Why and How . . . They Killed King

A detailed account of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination is reprinted here in slightly edited form without the permission of the author, who emailed friends a message titled “Sad that on MLK day nobody talks about how he was executed by the US government.” A footnote follows.

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The April 4, 1968, execution of Martin Luther King by the FBI, the U.S. Army, the Memphis Police Department, the New Orleans and Memphis mob, the cover-up by local and national attorneys general, the 1999 jury trial that found them guilty, and the complete censorship of all of it by the U.S. mass media *

By Richard Krushnic, February 2014 

In December 1999 in Memphis, Tenn., following a three-week trial with over 70 witnesses, a jury of six whites and six blacks took 59 minutes to find agencies of the U.S. government 75 percent guilty and Lloyd Jowers 25 percent guilty of the murder of Martin Luther King.  While the charges brought in the civil trial did not specify the U.S. government agencies, the evidence presented focused on the FBI and the U.S. Army, with substantial circumstantial evidence incriminating members of the Memphis Police Department.  Some evidence indicated that one man who was the handler of the patsy, James Earl Ray, also played a direct role in the assassination. Some evidence indicated that he worked for the CIA. The evidence was well presented in the 2003 book Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King, by William Pepper, the attorney who brought the case to trial on behalf of the King family.  

Forty of the more than 70 witnesses presented overwhelming and overlapping and mutually supporting evidence of the execution as an act of state, with coordinated planning and execution by federal agencies, the New Orleans and Memphis mafias, and the Memphis police. In essence, therefore, while the jury found only agencies of the U.S. government and Lloyd Jowers guilty, they certainly found the gestalt of the planning and execution involving the Memphis Police Department, the FBI, the U.S. Army, a New Orleans mob figure contracted by the FBI to kill King, Memphis mob figures who got the subcontract, and probably the CIA.  

Before returning to some of the details of the government’s execution of King, let us note the trajectory which led the government to kill him. The civil rights movement buildup from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s accomplished the elimination of widespread segregation of public and private institutions and business establishments, won the Voting Rights Act, other progressive legislation, and contributed much to the establishment of the War on Poverty programs. These gains were peaking at the same time that several hundred volunteers were working with MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the summer and fall of 1965. 

But that same year the Vietnam War’s mammoth escalation began, and by 1967 it became clear that guns were overshadowing butter, and the body bags were largely filling with black youth. These momentous developments had not escaped the attention of MLK, and a young freelance journalist covering the war, William Pepper, brought its genocidal aspects to Martin’s attention.  In 1967 William became Martin’s consultant on the war, and his friend.  King was painfully aware that the civil rights gains had not altered the economic inequality between blacks and whites, and that the war had stalled further progress on that front for poor whites and blacks alike. It was one thing to gain the right to eat at a formerly segregated lunch counter, but quite another to be able to pay the bill.  When the profound immorality of the genocidal racial aspects of the war was added to the mix, King’s practical and moral sensibilities led him into open opposition to the war, and into a plan to unite poor blacks and whites in a Poor People’s Campaign and mobilization culminating in an encampment on the Washington Mall in 1968—a tent city of 500,000.  He called for a cessation of the bombing of Vietnam before an audience of 250,000 demonstrators on the Washington Mall on April 15, 1967.  By July, several of the nation’s largest cities had burst into flame with exploding black rage. The National Conference for New Politics (NCNP) was established to catalyze people nationwide, and King asked Pepper to be its executive director. King would run for president, with Dr. Benjamin Spock for vice president.  

Enough of the power elite had come to understand that the civil rights movement was not a threat to the established system, but rather advantageous to it.  Once racial inequality had been exposed to the world, undermining the propaganda about the United States as the land of equality of opportunity, it became useful to enact a significant improvement in racial  justice, so the credibility of the land of the free could be re-established. But [King’s] assuming a leadership position in the antiwar movement and in cross-racial working class organizing for economic justice was seen as a serious threat to the system, which could not be tolerated. 

The same interest groups that executed President John F. Kennedy in 1963 eliminated King and Robert Kennedy in 1968. The 1963 coup d’etat against the cold warrior who became a peacemaker as president was followed by the elimination of the two people most likely to threaten the consolidation of the warfare state and the multinational oil and mining interests relying on military and CIA coups to seize control of new resources. 

This is why MLK was executed as an act of state.  For anyone who cares to examine the readily available evidence, there is no question regarding the executions of the Kennedys and King (among others) as acts of state. Yet even the thousands of civil rights activists of that decade spanning half of the 1950s and 1960s have not found the commitment to bring the truth of King’s execution into the light. 

Following King’s execution, Pepper worked an an attorney with the King family for 23 years to prove the innocence of the patsy, James Earl Ray.  They were fought tooth and nail by every level of the U.S. justice system. Finally giving up on that effort, Pepper and the King family succeeded in bringing to fruition the wrongful death suit in 1999—31 years after King’s execution.  The evidence presented at the three-week trial is overwhelming, is very well and understandably presented in Pepper’s three books on the matter,* and is corroborated by the 750-page trial transcript. 

The earlier evidence to surface seemed adequate to acquit confessed MLK “assassin” James Earl Ray, so many years were devoted to getting a trial for him. Since he had pled guilty, Ray had never been tried. King was killed in Memphis. The Memphis district attorney and police department, the Tennessee attorney general and the U.S. attorney general did all they could to frustrate the effort to get Ray a trial. Only when a British TV studio produced a mock trial, with a volunteer U.S. judge and volunteer citizen jurors, did witnesses who had been afraid to speak for nearly three decades come forward.  After more than two decades of experience with the U.S justice system arrayed against them from the local to the national level, Pepper and the King family decided the best they could do was a wrongful death suit, which they succeeded in bringing off in Memphis in 1999—31 years after King’s execution. 

