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Test results due on King rifle

Lawyer for James Earl Ray expected to seek new tests

July 11, 1997
Web posted at: 8:57 a.m. EDT (1257 GMT)

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (CNN) -- Results were expected Friday morning from tests conducted on the rifle believed to have been used to kill Martin Luther King Jr. here in 1968.

Lawyers for convicted assassin James Earl Ray hope the tests will rule out Ray's .30-06 hunting rifle as the murder weapon.

vxtreme -- See the hearing live --

Attorney William Pepper, who had a first round of tests conducted in May, knows the results but has declined to say anything publicly until he announces them in the Memphis courtroom of Judge Joseph Brown.

However, sources tell CNN the firing tests indicate Ray's involvement remains a possibility. The hearing was expected to begin at 10 a.m.

Request for new tests expected

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Pepper initially claimed the tests would exonerate his client and would instead point a finger at a government conspiracy to kill King.

Ray's lawyer is now expected to ask Brown to approve additional tests. A comment the judge made Thursday indicated he was likely to agree.

"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.

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, 69, is trying to take back his guilty plea to killing King. 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 current bid to take back his guilty plea and receive a trial.

Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.  
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