ORDERS TO KILL -- THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MURDER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING
Chapter 24: The Trial: January 25-February 5, 1993
JUDGE MARVIN FRANKEL CALLED THE COURT TO ORDER at 9:30 a.m., Monday, January 25, 1993.
In his opening remarks the prosecutor forcefully contended that James was guilty. He said the defense would be "Anybody but me"; James would have them believe that the responsibility for Dr. King's murder was with the FBI, the CIA, or some guy named Raul.
I asked the jury to keep open minds and promised to take them on a journey that would boggle the imagination. I told them Dr. King had been a lamb led to slaughter by forces he knew only too well but that the defendant was also manipulated and controlled by forces that to this very day he didn't understand and couldn't identify.
The prosecution's first witness was Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles. Ewing led him through the sanitation workers' strike and Dr. King's agreement to come to Memphis. Kyles outlined the idea behind the Poor People's Campaign and said that, in his view, it was "... too much for the powers that be, to bring these poor people to Washington, to embarrass this nation by camping out on the mall in Washington." Ewing then. moved on to the details of the march.
To our astonishment, Kyles blurted out that he had learned later that the FBI had hired provocateurs to disrupt the march. We'd fought to have such evidence admitted on behalf of the defense, and here it was being volunteered by the prosecution's very first witness. Judge Frankel seemed uncomfortable. Ewing, obviously unwilling to challenge his first witness, tried to ignore the statement.
In discussing events close to April 4, Kyles volunteered that they had boycotted one of the local newspapers, the Commercial Appeal, because it had engaged in character assassination of Dr. King. This was an example of just the sort of media manipulation we were planning to introduce.
The questioning quickly moved Kyles to April 4. The preacher described his supposed conversation in room 306 with King and Abernathy, and his position on the balcony some feet away from where King was shot just after 6:00 p.m. I began cross-examination by asking Kyles if he was familiar with Dr. King's speech at the Riverside Church on April 4, 1967. He said it was King's first major speech against the war and admitted that it had engendered a great deal of hostility. Kyles then volunteered that Hoover had made no secret of his dislike for King, whom he had called the most notorious liar in the country.
Kyles confirmed the fact that there was usually a black security squad formed to protect Dr. King in Memphis. He testified that he didn't remember there being any security on April 4 and that he was aware that the TACT units had been pulled back.
I countered Kyles's assertion that Dr. King had always stayed at the Lorraine, and he had to admit that in fact, at least on the two occasions before his final visit, he had stayed at the Rivermont.
I asked Kyles why, when he lived in Memphis, he had registered in room 312 at the Lorraine. He answered that he took a room in the event that someone else coming in without a reservation might need it. But in the next breath he went on to say, "As it turned out, A. D. King did come in, his brother came in," implying that A. D. was going to take the room. He further stated that he ended up taking A. D. to his home. In fact A. D. had registered in room 201.
Finally, I challenged his description of his activities on the fateful afternoon. I raised the MPD surveillance reports, which recorded him not as being in the room with Martin, but rather knocking on his door at 5:50 and calling him outside.
The dilemma for the defense, of course, was that by undermining Kyles's credibility, we could erode one of our basic themes of the FBI's anti-King activity. Kyles stuck to his story.
My exchange with the first witness would be one of the most heated of the trial. It was a dramatic start.
The court recessed after Kyles's testimony. On the steps of the courthouse Kyles said it was a real trial in every way, that the defense didn't pull any punches, and that his cross-examination was rigorous.
After the recess Ewing read into the record the statements of Ralph Abernathy and MPD intelligence officer Willie B. Richmond, which contained his surveillance report. Richmond's statement revealed that Billy Kyles had not been inside Dr. King's room at any time but that he had knocked on Dr. King's door around 5;50-about eleven minutes before the shooting. Dr. King answered the door, peered out, closed the door and emerged a few minutes later, shortly before 6;00, ready to leave for a soul food dinner at Kyles's home.
Abernathy's statement confirmed that he and King hurriedly prepared to go after the SCLC staff meeting broke up. He remembered Dr. King going outside and waiting for him on the balcony.
Lt. George Loenneke was brought on to describe his observations of Dr. King when he was struck. Loenneke stated that he had been watching Dr. King's party and the Lorraine from a peephole at fire station 2 when he saw King shot. As we have seen, two other firemen (Charles Stone and William King) said that the lieutenant was fiddling with his locker at the moment Dr. King was hit.