The evidence came to light due to the King family, their dedicated attorney, William Pepper, and an amazing host of witnesses who came forward decades after the event to tell their stories.  One of them, Lloyd Jowers, was the bar and lodging house owner whose establishment was across the street from the motel balcony. Jowers confessed to many persons on many occasions that he was hired by local mob figure, Frank Liberto, to receive the rifle, store it, give it to the shooter at the time of the execution, take it from the shooter after the execution, and dispose of it. Two of the members of the Army assassination team testified to every detail of their assignment. 

Frank Liberto confessed to his mistress, La Vada Whitlock, that he had had King killed. La Vada repeated this to her son, Nathan Whitlock, a Memphis cab driver. Nathan, a naive 18-year-old at the time, asked Liberto directly if he killed King. Liberto told him he had arranged the killing. Nathan testified to this at the trial.  A number of witnesses gave heresay depositions indicating that the contract had been given to New Orleans mafia boss Carlos Marcello, and Marcello subcontracted it to Liberto in Memphis.

There is a long history of the CIA hiring mob groups at home and abroad to assassinate high-value targets to make sure that the U.S. government can’t be fingered for the killings. In the case of MLK, however, it was so important that he be killed that the U.S. Army had a backup assassination team in place at the same time and place, to take him out on the motel balcony if the mob contract failed to accomplish the job, and considerable evidence indicates heavy involvement of the Memphis police department in the execution and cover-up. 

Several witnesses who presented testimony to the Memphis police and to the district attorney at the time of the execution and were completely ignored, testified to seeing the shooter and smoke in the field adjacent to Jower’s bar, to seeing a man jump over a wall and flee, and to seeing another man run down the block, enter a police car and drive away. 

One of them, taxi driver recalled by a witness only as Buddy, was not so lucky. He testified to police at the police station right after the hit.  He was found dead the next morning. 

Considerable circumstantial evidence indicates that the actual shooter was the Memphis Police Department’s best marksman, Earl Clark, but there is no certainty that this was the case. 

Convicted of murdering King, James Earl Ray identified the photograph of a man named Raul from an array of photos, as the man who had controlled his movements and given him money. Glenda Grabow, an associate of Raul’s for many years, testified that he assisted the assassination of King. The man who handled the rifle, Lloyd Jowers, told Andrew Young and King’s son Dexter King that Raul picked up cash from the local mafia figure, Liberto, who hired Jowers to handle the gun and host the planning meetings and the actual shooter on his property. Raul brought the rifle that was used to kill King for Jowers to hold, give to the police department marksman, get the rifle back after the execution and dispose of it.  Raul was the handler who set up the patsy, James Early Ray, and a participant in the hit scenario. 

Other witnesses, black policemen who had always provided security to King in the past when he was in Memphis, were not used that day; no one was. Other black policemen who were to be on detail in the area on April 4, 1968, were told the night before that they were being reassigned. Several witnesses testified to hearing Joe Lombardo, the local mob figure who got the subcontract from New Orleans mob figure Carlos Marcello, talking about the King hit.

Enter the 902nd—the eighth Military Intelligence Group (MIG) under the command of the assistant chief of staff for intelligence (ACSI), Major Gen. William P. Yarborough. A former active duty Army sniper whom Pepper calls “Warren” and another soldier called “Murphy” were reservists assigned to the 20th Special Forces Group at Camp Shelby in Mississippi deployed in 902nd covert operations. In numerous deposition sessions Warren and Murphy set out the details of the Memphis deployment. They were part of an eight-man Alpha 184 team specializing in civilian disguise. 

On March 29, five days before King’s execution, the two were briefed on their assignment to kill King and Andrew Young. Warren identified Eli Arkin of the MPD as the police officer they met with. Arkin was the MPD’s chief liaison with Special Agent William Lawrence, the local FBI field office’s intelligence specialist. Warren and Murphy were taken to the roof of the Illinois Central Railroad Building, overlooking the Lorraine Motel. Warren’s degree of detail leaves no doubt that he was there.  MPD Captain Carthel Weeden confirmed that he put a psy-ops soldier on the roof of the fire station to film the execution.  

Former federal government covert operative Jack Terrell testified to his conversations with John D. Hill, an Army sergeant who was murdered in 1979.  Hill told Terrell that he had been part of the April 4, 1968, assassination team in Memphis.  Officially, Hill was killed at close range by his wife, who was never tried for the murder. 

The only individual charged in the trial was Lloyd Jowers.  The only defense offered by his attorney were witnesses whose testimony shifted more of the blame to the U.S. government and the Memphis Police. Essentially no defense of the police or the government was offered in the trial. More than 40 witnesses presented extensive overlapping corroborating evidence, including, as mentioned above, persons actually part of the hit and the Army backup assassination team. 

The reasons the U.S. government executed MLK, the context in the United States at the time, the process of discovering the innocence of convicted James Earl Ray, the dedicated cover-up efforts of the district attorney and the Tennessee attorney general, the staging a TV trial in England (and the limited coverage of it in the British press), how that brought witnesses out of the woodwork, the unfolding of the evidence, the Memphis trial, and the almost perfect censorship of the trial and the verdict by the U.S. mass media, are all very well presented in William Pepper’s 2003 book, Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King.*

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* A longer book authored by William F. Pepper, Esq., titled The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., was published in 2016 by Skyhorse Publishing. It was the basis of an extensive report in the Washington Post of March 30, 2018, by reporter Tom Jackman, headlined “Who killed Martin Luther King Jr.? His family believes James Earl Ray was framed.”

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