Justice Will Take New Look At King's Killing
Reopened probe will focus on new witnesses
By Pierre Thomas and Bruce Morton/CNN
WASHINGTON (Aug. 26) -- The Justice Department has decided to reopen the investigation of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was gunned down in Memphis in April 1968, CNN has learned.
| Justice Department Statement On MLK Investigation|
The new investigation will be limited in scope, targeting a number of witnesses who have recently surfaced, including:
- Onetime Memphis restaurateur Lloyd Jowers who claimed in 1993 he
recruited someone to kill King. But the man Jowers named was not James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing King.
- Donald Wilson, a former FBI employee who claims he was part
of the early investigation. Wilson says he found a note that has the name "Raool" written on it. Ray long claimed a man by the name of Raul was involved in the assassination.
Both of these accounts have been questioned.
Coretta Scott King
But while the Justice Department is putting limitations on the scope of the probe, law enforcement sources tell CNN the investigation will pursue any significant new leads.
There are some questions as to whether or not the Justice Department could prosecute anyone as a result of the new investigation, because of the statute of limitations.
Officials say they will cross that bridge when and if they come to it.
Immediately after Ray pleaded guilty, King's widow, Coretta Scott King, said she didn't believe he had acted alone. Now, the Kings have gone further, saying he didn't do it.
Mrs. King explained her doubts after asking President Clinton to appoint a commission to investigate. "It's difficult for me to appreciate the fact that one lone person could engineer what he did in terms of his escape," she said.
But the House Select Committee on Assassinations said in its 1979 report, "There is a likelihood ...of a conspiracy," but Ray alone "fired one shot at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. That shot killed Dr. King."
But Mrs. King wondered about his escape. "The fact that he was able to get out of the country, and all of that. I mean, there's no way he could really have done that."
But all Ray needed to do to get a Canadian passport back then was fill out a form; no proof of birth was required. And that's what he did. A Justice Department investigation concluded "Ray's assertions that someone else pulled the trigger are ... wholly unbelievable." But, to be fair, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI harrassed King, bugged his hotel rooms and tapped his telephones.
Civil rights leader Joseph Lowery said, "I believe there were people in government who were aware of the plot to kill Dr. King. The FBI, stalking Dr. King, had to know that James Earl Ray was stalking him as well."
Ray took two polygraph tests and both times, examiners concluded he killed King and acted alone, though experts, of course, disagree about the worth of such tests. And recent retests of the rifle -- on which only Ray's fingerprints were found, were inconclusive.
Author Gerald Posner says there was no government conspiracy.
"Ray definitely did it. He pulled the trigger; he's the assassin, the man who killed Martin Luther King 30 years ago in Memphis. Did he do it with others? I think it's very possible. Maybe with his family, even though they've always denied it, probably for money put up by a racist. But it's not a large government conspiracy that the King family thinks it is."
The arguments, of course, will continue.