It wasn't significant, but something else that the lieutenant knew was important. He had told me about the Seabrook sales- girl who volunteered that she saw a man park a white Mustang in front of Canipe's amusement company and go upstairs in the rooming house. She was certain that the man was not James Earl Ray.
I wanted this story on the record. The problem was that it was hearsay. Ewing clearly knew about it because before the lieutenant could answer my eliciting question he was on his feet objecting to "anything that someone at Seabrook supposedly told him." The judge promptly sustained.
The prosecution established the presence of the bundle in front of Canipe's and introduced testimony relating to how soon after the shot was heard that it was found. Through the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Vernon Dollahite, Ewing did indeed introduce a photograph -- for illustrative purposes -- of the general area around the time, showing a police car parked up on the sidewalk of the fire station parking lot. This was the photograph he had shown us in discovery and I thought it was misleading because he appeared to be using it to imply that the police car was in that spot at the time that James was allegedly fleeing. In fact, the photograph was taken at an entirely different time because the car in the picture was not that driven by Lt. Emmett Douglass, which at the time was parked much farther back and adjacent to the northwest door on the side of the fire station.
Former MPD lieutenant and FBI Academy graduate James Papia took the stand. He was one of the first officers on the scene and in the rooming house, and he testified that there was discoloration in the bathtub; he said it appeared someone had stood in it with shoes on.
During my cross-examination he admitted that he had no idea about where the rear stairway of the rooming house led and whether the back door at the foot of these stairs was locked or open. He also said he never entered Charlie Stephens's and Grace Walden's room 6-B, which overlooked the Lorraine and adjoined the room James rented as well as the bathroom. Papia was thus unable to offer any opinion on the sobriety of the state's main witness, Charlie Stephens.
The prosecution introduced statements of Willie Anschutz, a now deceased tenant of the rooming house, which said that after hearing the shot he saw a man run from room 5-B down the hall toward the front of the building, carrying some sort of package.
This was followed by former MPD homicide detective and FBI Academy graduate Glynn King, another one of the first police officers on the scene. He confirmed the presence of scuff marks in the bathtub and told of interviewing the land- lady, Bessie Brewer, and Charlie Stephens, who he insisted did not appear to be even slightly intoxicated.
On cross-examination he said he remembered seeing the register for the rooming house. Since that book was not in the evidence in the clerk's office, I asked why he had not taken possession of it. His reply was simply, "You know, I don't know why."
Next, since Charlie Stephens was dead, the prosecution introduced his 1968 statement, for which I had ample refutation.
Homicide inspector N. E. Zachary detailed the items found in the bundle he took away from Canipe's door. Included were a number of personal effects belonging to James and, of course, the 30.06 Remington rifle he purchased in Birmingham. All of this physical evidence was, he said, turned over to the FBI for forensic analysis by their laboratory in Washington. Also sent to the bureau's lab, according to Zachary, was the death slug in three fragments.
Ewing read a statement of the now deceased Lt. J. D. Halliby in which he asserted that he turned over to Zachary "one battered lead slug" he received from the coroner, Dr. Jerry Francisco, after Francisco removed it from Dr. King's body.
James's purchase of the gun from Aeromarine Supply, his rental of a room at the new Rebel Motel on April 3, and his rental of the "sleeping room " in the South Main Street rooming house the next day were established, as was his purchase of the binoculars found in the bundle. We had offered to stipulate to these facts, which were not at issue, but the prosecutor refused, wanting to lay his proof before the jury.
Former Memphis field office special agent Joe Hester headed up the FBI's investigation of Dr. King's murder, and in the witness chair he said he would have hated to be known as the man who couldn't find the murderer of Martin Luther King. He discussed the extent of the search for the killer, and the resources expended. Under cross- examination he conceded that there were two white Mustangs in front of the rooming house on the afternoon of the assassination but called it a "coincidence." He contended that the bureau's COINTELPRO program was directed against communists, not Dr. King. He said there was no organized crime in Memphis, and he categorically asserted that there was no electronic surveillance of Dr. King in Memphis; without a doubt, he said, if there was he would have known about it.
The prosecution called Donald Champagne. He had been the head of the HSCA's ballistics panel and was well respected. He testified to the process followed by the panel.
On cross-examination he conceded that the results of the panel's analysis were inconclusive. They couldn't match the death slug to the evidence rifle. Champagne confirmed that the death slug provided to them was in three fragments.
The prosecution's next witness, New York forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden (who headed the HSCA's forensic panel), volunteered on direct examination that the bullet extracted from Dr. King was originally in one piece. Here again, the prosecutor was impeaching one of his own witnesses: Zachary.
