Dr. William F. Pepper was the King Family’s lawyer-investigator in the 1999 Circuit Court trial in Memphis, Tennessee, King Family versus Jowers and Other Unknown Co-Conspirators. The Honorable James E. Swearengen (Division 4, judge presiding) stated to the jury after reaching its verdict:
“In answer to the question did Loyd Jowers participate in a conspiracy to do harm to Martin Luther King, your answer is yes. Do you also find that others, including governmental agencies, were parties to this conspiracy as alleged by the defendant? Your answer to that one is also yes.”
The story of Martin Luther King’s assassination, and the 1999 trial where the truth of this event was finally revealed in a court of law is now encapsulated in Dr. William F. Pepper’s new book, released by Verso this month: An Act of State – The Execution of Martin Luther King. The dust jacket summarizes what many have intuitively known for more than thirty years:
“William Pepper, attorney and friend of Dr. King and the King family, became convinced after years of investigation that not only was Ray not the shooter, but that King had been targeted as part of a larger conspiracy to stop the anti-war movement, and to prevent King from gaining momentum in his promising Poor People’s Campaign. Ten years into his investigation, in 1988, Pepper agreed to represent Ray. While he was never able to successfully appeal the sentence before Ray’s death, he was able to build an air-tight case against the real perpetrators. In 1999, Loyd Jowers and co-conspirators were brought to trial in a wrongful death civil action suit on behalf of the King family. Seventy witnesses set out the details of the conspiracy in a plot to murder King that involved J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI, Richard Helms and the CIA, the military, the local Memphis police, and organized crime figures from New Orleans and Memphis. The evidence was unimpeachable. The jury took an hour to find for the King family. But the silence following these shocking revelations was deafening. Like the pattern during all the investigations of the assassination throughout the years, no major media outlet would cover the story. It was effectively buried.
“Until now, the details, evidence, and personalities of all these nefarious characters have gone unreported. In An Act of State, you finally have the truth before you — how the United States government effectively shut down one of the most galvanizing movements for social change by stopping its leader dead in his tracks.”
In his closing remarks on the last day of the trial, Dr. Pepper touched upon the underlying dynamics of what created the circumstances of Dr. King’s execution:
Martin King, as you know, for many years was a Baptist preacher in the southern part of this country, and he was thrust into leadership of the civil rights movement at a historic moment in the civil rights movement and social change movement in this part of the country. That’s where he was. That’s where he has been locked in time, locked in a media image, locked as an icon in the brains of the people of this country.
But Martin King had moved well beyond that. When he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize he became in the mid-1960’s an international figure, a person of serious stature whose voice, his opinions, on other issues than just the plight of black people in the South became very significant world-wide. He commanded world-wide attention as few had before him. As a successor, if you will, to Mahatmas Gandhi in terms of the movement for social change through civil disobedience. So that’s where he was moving. Then in 1967, April 4, 1967, one year to the day before he was killed, he delivered the momentous speech at Riverside Church in New York where he opposed the war.
Now, he thought carefully about this war. . . . I remember vividly, I was a journalist in Vietnam, when I came back he asked to meet with me, and when I opened my files to him, which were devastating in terms of the effects upon the civilian population of that country, he unashamedly wept.
I knew at that point really that the die was cast. This was in February of 1967. He was definitely going to oppose that war with every strength, every fiber in his body. And he did so. He opposed it. And from the date of the Riverside speech to the date he was killed, he never wavered in that opposition. Now, what does that mean? Is he an enemy of the State? The State regarded him as an enemy because he opposed it. But what does it really mean, his opposition? I put it to you that his opposition to that war had little to do with ideology, with capitalism, with democracy. It had to do with money. It had to do with huge amounts of money that that war was generating to large multinational corporations that were based in the United States . . .
When Martin King opposed the war, when he rallied people to oppose the war, he was threatening the bottom lines of some of the largest defense contractors in this country. This was about money. When he threatened to bring that war to a close through massive popular opposition, he was threatening the bottom lines of some of the largest construction companies, one of which was in the State of Texas, that patronized the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson and had the major construction contracts at Cam Ran Bay in Vietnam. This is what Martin King was challenging. He was challenging the weapons industry, the hardware, the armament industries, that all would lose as a result of the end of the war. . . .
