ORDERS TO KILL -- THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MURDER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING
LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I accepted the official story about how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered. I believe this was the result of my naivete or perhaps the desire to put the loss of a friend behind me. In any case, when Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician and antiwar activist, and I traveled to Memphis for the memorial march on April 8, 1968, four days after the assassination, so far as I was concerned it was in the hands of the police.
In the following years, I heard about inconsistencies in the state's case and rumors of a conspiracy in which James Earl Ray was framed for Dr. King's murder. Then in 1977-1978, at the Rev. Ralph Abernathy's request I prepared for and then conducted a five-hour interview of James Earl Ray. Since that time, the mystery of Dr. King's assassination has dominated much of my life. In no small measure I suppose this is because of the responsibility I feel for having initially prompted him to oppose the Vietnam War -- for that stand was a major factor contributing to his death.
The intervening years have only strengthened my belief that Dr. King's assassination constituted the greatest loss suffered by the republic this century. To understand his death it is essential to realize that though he is popularly depicted and perceived as a civil rights leader, he was much more. A nonviolent revolutionary, he personified the most powerful force for long overdue social, political, and economic reconstruction of the nation.
Those in charge of the United States intelligence, military, and law enforcement machinery understood King's true significance. They perceived his active opposition to the war and is organizing of the poor as grave disruptions to the stability of a society already rife with unrest, and took the position that he was under communist control.
The last year of his life was one of the most turbulent in the history of the nation. Much of the civil unrest took the form of nationwide urban riots and was clearly the result of racial tensions, frustrations and anger at oppressive living conditions and the endemic hopelessness of inner-city life. However, one cannot consider these explosions without taking into account the pervasive presence of the war, its legitimization of violence, and its overall impact on the neighborhoods of the nation. By July 1967, the number of riots and other serious disruptions against public order had reached ninety-three in nineteen states. In August there were an additional thirty-three riots which occurred in thirty-two cities in twenty-two states.
Dr. King was at the center of it all. His unswerving opposition to the war and his commitment to bring hundreds of thousands of poor people to a Washington D.C. encampment in the spring of 1968 to focus Congress's attention on the plight of the nation's poor, turned the government's anxiety into utter panic. I believe that there was no way Dr. King was going to be allowed to lead this army of alienated poor to Washington to take up residence in the shadow of the Washington memorial.
When army intelligence officers interviewed rioters in Detroit after the July 25, 1967 riot-which left nineteen dead, eight hundred injured, and $150 million of property damage -- they were amazed to learn that the leader most respected by those violent teenagers was not Stokely Carmichael nor H. Rap Brown but Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Six weeks after the Detroit riot the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP) scheduled a national convention over the Labor Day weekend in Chicago. The gathering of 5,000 delegates from all around the country and from every walk of life was expected to support a third-party presidential ticket of Dr. King and Dr. Spock. We now know how much shock this prospect caused at the highest levels of government.
So caught up were we in the fight for social change that we didn't appreciate the strength and determination of the opposition. It has become clear to me that by 1967 a siege mentality had descended on the nation's establishment forces, including its federal law enforcement, intelligence and military branches. At the best of times, official Washington and its appendages throughout the country are highly insular and protective. In 1967-1968, with the barbarians, as they would have regarded them, gathering just outside the gates of power, any move in defense of the system and its special economic interests would have been viewed as a patriotic duty. All significant organizations committed to ending the war or fostering social or economic change were infiltrated, subjected to surveillance, and/ or subverted.
This book has been in development since 1978 and reflects a long-term effort to uncover the truth about the assassination. It does not cover the full scope of the investigation since many leads were examined and discarded and much information, however interesting, ultimately turned out to be superfluous to the central story. In 1988, I agreed to represent James Earl Ray, and by 1990 I had become convinced that the only way to end his wrongful imprisonment would be to solve the case. The investigation on which the book is based has been focused on that goal. However, for a period of nearly seven years prior to publication, I've tried in every way possible to put evidence of James's innocence before a court. Frustrated at every turn, I now turn to the court of last resort-the American people.
This story has taken twenty-seven years to unfold. This is largely the result of the creation and perpetration of a cover-up by government authorities at local, state, and national levels.
I've become convinced that, had they not met obstruction from within their own ranks, some of the honest, competent Memphis homicide detectives I've come to know over the years could have ferreted out enough evidence to warrant indicting several Memphians on charges ranging from accessory before and after the fact, to conspiracy to murder, to murder in the first degree. Among those indicted would have been some of their fellow officers. Even without official obfuscation, however, it's unlikely that these detectives could have traced the conspiracy further afield to its various well-insulated sources.
As will become increasingly clear, it was inevitable that such a local police investigation wouldn't be allowed and that each and every politically sponsored official investigation since 1968 would disinform the public and cover up the truth.
Years of investigation led to an unscripted television trial in 1993 that resulted in a not-guilty verdict. My subsequent investigation has unearthed powerful new evidence. The stories of several key witnesses, silent for twenty-seven years, are revealed for the first time. Although we will never know each and every detail behind this most heinous crime, we now have enough hard facts to overwhelmingly support James Earl Ray's innocence. The body of new evidence, if formally considered, would compel any independent grand jury-which, as of the time of this writing, we have been seeking for a year and a half-to issue indictments against perpetrators who are still alive. Even as this book goes to press we are pursuing all possible avenues through the courts to obtain justice and free James, as well as to bring to account those guilty parties whom we have identified.
Ultimately, there are many victims in this case: Dr. King; James Earl Ray; their families, and the citizens of the United States. All have been victimized by the abject failure of their democratic institutions. The assassination of Martin Luther King and its coverup extends far and wide into all levels of government and public service. Through the extensive control of information and the failure of the system of checks and balances, government has inevitably come to serve the needs of powerful special interests. As a result, the essence of democracy-government of, by, and for the people-has been terminally eroded.
Thus, what begins as a detective story ends as a tragedy of unimagined proportions: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is dead; James Earl Ray remains in prison; many of the guilty remain free, some even revered and honored; and our faith in the United States of America is shaken to the core.
William F. Pepper