Ewing closed his case with statements and testimony on a series of issues. One involved the date on which James put in his laundry when he was in Atlanta (James saying March 27 or thereabouts, and the state contending April 1).We had difficulty with this point because James had always insisted that he wasn't in Atlanta on April 1, and the tangible evidence of the laundry receipt seemed to indicate that he was. We felt that the date itself wasn't really important, but it had become an issue.
As to the circles drawn on the Atlanta map found in James's room in the Atlanta rooming house, which the prosecution contended were near Dr. King's house, the SCLC offices, and around James's own current location on 14th Street at the time, the prosecution witness had to admit that the circles didn't enclose or pinpoint the areas at all.
The prosecution's last live witness was former FBI fingerprint expert George Bonebrake, who had worked on the evidence back in 1968. As expected, he identified one print of James on the evidence rifle and one on the scope, as well as others on some of the personal items in the bundle. He admitted on cross-examination that no prints of James were found in the rented room 5-B, the bathroom or anywhere else in the rooming house. He also had to admit that there were numerous other fingerprints found in the rooming house and lifted from the Mustang itself that he never identified and wasn't asked to identify.
The prosecution's case of circumstantial evidence was completed in three days, following the testimony of eighteen live witnesses and the introduction of twenty-two statements from unavailable witnesses.
WE OPENED THE DEFENSE CASE ON THURSDAY, January 28. Before we had even started, we lost one witness-our CB expert, Carroll Carroll, who refused to testify because of the publicity surrounding the trial. Much more worrisome was that we were also dangerously close to losing Betty Spates, whose nervousness was also compounded by the publicity.
After the testimony of J. J. Maloney and Don Wolverton, two former inmates who had known James quite well and attested that he was neither a racist nor a violent person, the trial was preoccupied for two days with the direct and cross-examination of James, conducted by satellite from the prison in Nashville. He was able to view the entire trial on a monitor in the prison and appeared on a monitor in the courtroom throughout the proceedings.
Immediately following James's testimony I explained how and why he had originally agreed to the guilty plea only to withdraw it and request a trial three days later. In his rebuttal, Hickman Ewing basically said that the plea was freely and intelligently given.
There were scheduled to be forty-nine live defense witnesses and nine statements from unavailable witnesses following James. (At the outset when Ewing's assistant Glenn Wright, a former prosecutor on the attorney general's staff, learned about the large number of proposed witnesses, he was incredulous. He asked Jean, "How can you get anyone to testify for James Earl Ray?" She replied, "It's called conducting an investigation.")
In an effort to give credibility to our contention that Raul existed, Knoxville attorney and former assistant U .S. attorney for eastern Tennessee Gene Stanley was put on the stand. The judge was furious about Stanley's attempt to narrate his representation of Randy Rosenson during his interrogation by the HSCA which included particular hearsay statements by committee staffers who confirmed the existence of Raul. We thought the statements should be admitted because they were against the interests of the speaker and therefore admissible, even though hearsay.
Our sworn statement from Rosenson dated January 20, 1993, confirmed his questioning by the HSCA staff, his involvement in smuggling activity in 1967-1968 across the Mexican border, and his travels with an American Indian who had both mob and FBI connections and who owned a white Mustang. Over our objections, the judge excluded the following part of the statement, which dealt with his HSCA interviews; "During these sessions the HSCA staff were primarily interested in having me identify an associate of James Earl Ray whose existence they acknowledged and whom they called Raul.
SHOCK WAVES WENT THROUGH THE COURTROOM when our witness Barry Neal Linville, the former MPD homicide detective, looked at the photograph I showed him of the three fragments of the bullet alleged to be the death slug and stated, "That's not the bullet I saw." He said that he had seen thousands of bullets in his career and that except for some flattening of the lead at the top, the bullet he and his partner saw the coroner take from Dr. King's body was a near-perfect evidence bullet.
Ewing tried to discredit Linville and failed. When asked if anyone else saw the bullet, Linville reeled off a list of MPD officers. The homicide office had been full of FBI officers, and there had been numerous photographs depicting the slug. "We felt that we found a piece of gold," he added.
Our ballistics expert, Chuck Morton, confirmed prosecution expert Champagne's statement that it was not possible to conclude that the death slug was fired from the rifle found in front of Canipe's.
Prosecutor Ewing asked about the degree of intactness of the bullet. Morton testified that according to the HSCA report the total weight of the three fragments was roughly half of a fully intact slug. Ewing used this to imply that the slug couldn't have been in such a pristine condition as Linville had stated. This really could only be explained by an inaccurate measurement taken by Hamby or as a result of the breaking off on impact and dispersal in the victim's body of most of the lead from the soft nose of the bullet that Linville admitted had been flattened.
