look out for the motel. They carried briefcases and indicated they had cameras. So Carthel Weeden showed them the roof at the fire station. He left them at the edge of the northeast corner behind the parapet wall. And from there of course you had a bird’s-eye view of the motel. In other words, the on the scene evidence matches with the information that Doug Valentine had dug up.
So that’s very interesting, and a lot of people would consider it quite powerful. He also got a guy named Jack Terrell who had worked for the CIA during the illegal war against Nicaragua. Who knew a friend of his, a guy named J.D. Hill and J.D. Hill had actually been a member of the army sniper team that was supposed to shoot a so-called unknown target on April 4th. They were supposed to take up positions in Memphis but that mission was suddenly canceled. When he heard what happened to King the next day, he realized what he was going to be there for.
All of this stuff came out including, and I have to mention this as the final summary of the trial, a guy named Walter Fauntroy was a very good friend of King’s. He had worked for the House Select Committee [on Assassinations] in the 1970s. The House Select Committee did an inquiry into both the King case and the JFK case. Fauntroy said that when he left Congress he had the opportunity to read through voluminous files on the King assassination, including stuff he had never seen before. He said among this material that he saw were reports from J. Edgar Hoover. He learned that in the three weeks before King’s murder, Hoover had a series of meetings with people in the CIA and military intelligence about the Phoenix Operation.
So Fauntroy, of course, asked himself: What would J. Edgar Hoover be doing having meetings about The Phoenix Operation if he’s running the FBI in the United States? Kind of puzzling, isn’t it? He also discovered that there had been, like the other witnesses said, that there had been special agents and military intelligence officers in Memphis when King was killed.
So Fauntroy decided that he was going to write a book on the subject. When the word got out that he was going to write a book, he was investigated and charged by the Justice Department about violating financial reports as a member of Congress. His lawyer couldn’t believe this because this was a technicality on a misdated check from years before. But he got the message. We’ll get you for something if you go ahead and write this book.
So Fauntroy didn’t write the book. So that’s how big the cover-up is in Washington on this particular case. As I said, what happened is that Pepper ended up winning the case. And, in fact, the jury came in within two hours after the presentation was over and they said that there was a conspiracy in the King case. Now, I should add, to Pepper’s credit, that’s the second time he did this. Because back in 1993, he had done, and I have to say this, a very well done mock trial, for I believe it was HBO. That mock trial on the King case back then I thought was much better than the one done later with Vincent Bugliosi and Jerry Spence for Thames Television on the JFK case. It was much more realistic.
For example, in that particular case, you actually had James Earl Ray able to take the stand. It was much more of what you would actually have seen if there had been a real trial. So Pepper won that particular case and now he won this particular case in 1999. And he was robbed of his opportunity to actually do the criminal case by the removal of Judge Joe Brown. So in other words, the guy had a pretty sparkling record.
After he won this civil trial, the media had to find a way to go ahead and discount that because of course if it’s allowed to stand, it shows the public is right about this stuff. That James Earl Ray did not shoot King, that Lee Harvey Oswald did not shoot JFK, that Sirhan Sirhan did not kill Robert Kennedy. So this would have been another indication that all those, as they call them “wacky conspiracy theories”, are actually correct.
So what did they do? Number one, they did not send any one single reporter to the trial to stay there day in and day out. Not one. But then they went ahead and ... Let me add to that. Not even the local newspaper.
Right. Not even the Memphis paper.
Right, the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Not even the local newspaper had their guy there every day. A guy named Mark Perrusquia. What Jim told me after I go, “Jim, how did he file these reports then?” He goes, “Jim, Marc Perrusquia was very, very seldom in the courtroom. What Marc would do is he would wait all day outside and wait for me to come out, and then I would have to brief him on what happened that day in court.”
So Jim Douglass was giving the Memphis Commercial Appeal their information to print on the King trial. That’s how bad... to me, nothing illustrates just how bad the mainstream media is on these cases.
But without having somebody there, they still had to find a way to go ahead and discount what had happened without reporting on it. Well, The New York Times decided to bury their story on page 25 and they reported well: What does this mean? There was a vast conspiracy that it was alleged but not proved. I have to tell you David, I think what I just summarized is pretty good proof that there was a pretty big conspiracy in the King case. But if you don’t report on it, then you can say that it was a vast conspiracy that was alleged but not proved.
Well, when the jury accepts it, does not that mean it’s proved? Don’t know.
Same thing in the L.A. Times, they placed a story on page 24 and they also tried to go ahead and discount the verdict. They even put their resident black scholar, a guy named Earl Ofari Hutchison, they assigned him to write an editorial and his column said that Bill Pepper was one of those who has “worked up to victim hit angle especially hard.” He said that “James Earl Ray himself had stoked conspiracy flames by saying that he was framed and recanting his guilty plea.” Here it is, here’s the final summary by Earl Ofari Hutchison. “But despite the Memphis verdict, the evidence is irrefutable that Ray was a triggerman.”
Now, how you can come to that conclusion without mentioning what went on in the courtroom is really, really hard to believe. But that’s how extreme and that’s how uninformed and that is how stubborn these people will be in order to stay with the MSM.
Then there was the US News & World Report which said that “William Pepper was a man prone to bizarre conspiracy theories.” It said the Shelby County DA’s office was not at the trial. Well, of course not because it was a civil trial. It was not a criminal trial. So you’re not going to have the office there. Then they got another mainstream media guy David Garrow who wrote an article and said, “We don’t know who precisely aided and abetted Ray, but anybody who doesn’t accept Ray as the gunman is from Roswell, New Mexico.” Well. That’s an old one. That somehow if you believe in conspiracies, then you also believe in aliens coming here from other planets, abductions and all this other stuff.
If you can believe someone was shot you also believe in Martians.
