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Justice Department investigating new MLK assassination claims


King was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis

CNN's Pierre Thomas on the Martin Luther King investigation
Windows Media 28K 56K
January 18, 1999
Web posted at: 10:15 p.m. EST (0315 GMT)

In this story:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new Justice Department investigation into the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. focuses on two men who claim to have evidence of a possible conspiracy.

The civil rights leader was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. He would have been 70 years old last Friday.

One-time Memphis cafe owner Lloyd Jowers now says there was a plot to kill King, according to his lawyer.

"He said he was asked to hire someone and was offered a sum of money to do that," attorney Lewis Garrison said.

Sources tell CNN that Justice Department investigators have talked to Jowers about a possible deal in exchange for his testimony.

"They want to interview Mr. Jowers. They've indicated they would grant him immunity, but we haven't worked that out yet, so that's where we are," Garrison noted.

Justice Department authorities also are investigating the story of former FBI agent Donald Wilson, who claims that as a rookie agent, he searched the abandoned car of the one man who confessed to killing King -- James Earl Ray.

Ray, who later recanted his confession, died in prison last year without ever getting the trial he sought.

Small white envelope of clues

Wilson says a small white envelope fell from underneath a door panel in Ray's car just days after the shooting. He never turned it over to the FBI and did not disclose its contents for three decades, until last year.

The former agent suggests he didn't immediately tell his superiors about what he found because he didn't want them to know that he tampered with the crime scene. And besides, he says, Ray had already confessed.

Mystery man Raul

James Earl Ray

Ray claimed that a man called Raul was behind the murder

Wilson says the papers in the envelope -- papers he recently turned over to the Justice Department -- may hold clues.

Sources tell CNN a telephone number at the top of one of those papers was that of Jack Ruby's nightclub in Dallas. Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald, the man charged with assassinating President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

The papers also contain the name Raul. Ray claimed a man with that name was the mastermind behind King's murder.

"I can't say that what I have extricates James Earl Ray from the arena of suspicion," Wilson says.

"However, what it does do is give credibility to the existence of this so-called mystery man, this Raul. That's important," he adds.

The FBI has attacked Wilson's credibility, questioning whether he, as a rookie agent, ever had access to Ray's car.

But CNN has learned that early testing does not rule out the possibility the papers are authentic. Additional testing and investigative work still need to be done, authorities say.

King family believes Ray was innocent

King's son, Dexter, interviewed Ray in 1997, about a year before he died.

"Did you kill my father?" Dexter King asked.

"No, I didn't. No," answered Ray.

"I believe you, and my family believes you," Dexter King responded.

The King family found the new allegations compelling enough to lobby for the new investigation -- and they got it.

But a number of investigations all have reached the same conclusion: Ray killed King.

The question the Justice Department wants to know now is -- did someone else help him?

Justice Department Correspondent Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

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