In light of Linville's startling testimony, Ewing did the best he could with what he had, but he wasn't able to deal with the fact that the bullet when removed had been in one piece and was now in three fragments.
Linville's observations were supported by MPD captain Tommy Smith, who described how upon pinching the lump of skin below the shoulder blade covering the bullet and rolling the slug between his fingers, he had no doubt that it was in one piece. He went on to testify that Charlie Stephens was so drunk that he could hardly stand up when he tried to interview him shortly after the killing. He further confirmed the presence of thick bushes at the rear of the rooming house.
My co-counsel, April Ferguson, read into the record the affidavits of William Reed and Ray Hendrix, which confirmed their observation of the white Mustang leaving the scene minutes before the shooting.
We had next planned to show, through the testimony of former taxi driver James McCraw, that the shot couldn't have come from the bathroom window because the bathroom was empty just before 6;00 p.m. However, McCraw had a heart attack in the witness room and had to be rushed to intensive care. We had taken an extensive statement from him, but we held off introducing it at this point, hoping that he might recover sufficiently to testify before the trial ended.
We put Capt. Emmett Douglass on the stand to counter the prosecution's contention that the person who dropped the bundle in front of Canipe's did so in panic upon seeing a police cruiser pulled up to the sidewalk. Douglass was adamant that his car wasn't pulled up to the sidewalk and wouldn't have been visible to anyone looking along the street in the position of the person fleeing the scene.
In his cross-examination, Ewing confronted Douglass with a previous statement in which he had said he thought he saw more than one gun when he looked at the bundle. Douglass himself readily admitted that his mind had been "playing tricks" on him.
The judge refused to allow the testimony of Jim Reid regarding his interview of gas station attendant Willie Green. It was hearsay, he ruled, refusing to accept our argument that the testimony was covered by the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule. On balance, however, the ruling by the judge in this instance probably served to keep untrustworthy evidence from the jury.
He also refused to allow testimony of Wayne Chastain and Leon Cohen relating to their separate conversations with Walter Bailey, the owner of the Lorraine Motel, concerning the change in King's room. Again the judge considered it hearsay, and denied our argument that an exception applied.
We proceeded with testimony from Charles and Peggy Hurley and later Jimmy Walker showing that there were in fact two Mustangs parked in front of the rooming house on the afternoon of the shooting. By establishing the presence of two Mustangs and that the Mustang in front of Canipe's was not James's, it followed that James had in fact parked in front of the grill as he maintained. As further evidence that it was the Mustang in front of Jim's Grill that belonged to James, we later called Frances Thompson to the stand. She had worked at Seabrook Wallpaper in 1968. The FBI 302 report of her interview at the time stated that she said she had seen a man sitting in the Mustang parked just south of Canipe's, at around 4:30-5:00 on the afternoon of April 4. When our investigators interviewed her she said that that was wrong and that in fact, she saw the man sitting in the Mustang parked in front of Jim's Grill. I was concerned about this apparent discrepancy.
When I raised the FBI report of her interview with her, she said it was incorrect and was quite definite that the car was in fact in front of Jim's Grill.
On cross-examination she confused Ewing with the prosecutor who had taken her statement originally. Ewing sought to discredit her with this and she became flustered, but she unwaveringly stood by her testimony that she saw a man in the car in front of Jim's Grill.
WE MOVED ON TO ESTABLISH OUR affirmative defense-that the assassination was the result of an elaborate conspiracy. The testimony of former policeman Jim Smith, the Rev. James Lawson, Emmanuel White, and Dr. Coby Smith all combined to show that provocateurs were at work in causing the sanitation workers' march to break up in violence. This was considerably bolstered by the previous testimony of Reverend Kyles.
Wayne Chastain testified about Stephens's intoxicated condition and his observation of the dense bushes, which he viewed from the Stephens's kitchen window just after the killing.
The defense found itself in an unusual situation. While virtually all the live witnesses for the prosecution were former policemen or FBI agents, the defense witnesses were from both sides and included a considerable number of policemen on duty during the time. This was particularly evident in the testimony concerning the disruption of the march. Dr. Coby Smith, while waiting to testify, told Jean how the Invaders were constantly under surveillance by the MPD and how young black men who had gone into the army were also used to spy on them. Meanwhile Jim Smith, who was also waiting to testify, was surreptitiously tugging at Jean's sleeve and trying to tell her that the practice Coby Smith described was true because Jim himself had been assigned to spy on the Invaders.
