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Ray attorney: Bullets fired from Ray's gun don't match fatal bullet

gun

FBI tests from 1968 sought in King slaying

July 11, 1997
Web posted at: 5:28 p.m. EDT (2128 GMT)

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (CNN) -- A Tennessee judge said Friday he wants to see the results of FBI tests taken in 1968, after learning that bullets fired from James Earl Ray's gun do not match the bullet that killed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"The bullet we took out of Dr. King should show what those test rounds show," said Criminal Court Judge Joseph Brown.

Instead, an expert told Brown Friday that the markings on 12 of the 18 bullets fired in a recent test were unlike those on the fatal bullet.

Brown gave Ray's attorney and state prosecutors a week to decide how they intend to get the results of FBI tests taken almost 30 years ago.

The FBI announced after those tests that the results were "inconclusive" as to whether a .30-06 hunting rifle bearing Ray's fingerprints was the murder weapon.

William Pepper, an attorney for Ray, said test-firings in May showed that 12 bullets fired from Ray's rifle bore a "unique and gross characteristic signature."

He said even though the slug that killed King was broken into three pieces, there were enough marks on it to allow a comparison, and that comparison showed the 12 bullets did not match.

Lawyers, experts disagree about cleaning gun

Robert Hathaway, an expert hired by Ray's lawyers, testified Friday that 12 of the 18 bullets had an identical "reference point" that was not on the slug that killed King.

"Was that reference point present on the death slug?" Pepper asked.

"No sir, it was not," Hathaway said.

However, "bubbling" on the test bullets caused by material in the rifle barrel hampered microscopic analysis of the bullet markings, Hathaway said. He advised cleaning the inside of the gun barrel.

"You can never be sure of getting back to the previous point," Hathaway said under questioning by Pepper. "But removal of the plating material could get you back."

Pepper suggested that cleaning the barrel with a brush could eliminate the problem. But prosecutors were expected to say that cleaning the barrel could create scratches and corrupt the testing procedure.

Kelly Fite of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab argued against the cleaning, and said he doubted that any further tests would allow the court to say whether Ray's gun had been used to kill King.

"I don't think you're going to make this rifle match anything," said Fite, who has worked in ballistics for 29 years.

Judge hints he'll allow further testing

Ray confessed to the 1968 assassination of the civil rights leader to avoid a trial and an almost certain death sentence. But he later recanted and claimed he was framed.

Brown

The King family announced earlier this year that it agrees with Ray, and supports his attempts for a trial. King was shot April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

Judge Brown permitted Ray's ballistics experts to retest the rifle using an electron microscope based on a law that allows additional evidence if it is gained by technology not previously available. Brown has hinted in interviews that he would allow still more testing.

Should the rifle prove not to be the murder weapon, the way would be clear for a trial.

Ray, 69, is serving a 99-year sentence in a Nashville prison and is dying from liver disease. He has sought an organ transplant, but recent court rulings make it unlikely he will get one.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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