Orders to Kill
William F. Pepper
Warner Books, $16
Review by Helyn Trickey
April 27, 1998
Web posted at: 3:51 p.m. EST (2051 GMT)
(CNN) -- America buries the convicted killer of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. this month, but "Orders to Kill", a new book penned by James Earl Ray's attorney, unearths theories that claim Ray died an innocent man.
William F. Pepper, a friend to King during his most aggressive civil rights campaigns, is unlikely as Ray's advocate. Pepper followed King during the organization of the Poor People's Campaign on Washington D.C. and the Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis, Tennessee. In fact, he was convinced of Ray's guilt following the King assassination. However, in "Orders to Kill" Pepper details how he came to believe that Ray was a pawn in a much larger plan to silence the preacher from Atlanta.
The tone of "Orders To Kill" is reminiscent of a spy thriller. Pepper recounts the days King spent in Memphis organizing the sanitation workers, lobbying The Invaders (a young, black militant group) to join the peaceful movement, and preaching his last sermon at the Mason Temple.
Pepper is at full strength when he characterizes the fearful, dejected atmosphere across the country after news spread of King's murder.
"For one bright moment back there in the late 1960s we actually believed that we could change our country. We had identified the enemy. We saw it up close and we had it's measure -- and we were very hopeful that we would prevail ... All our dreams were instantly gone, destroyed by an assassin's bullet."
Surprisingly, it is with a similar sense of human compassion that Pepper describes his first meeting with Ray.
"From what I had read about him (Ray) I was prepared to meet a racist, hardened criminal whose tendency for violence lay not far below the surface. I was very surprised. He seemed serious and shy, almost diffident, and shook hands weakly."
What convinces Pepper of the convicted killer's innocence is Ray's rendition of the months leading up to the assassination -- and the obvious discrepancies between his story and the government's official story. Pepper's account of the months Ray spent in limbo, traveling across the country at the direction of a shadowy figure dubbed "Raul," is reminiscent of film noir movies where the lead is caught in a web of deceit beyond his comprehension.
Ray believed, according to Pepper, that he was helping to run firearms across the Canadian and Mexican borders in exchange for legitimate traveling papers. Instead, Pepper contends, Ray was hand picked to take the fall in a larger-than-life plan to assassinate King.
Whether his account rings true with you or not, Pepper is successful at mounting a strong case against the FBI and CIA. His chilling tale of phone bugging, evidence planting and propaganda spreading work at the highest levels will bring out the conspiracy theorist in everyone.
"Orders to Kill" is surprisingly easy to read, well organized, has a glossary of relevant terms and a list of principle players. The forward, written by Dexter Scott King, a son of the slain civil rights leader, reminds us why the search for truth and justice is as relevant today as it was 34 years ago.
Helyn Trickey is an associate producer at CNN Interactive.
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