With one notable exception, all the policemen whom I had interviewed in preparation for the trial either believed that James was innocent or had serious doubts about his guilt. The exception, ironically, was Detective J. C. Davis, who at the time was an officer assigned to the intelligence bureau and who drafted the memo I found in the attorney general's office which referred to Betty Spates's statement contending James's innocence and her boss's culpability.
Jim Smith was later recalled to testify about his assignment to assist a team of federal agents conducting electronic surveillance on Dr. King in his suite at the Holiday Inn Rivermont Hotel on the evening of March 18. Smith stated that while he was assisting the agents he came to learn that they were hoping to pick up personal dirt on the civil rights leader. They were receiving in a van not far from the hotel. He referred to them only as "federal agents" until I inquired if they were FBI and he said they were. The basis of his knowledge was hearsay, and I felt sure that if Ewing had objected the judge would have sustained. Afterward, outside the courtroom, Ewing's assistant Glenn Wright attacked Smith, saying, "I thought you were supposed to be on our side."
The two men working in the area on the afternoon of April 4 -- Hasel Huckaby and Robert Hagerty -- testified to their observations, which helped establish that surveillance activities were conducted on the streets immediately north and south of the Lorraine.
The jury could see a pattern of intelligence activity directed against Dr. King up to the moment of his death. I hoped that they would contrast this evidence of unofficial presence with the testimony we were to introduce of the stripping away of any official protective security presence around Dr. King and the Lorraine. Jerry Williams would testify about the absence of the special security unit of black homicide detectives usually provided to Dr. King in Memphis, and John Smith would recall that any remaining security/police around the motel disappeared within twenty minutes of the shooting.
Black firemen Floyd Newsom and Norvell Wallace, and black MPD officer Ed Redditt later testified that they were transferred and removed from duty assignments at fire station 2 during the last twenty-four hours of Dr. King's life.
Former chief William O. Crumby, who was going to testify about the pull back of the TACT units, was unable to do so at the last minute. He was not well.
BY THE THIRD DAY OF THE defense, we were experiencing major setbacks. McCraw was still in intensive care, so his statement was read into the record. The judge refused to allow the part describing the rifle Jowers kept in a box under the cash register. I have never understood this ruling. This hurt, but far worse was to come. John McFerren fled in fear and couldn't be persuaded to return to give evidence. Fear had also silenced Betty and Bobbi, who were due to testify that day. Betty had refused to answer the phone and wouldn't come to the door.
We had Loyd Jowers waiting to testify and had to put him on. He lived some distance away, and if we didn't call him now he would leave and we would miss the chance. We hoped against hope that somehow Betty and Bobbi could be persuaded to testify or at least give sworn statements so that Jowers would be impeached. If necessary, we could even recall him. As he had previously requested, he insisted on having his lawyer present in the courtroom for the duration of his testimony. His attorney, Lewis Garrison, had represented Jowers for years on his various civil matters. Jowers made the most of a hearing problem, which gave him ample time to reflect on the questions. It was interesting that Jowers lied about a number of matters -- some seemingly insignificant but some clearly of importance. For example, at one point he denied that there was a rear exit at the foot of the back stairs. At another point he said he always kept the door leading from the kitchen to the rear stairs locked and barred. He said he had no staff at all working on the afternoon of April 4. Not wanting him to be come aware of the degree of communication I had had with the waitresses who were in fact working that day, I didn't press him.
WE RETURNED TO THE TRIAL office that evening to learn that Hosea Williams, who should have arrived that day, was in too much pain even to get to the airport. He asked if he was really needed and was told yes. We rescheduled his appearance.
Meanwhile, Oscar Kent had arrived from Birmingham and was waiting to talk to us. (We had earlier made contact with him because Morris Davis had told us that he could corroborate Davis's allegations about Dr. Gus Prosch. After considering for some time, he offered to come to Memphis to talk to us.) He remembered seeing Davis and Prosch at the Gulas Lounge but said he didn't know anything about their business or any connection they might have with the King case. He went on to reveal an extraordinary story of his own. He said that he had been involved in illegal activity with some Birmingham police detectives. They had a falling-out and tried to set him up, charging him with a number of crimes over a period of years, all subsequent to 1968. The significance of this, he said, was that on March 30, 1968 he delivered a payoff to two detectives in a parking area near the Aeromarine Supply Company when they were on a stakeout waiting for James Earl Ray to appear . James did appear and entered the store. Kent said the detectives, whom he named, had James's photograph and real name. They told him it was not their intention to pick up James but merely to confirm his appearance. If true (the members of our team had different views as to this), it was a startling disclosure, one that indicated foreknowledge of the killing by the police department. There was no time to do any corroboration on Oscar Kent. I decided he would go on the stand.
