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Ray lawyer: Test bullets don't match bullet that killed King

gun

Lawyers for James Earl Ray seek new tests

July 11, 1997
Web posted at: 11:47 a.m. EDT (1547 GMT)

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (CNN) -- Markings on some of the test bullets fired from the rifle believed used in the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. do not match the markings on the bullet that killed King, according to an affidavit filed by confessed killer James Earl Ray's attorneys.

The results of bullet tests, conducted in May, were read in court by Judge Joseph Brown .

Lawyers for Ray, who sought the tests in a bid to prove his innocence, are asking Brown to approve additional tests on Ray's .30-06 hunting rifle .

"A comparison was conducted of the bullet material removed from Dr. King with the 12 test bullets that could be adequately analyzed," Brown said, reading from a report on the test firings.

"This comparison revealed that the gross and unique characteristic signature left on the 12 test bullets by the James Earl Ray rifle was not present on the death bullet."

A comparison of the bullets..
icon 224 K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The report said that no analysis was possible on three other bullets fired in the tests.

Attorney William Pepper initially claimed the tests would exonerate his client and would instead point a finger at a government conspiracy to kill King, who was shot on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

More test firings?

Brown

A comment the judge made Thursday indicated he was likely to agree to additional test firings of the rifle.

"If a doctor is examining you for prostate cancer and he's running a series of tests, one may lead to the other, but until you finish, you may not have a complete diagnostic picture," Brown said.

Pepper has not said why he wants additional tests, but a state firearms investigator has said the request suggests the first round of testing wasn't to their liking.

Before Friday's hearing, prosecutor John Campbell said he was unsure why more tests would be needed. "They're going to have to lay it out, spell it out ... then I can let my people look at it and see if it's legitimate or not," Campbell said.

Ray claims he was framed

Ray, now 69, originally admitted killing King but recanted three days later and is seeking a trial. He has said that the rifle found near the murder scene with his fingerprints on it was not the murder weapon but was dropped there to frame him.

The rifle and the death bullet were tested by the FBI and a U.S. House committee in the 1960s and 1970s. Those tests failed to prove beyond a scientific doubt that the rifle was the murder weapon, though King was killed by the same kind of gun.

The committee concluded in 1978 that Ray killed King but may have been helped by others before or after the shooting.

By pleading guilty in 1969, Ray avoided the possibility of a death sentence and drew 99 years in prison.

Ray, suffering from terminal liver disease, has the support of King's family in his bid to retract his guilty plea and receive a trial.

Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.  
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