Now, he begin to talk about a redistribution of wealth, in this the wealthiest country in the world that had such a large group of poor people, of people living then and now, by the way, in poverty. That problem had to be addressed. And it wasn’t a black-and-white problem. This was a problem that dealt with Hispanics, and it dealt with poor whites as well. That is what he was taking on. That’s what he was challenging.
The powers in this land believed he would not be successful. Why did they believe that? They believed that because they knew that the decision-making processes in the United States had by that point in time, and today it is much worse in my view, but by that point in time had so consolidated power that they were the representatives, the foot soldiers, of the . . . very economic interests who were going to suffer as a result of these times of changes. So the very powerful lobbying forces that put their people in the halls of Congress and indeed in the White House itself and controlled them, paid and bought them and controlled them, were certainly not going to agree to the type of social legislation that Martin King and his mass of humanity were going to require.
On the King Center website, a draft from Pepper’s new book, describes the role played by the media from the testimony of William Schapp, attorney, military and intelligence specialization, and co-publisher Covert Action Quarterly. The culpability of the commercial media uniformly burying this Crime Of The Century story is the most evident indicator of the true interests served by the U.S. corporate press.
Half a day was occupied with the testimony of Attorney William Schapp, who we qualified as an expert on government use of the media for disinformation and propaganda purposes. . . .
Schapp revealed that the [central intelligence] agency alone — not to mention its counterparts in the rest of the American intelligence community — owned or controlled some 2,500 media entities all over the world. In addition, it has its people ranging from stringers to highly visible journalists and editors in virtually every major media organization. As we have seen and were indeed experiencing every day of the trial, this inevitably results in the suppression or distortion of sensitive stories and the planting and dissemination of disinformation.
Considering all of the aspects of the cover up in this case, the ongoing media role is the most sinister precisely because it, if not powerfully controverted, as was done with the trial, perpetuates the lies and disinformation from one generation to the next, for all time.
Writing in an April 7 2002 letter to John Judge, Dr. Pepper explained further details of the manner in which disinformation serves to distract people from making the connections that lie at the heart of Dr. King’s assassination. Note that the 7,000 (at its peak) protesters who lived in Resurrection City between mid-April and 19 June 1968 comprised less than 2 percent of the 500,000 people Martin King was committed to bringing to Washington that Spring to force the United States government to abolish poverty.
. . . I still represent the family and monitor developments such as the recent allegations, regarding which the family asked me to respond to media queries. So far as we are concerned the truth about the assassination was fully revealed in court, under oath over a month long trial in late 1999 in Memphis. In Kings v. Jowers, et al, some 70 witnesses completely set out the details and the range of the conspiracy which was coordinated by the US Government with the assistance of state and local officials and on the site implementation of local organized crime operatives.
The entire trial is on the web site of the King Center. It took the jury about one hour to find the Government liable through the actions of its agents. The identities of the shooter and James Earl Ray’s handler, Raul, were also established. . . .
So, John, it is not true that this case is open. It is open, officially, but unlike the other assassinations we know and have evidence of the details of the killing. The family believes that they are completely vindicated. Even the New York Times in a front page piece (never again mentioned, by their local reporter) acknowledged that members of the jury were quoted as saying that the evidence — never before seen or heard or tested under oath — was overwhelming. . . .
Your analysis is correct. This type of [false] claim [of a supposed King assassination plotter that is not credible] distracts us from the overall coordinating role of Government and the powerful economic interests which decided that MLK had to be removed from the scene because of his increasingly effective opposition to the war and, perhaps, more significantly, his commitment to bring upwards of 500,000 of the wretched of America to Washington, not to march but to encamp and daily visit their elected representatives to demand the restoration of the social welfare/health and educational programs which had been severely, even terminally, cut in deference to the military budgetary increases.
The Army knew that their demands would not be met, realized that the massive assemblage would likely become enraged and emerge as a revolutionary force in the nation’s capitol — the very belly of the beast — and were fully aware that they did not have the troops available to put down the rebellion. (Remember, at the time, Westmoreland wanted another 200,000 for Vietnam and those were also not available).