FEBRUARY 1 WAS ANOTHER difficult day for the defense. It started well, with former FBI agent Arthur Murtagh movingly recalling the bureau's extensive unconstitutional efforts to discredit Dr. King. At various points he broke down and sobbed. Ewing again tried to prevent any evidence of the FBI's illegal activity against Dr. King, but the judge overruled him. However, he wouldn't let Murtagh mention the spontaneous remark of fellow agent James Rose, who upon hearing about the assassination exclaimed, "We [or they] finally got the son of a bitch!"
Former FBI agent Bill Turner's testimony was abbreviated after Ewing raised an objection as to relevance after only a few minutes, but not before Turner had described the FBI's "black bag" operations during this period.
St. Louis newscaster John Auble, who was prepared to testify about the incident of "dirty tricks" by the HSCA using the New York Times, was thrown off the stand by the judge virtually be- fore he could open his mouth. The judge maintained that such post-assassination activities were not material to the charge of murder, despite our argument that as evidence of a cover-up they were relevant to the existence of a conspiracy.
The judge ordered a recess and asked the defense where it was going. We then told him we planned to call Bill Schaap as an expert on the political uses and manipulations of the media in influencing mass public opinion about Dr. King and James Earl Ray. The judge commented that author Gerold Frank had convicted James in his book. We told him that that was precisely the point. Jean produced the FBI memo from DeLoach to Hoover (dated the day after Ray's guilty plea hearing) proposing that an official record of the case be written by a friendly writer, and suggesting Gerold Frank. We knew the judge had read the book and so we had been waiting for an opportunity to introduce the memo. To his credit the judge allowed us to introduce it over Ewing's objection. He refused, however, to allow us to call Bill Schaap.
He treated the same way defense evidence pertaining to the efforts of the HSCA and the media to tie the Ray brothers to the Alton bank robbery. Former Alton policeman John Light's testimony was not to be heard.
We pressed on with testimony indicating that in all likelihood the shot came from the brush area opposite the Lorraine. We introduced the statements of Solomon Jones and Rev. James Orange. Kay Black also testified to having observed the area on the morning of April 5 after it had been cut and cleared up. Retired police officer J. B. Hodges testified to finding fresh footprints in the alleyway, and Maynard Stiles testified that the brush and the bushes were cut to the ground early the next morning.
William Ross came to testify about his enhanced recollection that the shot came from the bushes. Unfortunately, earlier Ewing had requested a conference in chambers to object to this testimony because Ross didn't remember where he thought the shot came from until after he was hypnotized. We thought that was the idea; that the subjects' recollections were sharper after hypnosis. We allowed the prosecution to view the video of our hypnosis sessions and though he talked generally about procedures his objections seemed to be more result-driven. The judge affirmed: Ross was out, even though Hurley and Walker, who had also been hypnotized, had been allowed in.
Oscar Kent took the stand and testified to his business relationship with particular Birmingham detectives in 1968 and to having observed two of them surveilling James Earl Ray as he entered and left the Aeromarine store on March 29. Kent testified that he had been charged with a number of fabricated crimes after this episode, but that the charges were ultimately dropped. He said that prior to his Aeromarine observations, with the exception of traffic violations, he had never been charged with a crime. On cross-examination Ewing asked Kent to provide details. In the course of doing so he described James as wearing khaki trousers and a lightweight light blue wind- breaker. Though Ewing did not follow it up, this statement gave us concern because Donald Wood, the manager of Aero- marine, had clearly described James as being dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, which, in fact, was James's usual dress during this time. James later confirmed to us that he had never owned the type of clothes described by Kent.)
SINCE SO MANY WITNESSES HAD BEEN EXCLUDED, the defense was running short. We were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Hosea Williams. Meanwhile, another crisis had emerged. Earl Caldwell had begged off, saying he was suffering from the flu. The defense staff pleaded and offered to provide local medical care. We held our breath.
Williams, having been met at the arrivals gate by a wheel- chair, was driven straight to the courthouse. He testified that he arrived with Dr. King on April 3, that they were looking forward to staying at the Rivermont Holiday Inn, and that he was surprised that they were taken to the Lorraine Motel. He said that neither he nor anyone else in the entourage was familiar with the Lorraine and no one understood why the change was made.
