Martin Luther King Jr. was fatally shot as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. Although James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to King’s murder in 1969, he recanted days later. Ray was sentenced to serve 99 years in prison, but King’s family didn’t believe that he was the shooter. The outcome of a 1999 conspiracy trial confirmed their suspicions.
In 1993, Loyd Jowers came forward and told ABC journalist Sam Donaldson that he, in fact, hired the man who killed the civil rights icon. Jowers claimed that Memphis produce merchant Frank Liberto gave him $100,000 to arrange the assassination. He told Donaldson that the shooter wasn’t Ray, but would only reveal his identity if he was guaranteed immunity from prosecution.
Represented by William Pepper, the same attorney who defended James Earl Ray, Coretta Scott King and her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jowers in a quest for the truth. They wanted the facts of the case made a permanent part of the public record.
The trial held in Memphis concluded on December 8, 1999, after four weeks of testimony heard from over 70 witnesses. Twelve jurors unanimously agreed that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as the result of a high-level conspiracy involving the mafia as well as local, state, and federal government entities. It took the jury only an hour or so to render their decision.
The United States Department of Justice (DoJ) refutes the notion that the government had any involvement in a conspiracy to murder King. According to an analysis of the King v. Jowers proceedings published on the DoJ website, the department maintains that evidence presented in the case was “contradictory” and “based on uncorroborated secondhand and thirdhand hearsay accounts.”
The DoJ closed its investigation and stands by the theory that James Earl Ray acted alone when he shot Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, there are many who insist that Ray was framed. Judge Joe Brown presided over some of the last proceedings and would have ruled that James Earl Ray was not the shooter.
Shortly after the verdict, Coretta Scott King applauded the jury’s decision. In a statement which is posted on The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change website, Mrs. King declared it a victory for both her family and America. In her eyes, they got justice and called the win a “victory for truth itself.”