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[Martin Luther King, Jr., Assassination]

James Earl Ray

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“Wm. Pepper . . . is deposing witnesses in the civil suit against Lloyd Jowers . . . .

Last week I gave a deposition . . . in a libel suit” by a doctor over a book that

“accused the Doctor of seeing me in December 1967 in N.O. in [behalf] of [Carlos Marcello] . . .

to plot on MLK on Marcelos behalf.”

James Earl Ray, 1928–1998.  Convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Typed Letter Signed,  Sincerely, J. E. Ray, one page, 8½” x 11”, on plain stationery, Nashville, Tennessee, November 16, 1994.

This interesting and chatty letter has never been offered on the autograph market before.  Ray writes of a wrongful death lawsuit that his lawyer, William F. Pepper, had filed against Loyd Jowers, who admitted in 1993 that he was part of a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He also writes of testifying in a deposition in an unrelated libel suit against the author and publisher of a book about organized crime boss Carlos Marcello that sought to link Marcello and Ray in the King assassination.  He also mentions two other legal proceedings, evidently his own.

Ray, who confessed to killing King, almost immediately recanted and spent the rest of his life unsuccessfully trying to withdraw his guilty plea and obtain a trial.  This letter is to a correspondent in Belleville, Illinois, near Ray’s hometown of Alton, Illinois, with whom Ray corresponded over several years.  He writes (grammar and punctuation as in the original):

I have your card also thank’s for the stamps.

Wm. Pepper was here a few days ago.  He is deposing witnesses in the civil suit against Lloyd Jowers & others.  The criminal appeal is now before the State Sup. Ct.

Last week I gave a deposition to a lawyer who is representing a N.O. [New Orleans] Doctor in a libel suit against McGraw-Hill publishers & a writer named John David.  Davis in a book entitled“the Mafia Kingfish”—about carols Marcelos, accused the Doctor of seeing me in December 1967 in N.O. in behlaf of Marcelos.  The reason for this meeting, according to the scribbers, was to plot on MLK on Marcelos behalf.  Anyway the book charged Marcelos with numerous crimes including involvement in the MLK and JFK shootings.

I have enclosed a copy of the suit against the parole board.

Jerry [Ray’s brother] was here last week.  He is moving to E. Tenn. in about a week. . . .

Well there is not much else going on in these parts.  Maybe with some new pols. in we will be able to have the congress declassify some of the MLK records.

Trust all is going well.  Will get back with you later.

Pepper, Ray’s last lawyer, argued that Ray was framed for the King assassination, which Pepper said involved the FBI, the CIA, the Memphis police, organized crime figures from Memphis and New Orleans, and others.  He represented Ray in a mock trial for British television, which was part of Ray’s effort to convince Tennessee authorities that he should have a real trial.  The jury in the mock trial acquitted him. 

King’s family concluded that Ray was innocent and urged that he be given a trial.  Pepper represented the King family in a wrongful death suit against Jowers, whom Ray mentions in this letter, and others.  In 1993, Jowers, who owned a restaurant near the Lorraine Motel, told Sam Donaldson of ABC’s Primetime Live that there was a conspiracy to kill King, that he had hired a Memphis police officer to shoot him, and that Ray was a scapegoat.  There were allegations that the FBI, CIA, and organized crime were all involved.  A jury sided with the King family and returned a judgment against Jowers.  In 2000, however, the United States Department of Justice issued a 150-page report that rejected the conspiracy allegations and the jury’s findings.

The book that Ray mentions in this letter is Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy by John H. Davis.  It was published by McGraw-Hill in 1988.  It covered Marcello’s life from his early years in Sicily to his time in New Orleans, where he was the organized crime boss, and argued that Marcello was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy.

Ray recanted three days after he confessed to assassinating King, arguing that he confessed in order to avoid the death penalty.  In 1970, the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected his claim that he should have a new trial because his guilty plea was not entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.  Ray v. State, 451 S.W.2d 854 (Tenn. 1970).  He later sought post-conviction relief in at least seven different proceedings in state and federal court.  He got no relief. 

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the denial of two of Ray’s petitions without an evidentiary hearing.  State v. Ray, No. 41, 1986 WL 1671, at *1–*2 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. 1986); Ray v. State, 480 S.W.2d 919, 919–20 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. 1972).  Later, although the trial court found that Ray had “shown the existence of valid scientific methodology and technology capable of providing new scientific evidence of his innocence” and that “the ballistic material in evidence will not be significantly damaged, destroyed nor altered by the testing proposed,” the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Ray could not “examine or test physical evidence in governmental control based upon allegations that such an examination or test could establish actual innocence,” since a mere allegation that the evidence might demonstrate innocence “would open the floodgates to frivolous requests.”  The Tennessee statute, it said, was “designed for the extraordinary case when one has scientific evidence that establishes actual innocence.”  Ray v. State, 984 S.W.2d 236, 237–38 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. 1997).  Relying on the statutory language, which effectively granted Ray and those in his position absolutely nothing, the court did not explain how Ray could possibly demonstrate the existence of ballistics evidence that would prove him innocent when the State maintained control of the gun and would not let him test it.  After Ray’s death, the Tennessee Court of Appeals also affirmed the probate court’s dismissal of an action by Ray’s brother, Jerry (1936–2016), the executor of his estate, to force the state to return the .30-06 caliber Remington hunting rifle and other items of Ray’s property seized for use as evidence against him, including a transistor radio, a pair of binoculars, a Schlitz beer can, and underwear, a toothbrush, and other miscellaneous personal property.  Ray v. State, No. W2002-01611-COA-R3-CV, 2003 WL 22351014 (Tenn. Ct. App. Oct. 15, 2003).

Ray never stopped trying to obtain congressional release of records relating to the King assassination.  He mentions here, writing shortly after the 1994 mid-term congressional elections, his hope that Maybe with some new pols. in we will be able to have the congress declassify some of the MLK records.”

This letter is in very fine condition.  Were it not for the normal mailing folds, which do not affect the signature, we would grade it extra fine.  Ray has signed in black.



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