Then if you can believe it, to knock it all off, what happened? They got Jerry Posner, who was not at the trial, to go ahead and visit all of the major shows and to write a column that was distributed throughout the country, going ahead and criticizing the trial. I really couldn’t believe that but it really did happen. This is what he says, “The Memphis trial wasn’t a search for the truth but a ploy to obtain a judicial sanction for a convoluted conspiracy theory embraced by the King family.” I won’t even comment on that. “Lloyd Jowers is a man considered to lack credibility by every local, state and federal prosecutor who looked at the matter.” That’s what he says next. Then he says that “only the state prosecutors and their report in the case are credible because they said there was no conspiracy.”
As I just mentioned earlier in the show, it was very obvious that the local DA’s office was an extension of the state DA’s office, and did not want to do the case at all. Because they, I think, sensed that if Brown had been allowed to go ahead and finish up the rifle test, that would have proven that that particular weapon was not the weapon that fired the bullet that killed Martin Luther King. Then he has to get personal, Posner says, “The pursuit of Jowers by the Kings will only diminish their standing as the first family of civil rights and permanently damage their credibility.” Then of course, they actually put him on a couple TV shows to go ahead and do the same thing.
I don’t remember anybody saying, “Were you at the trial, Jerry?” I don’t remember anybody saying that. They never challenged his credentials to go ahead and write about an event that he had never seen. So that’s how crazy this thing got. By the way, let me add another point. The fact that the Commercial Appeal was not there, that meant that nobody was getting any day-to-day updates while the trial was going on. Because also, as Jim Douglass discovered, CourtTV—it was called CourtTV back then, it’s called TruTV now—they pulled out of the King case three days before the trial began. They were going to be set up and cover the case. So you would have had a video and audio record of the case. But Jim told me, “Jim, I couldn’t believe it, three days before the guy said we’re pulling out.” I asked him why, he said he didn’t know why. I mean, isn’t that really bizarre?
So if anybody ever tells you that the media in this country is not rigged, that the media in this country is not controlled, that the media in this country is not one-sided, this is a great, great example that, that is all a bunch of BS and it’s all true. This coverage of the King case is wonderful evidence to prove everything that we’ve been saying all along about how bad the media is in this country. It was just ... By the way, I have to add. When Jim Garrison conducted his trial of Clay Shaw back in 1969, both the local papers the States-Item and the Times-Picayune covered that trial. In other words—and what I mean is this—they had a reporter right down there in the courtroom every single day and they would rotate the reporters.
Then when the breaks came, they would go ahead and transfer their notes over the phone to the main office of the newspaper and then that is how the day-to-day reports got in ... I know this because I talked to somebody who actually was there, Jack Dempsey who covered the trial. So day by day, you would get daily reports if you wanted to watch that trial. Of course, if you want to subscribe from out of town, you could have followed the trial by their mail subscriptions. They’re mailing the paper to you. You couldn’t do that in this trial. That was such a disgrace. Thank God that, I think the King family, went ahead and I think they put up the transcript on the King website. Or the other way you can get it is from that book The 13th Juror.
But Jim Douglass for Probe had the only contemporaneous report on all that terrific evidence that Pepper was producing at that trial, and that is just an utter disgrace. That our little magazine that we did on a five and dime budget was the only place you could read a summary of the King juror’s case because everything else was this BS that I’m telling you about or the Gerald Posner twisted stuff, from a guy who wasn’t even at the trial. This is what I mean about the media in this country. So excuse me if I get a little angry about it but I think I’m pretty justified in getting angry about it. This is a perfect example of why people don’t believe the mainstream media anymore and they deserve it.
And this is the era of or that was in 1999. I mean, that wasn’t long after the OJ Simpson trial where that was on day in and day out on the news 24/7. So it wasn’t like courtroom drama was out of fashion.
Well, let’s put it this way. The King trial, I believe, was so important because the unearthed evidence that Pepper got, pretty much confirmed everything everybody who really studied that case believed. That King towards the end of his career ... Let’s not forget this. King was killed something like about three weeks before the Poor People’s Campaign was supposed to begin. That was supposed to be his, remember 1963 in the March on Washington, this was supposed to be ... That was for civil rights. This was supposed to be for economic rights. And I don’t think there’s any coincidence that the Poor People’s Campaign failed whereas The March on Washington succeeded.
If you take out King as Vernon Young said in that HBO special, King in the Wilderness, he says, “After King was killed, things kind of fell apart.” No surprise. That’s another thing to remember about that, and also the fact that is what Pepper was saying, if Valentine is accurate, then the war in Vietnam with the Phoenix Program kind of directly impacted King’s murder. They transferred the operation to the United States, stateside.
Now, I advise everybody, if you really want to try and understand this, I’ve kind of just skimmed it. But if you get the Probe CD, I think that has ... I’m positive. It has Jim’s article in it. Or if you want to get the book, The Assassinations, that has Jim’s article in it.
If you had to boil it down, its like a three-sided conspiracy between the CIA—I believe Raoul was a CIA operator—military intelligence as the hitmen, and the mob—a guy named Frank Liberto supposedly paid Jowers $100,000 to go along with the conspiracy. Now, today $100,000 doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but it’d be the equivalent back in 1968 of about 850 grand. So he got paid off really to just give somebody a rifle and give back somebody a rifle and that’s essentially how it worked. So I give Jim Douglass all the credit in the world for being the only guy in that trial day after day and he assembled a marvelous report on it.
[The reader may also refer to this special we ran in 2017 which features Jim Douglass’s Probe article as well as links to David Ratcliffe’s annotated version of the trial transcript:
see in particular:
I think that was great. I think it was a great overview of the case and the media’s reaction to it.
Thank you so much David.
This transcript has been edited for grammar and flow.