In response to a question about room assignments, he said that Dr. King was "initially" given a room on the ground floor but "... for some strange reason, his room was changed."
He recounted the events in the hours before the assassination.
On cross-examination Ewing concentrated on Dr. King's itinerary in the months and weeks prior to the killing, apparently attempting to establish that his movements were public knowledge.
During my re-direct, Williams confirmed that there was an FBI informant employed as an accountant under Ralph Abernathy, SCLC's treasurer.
In addition to the losses already mentioned, the judge ruled that the defense couldn't introduce the affidavit of Tim Kirk relating to the contract offer on James's life; or Jack Kershaw's testimony about the offer of money and a pardon for James on the condition he admitted guilt; or Myron Billet's film inter- view and affidavit relating to a previous conspiracy to kill King; or Jules "Ricco" Kimbel's affidavit about flying in two shooters. We didn't even bother raising the issue of Oliver Patterson's affidavit, which outlined dirty tricks by the HSCA against Jerry Ray, including the taking of hair samples, theft of correspondence, and the introduction to him of a female agent for pur- poses of gathering information in exchange for sex.
It was the exclusion of evidence about the hoax broadcast that most upset James. The broadcast within minutes of the shooting was obviously of crucial importance. We had the dispatcher, William Tucker, ready to testify. The transcripts of the tapes had long been publicized and known. We also had the policeman in the field, Rufus Bradshaw, who received and radioed in the false CB account of a car chase involving a white Mustang. But the judge said, "Your client has benefited once from this hoax by being able to escape. I'll not let him benefit twice." The legal reasoning escaped me. James was so angry that he wanted to withdraw from the case.
John Billings called late at night to say that James was threatening not to appear the next day. I called James and told him that I shared his frustration but believed that the jury was with us. I agreed to recall him to the stand to give him an opportunity to ventilate.
Betty and Bobbi continued to avoid us. We prepared an affidavit for Betty to sign, but she refused. She spoke to to our investigator Cliff Dates on February 2, apologizing for any inconvenience caused and stating that she had finally decided not to cooperate, fearing that if she did so Jowers would "surely kill her." She also stated her belief that if the trial went well, James would be paroled in two years' time.
On James's recall the next morning, Ewing spent more time on his feet objecting than he did in his chair. James was determined to talk about the hoax, and Ewing and the judge were determined that he would not.
Ken Herman said he noticed a look of interest on the jurors' faces when the prosecutor tried to shut James up. He said the look asked, "What are they trying to keep from us?"
I later learned that when James showed up that morning he had with him a book with a sign inside it on which the following words were printed: THIS TRIAL IS A FARCE. He intended to flash it in front of the cameras if things continued the way they had. John Billings did his best to stabilize the situation.
Next on the stand was fireman William King. He testified that the day after the shooting he walked down Mulberry Street and noticed that "bushes" behind the rooming house had been freshly cut. When asked, he said that he was talking about trees rather than bushes, and he identified a long tree branch that appeared to have been recently cut and that hung over the wall.
I was thankful that Earl Caldwell finally appeared. He told how New York Times editor Claude Sitton had told him to "nail Dr. King." He vividly described how after the shot he saw a crouching man rising up from the bushes and staring at the balcony until he was distracted by Solomon Jones furiously driving the car back and forth. On cross-examination Caldwell testified that he had learned that the King party was to stay at the Lorraine Motel on or around April 1. He repeatedly stressed the height and thickness of the bushes in which he saw the crouching man.
The judge had repeatedly told me he wouldn't allow former congressman Walter Fauntroy to testify for the defense. However, I went ahead and called him. If the judge didn't want him to testify he would have to take him off the stand in front of the jury. Fauntroy had direct personal knowledge of the bureau's activities against Dr. King and of Hoover's attitude, because he had been the SCLC's man in Washington and had even attended the one meeting between Dr. King and Hoover. He had also had an opportunity to review a great deal of documentation from the HSCA's classified files and had become convinced that James was not guilty. As I attempted to elicit these facts, Ewing had hardly voiced his objection when the judge sustained.
In fairness, it seemed that the judge became increasingly committed to holding the evidence to that which was strictly relevant to a charge of murder. The judge's rulings severely limited our effort to demonstrate a very wide range of conspiratorial evidence related to the planning, execution, and ongoing cover-up of the truth about Dr. King's murder.
