Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Earl Ray: The Man Who Killed Dr. Martin Luther King


The King assassination returned to the headlines in 1993 when Lloyd Jowers, a 67-year-old former owner of Jim's Grill, a restaurant overlooking the Lorraine Motel, claimed on ABC's Prime Time Live that he was paid to participate in a conspiracy to kill King. In that interview, Jowers claimed he had been offered $100,000 by mobsters to arrange the death of King, planned the crime and hired an assassin other than Ray. He named a local produce dealer and a police officer as co-conspirators, and added that he did not realize that King was the intended target until after the shooting.

Jowers then invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to talk further about his alleged role in the slaying. His attorney described Jowers as "a cog in a very big wheel."

Although Lloyd Jowers refused to cooperate with authorities, the furor over his claims prompted the Shelby County District Attorney General to open an investigation into the restaurateur's claim. It didn't take those investigators long to debunk Jowers's assertion that he was part of a conspiracy. Gerald Posner also investigated Jowers and found that he had asked others to back up his story in return for part of a $300,000 Hollywood movie deal.

The King family, however, latched on to Jowers's claim. The family never accepted the FBI's conclusion that Ray acted alone, and the Kings sued Jowers in civil court for the wrongful death of Martin Luther King Jr. In 1999, the case went to trial and the King family persevered, winning a $100 damage claim. The money was never their goal, representatives of the family stated: "if we know the truth, we can be free to go on with our lives," Coretta Scott King testified.

The main reason the Kings won the case was because Jowers did not contest the claim and offered no defense. Instead, jurors were shown his videotaped interview with Sam Donaldson and never heard from Jowers himself. One of the main plaintiff's witnesses was TV jurist Judge Joe Brown, who testified about ballistics tests done on the Remington rifle recovered at the scene. Brown is not a ballistics expert, but served as judge on one of Ray's suits to gain a new trial.

Another plaintiff's witness, New York-based attorney and media expert William Schaap suggested to jurors that the media was involved in a broad cover-up in King's murder. According to Schaap, the FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, infiltrated newspapers around the world and persuaded newspapers in the 1960s to run stories that discredited King. Schaap also believed that the government was behind the stories that discredited the conspiracy theories that emerged after King's murder.


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