Hence, MLK had to be stopped. He would never be allowed to bring that alienated mass to Washington. A logistics officer in charge of troop movements and truck allocations at Fort Meade, passed word to me that on the morning of the assassination he was put on alert and told to be ready to bring the National Guard and other troops to Washington that afternoon. Martin King was shot at 6:01 PM. The troops were already on the move in anticipation of the rioting which was certain to break out when the news reached the capitol.
On the back cover of An Act of State, Coretta Scott King sums up her understanding and appreciation of its significance:
“For a quarter of a century, Bill Pepper conducted an independent investigation of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He opened his files to our family, encouraged us to speak with the witnesses, and represented our family in the civil trial against the conspirators. The jury affirmed his findings, providing our family with a long-sought sense of closure and peace, which had been denied by official disinformation and cover-ups. Now the findings of his exhaustive investigation and additional revelations from the trial are presented in the pages of this important book. We recommend it highly to everyone who seeks the truth about Dr. King’s assassination.”
In the 12/9/99 King Family Press Conference on the MLK Assassination Trial Verdict, Dr. Pepper described the significance of what the trial had uncovered and established:
. . . Then the proof goes into the broader conspiracy. The fact that had you known that there were photographers on the roof of the fire station? Had you known that two army photographers were on the roof of the fire station photographing everything? Two cameras, one on the balcony and one whisking around the driveway and into the brush area. Did you know ladies and gentlemen that the assassination was photographed? That there were photographs buried in the archives at the Department of Defense? No, you did not know.
And you know why you did not know? Because there was no police investigation in this case. No house-to-house investigation. Neighbors as late as two weeks later stated “they never knocked on my door, now let me tell you what I saw.” . . . They didn’t talk to the Captain who ran the fire station. No one talked to that man in thirty years. He put the photographers up there. He took the stand and stated, “yeah I put them up there. They showed me credentials saying they wanted to take pictures.” Where are those pictures? That proof has existed for all of these years. It’s there. It has been buried.
The tragedy of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. is a tragedy for this family here. This family in my view is America’s first family because of their struggle and for what they have stood for, going back for generations, going back to 1917, the first world war period, this family was under surveillance by military intelligence back then. Up to the present time they have been feared. So that is a tragedy for this family. It is a tragedy for this nation and to the world that this man was taken from us when he was.
The third tragedy was the failure of representative democracy to deal with this as a political act. This type of act which was covered up. How was it covered up? Well, the jury heard evidence as to how it was covered up for 31 years. . . .
We can end this nonsense. We can end this cover-up. We can say for once and for all that a jury has spoken. They heard everything. If there is any decency left in this system, it is the fact that you can get 12 people who can hear what other people have to say, they can review documents, there are about 50 exhibits that they were able to review, and they can make up their own minds. The defense tried several times to have the case dismissed. The Judge refused. So it did go to a jury and that jury has spoken.
Let’s hope this is a forum, which we can say, is healing. We have reached the truth. The family is satisfied. What the government does, the government can do. The government may do now what it has never done before. If they want to take it up now, let them take it up.
The real, real ongoing, almost criminal aspect of the case that still exists, is the fact that this family privately had to do what the government has not done and would not do. Make no mistake about it, all the evidence that was heard in that court over the course of the last 30 days has been available for 32 years. It has been there right in front of them. . . .
In the traditional history of the country, where a person who was a friend and a colleague of a victim, only for one year, the last year of his life, but during that year the friend and colleague of the victim decided 20 years later the convicted murderer of that victim. Then eventually came to represent the family in the final quest of justice. That has been the process that I follow. That has been the result.
We have at last obtained justice. Martin King was always fond of saying in moments of trial, that truth crushed to earth, no matter how much it is crushed, will always rise again. Ladies and Gentlemen, in that courtroom yesterday in Memphis, Tennessee, finally that truth crushed to earth rose again. Today we acknowledge that truth.
Jim Douglass was one of only two reporters who attended the trial proceedings from start to finish in Memphis. Writing in the spring of 2000, he emphasized that we have yet to address the fact that 32 (now 34-plus) years later, the United States government is that much more committed to representing the private interests of monied power and putting the interests of corporate power ahead of people and the public interest.