It's always tempting to second-guess the man in the robe, and in fact some of his rulings made good sense and were (even if intuitively so) well-founded in the rules of evidence. For example, Jules "Ricco" Kimbel's allegations of his involvement in a conspiracy as the pilot who flew the shooters in and out of Memphis had taken on material aspects of unreliability. As is often the case, particular aspects of his story had the ring and feel of truth but courtroom proof certainly requires and deserves a higher standard. The judge viewed these submissions more objectively than I did at the time. (Eventually I concluded that Kimbel may have provided me with some false information in the hope of inducing me to provide legal assistance to his brother, who was also in prison.)
I believe that the tightness of the judge's procedures, how- ever, was overdone in some instances. The change of Dr. King's room was raised by Hosea Williams in his testimony, but the background for the change wasn't only material to the affirmative defense but highly significant. The events were set out by the now deceased manager of the Lorraine, Walter Bailey, in his conversations with investigator Leon Cohen and reporter Wayne Chastain, but these conversations were excluded by the court even though they were clearly against the interests of Mr. Bailey. Tim Kirk's affidavit setting out the details of the contract on James back in 1978 by U.S. government informant/operative Art Baldwin was always agreed to be allowed in if Hickman was permitted to ask questions to which Kirk would respond. This was done, and still the affidavit was kept out, despite it being extraordinarily contrary to Kirk's interests.
In rebuttal, Ewing attacked Oscar Kent's testimony by introducing a statement from Johnny C. Woods, one of the Birmingham detectives Kent had named. He denied being involved in any stakeout looking for James Earl Ray and noted that the Aeromarine Supply Store in 1968 was located near the Birmingham airport and not in a mall, where it is now. He further contended that he didn't meet Oscar Kent until the 1970s.
In their strident closing, the prosecutors kept the emotional level high, lamenting the loss to King's widow and his orphaned children. Their pretensions were sickening, particularly because throughout the trial I wasn't allowed even to hint at the personal relationship between myself and Martin and the impact that his death had had on me.
In the absence of any evidence, the prosecution referred to James's "racism" and made a great deal of the fact that James supposedly "stalked" Dr. King. The main thrust of their closing was in trying to discredit the defense witnesses or to dismiss the significance of their testimony. In the words of journalist Andrew Billen of the English newspaper the Observer, "They spend [sic] most of their allotted hour colourfully rubbishing the defense case rather than establishing their own."
IN MY CLOSING STATEMENT, I asked the jury to put aside the heat and consider the case carefully. I asked them first to consider the type of person James Earl Ray was, to think about his behavior in the context of his circumstances, and I urged them to ask themselves whether he was capable of pulling off such a crime.
The prosecution hadn't introduced a shred of evidence of any motive, I said, and pointed out the absurdity of their argument that James had stalked Dr. King. He had, for example, been in Los Angeles before Dr. King arrived, and when Dr. King arrived, he left. Also, there was no evidence to indicate that James even knew Dr. King was in Atlanta at the beginning of April, less than three weeks before the killing; when examined, the marks on James's map of Atlanta were clearly not around Dr. King's home or church. Further, the HSCA had considered the map to be such a flimsy piece of evidence that the members dismissed it. I went over the many holes in the prosecution's admittedly circumstantial case, including the failure to match the evidence slug to the rifle at the scene; the fact that none of James's fingerprints were found in the rooming house; the fact that the state's chief witness was falling- down drunk; that the bathroom was empty just before the shot was fired; that there were three eyewitnesses to activity in the bushes; and that two eyewitnesses saw James's white Mustang being driven away from the rooming house minutes before the shooting.
I moved on to catalog the wide variety of strange events surrounding the case, including the apparent tampering with the evidence slug, the cutting of the tree and bushes, the change of motel and room, and the removal of security, Detective Redditt, and the two black firemen, asking if any of these actions could really have been arranged by James acting alone. I also reminded the jury about the revelation of the conducting of electronic surveillance against Dr. King in Memphis and the denial of that activity by FBI agent Joe Hester.
The judge addressed the jury for a half hour, after which they retired to consider their verdict. During deliberations the jury asked to see again photographic evidence submitted by the defense showing the death slug lodged just under the skin in Dr. King's back, the death slug itself, and the footprints found in the alleyway at the rear of the rooming house.
After seven and a half hours they sent word that they had reached a verdict.
The trial had run for over fifty hours during ten days, and when it ended we knew we would have to wait nearly two months to learn the result, as it would be revealed only when HBO and Channel 4 in England aired the trial on April 4, 1993. In spite of the fact that the greater part of our evidence concerning conspiracy had been excluded, and we couldn't put on our most explosive testimony because the witnesses were too afraid to testify, we believed we had put forward a good case.