According to a Memphis jurys verdict on December 8, 1999, in the wrongful death lawsuit of the King family versus Loyd Jowers "and other unknown co-conspirators," Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a conspiracy that included agencies of his own government. Almost 32 years after Kings murder at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968, a court extended the circle of responsibility for the assassination beyond the late scapegoat James Earl Ray to the United States government.
I can hardly believe the fact that, apart from the courtroom participants, only Memphis TV reporter Wendell Stacy and I attended from beginning to end this historic three-and-one-half week trial. Because of journalistic neglect scarcely anyone else in this land of ours even knows what went on in it. After critical testimony was given in the trials second week before an almost empty gallery, Barbara Reis, U.S. correspondent for the Lisbon daily Publico who was there several days, turned to me and said, "Everything in the U.S. is the trial of the century. O.J. Simpsons trial was the trial of the century. Clintons trial was the trial of the century. But this is the trial of the century, and whos here?"
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What I experienced in that courtroom ranged from inspiration at the courage of the Kings, their lawyer-investigator William F. Pepper, and the witnesses, to amazement at the governments carefully interwoven plot to kill Dr. King. The seriousness with which U.S. intelligence agencies planned the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. speaks eloquently of the threat Kingian nonviolence represented to the powers that be in the spring of 1968.
In the complaint filed by the King family, "King versus Jowers and Other Unknown Co-Conspirators," the only named defendant, Loyd Jowers, was never their primary concern. As soon became evident in court, the real defendants were the anonymous co-conspirators who stood in the shadows behind Jowers, the former owner of a Memphis bar and grill. The Kings and Pepper were in effect charging U.S. intelligence agencies particularly the FBI and Army intelligence with organizing, subcontracting, and covering up the assassination. Such a charge guarantees almost insuperable obstacles to its being argued in a court within the United States. Judicially it is an unwelcome beast.
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Many qualifiers have been attached to the verdict in the King case. It came not in criminal court but in civil court, where the standards of evidence are much lower than in criminal court. (For example, the plaintiffs used unsworn testimony made on audiotapes and videotapes.) Furthermore, the King family as plaintiffs and Jowers as defendant agreed ahead of time on much of the evidence.
But these observations are not entirely to the point. Because of the governments "sovereign immunity," it is not possible to put a U.S. intelligence agency in the dock of a U.S. criminal court. Such a step would require authorization by the federal government, which is not likely to indict itself. Thanks to the conjunction of a civil court, an independent judge with a sense of history, and a courageous family and lawyer, a spiritual breakthrough to an unspeakable truth occurred in Memphis. It allowed at least a few people (and hopefully many more through them) to see the forces behind Kings martyrdom and to feel the responsibility we all share for it through our government. In the end, twelve jurors, six black and six white, said to everyone willing to hear: guilty as charged.
We can also thank the unlikely figure of Loyd Jowers for providing a way into that truth.
Loyd Jowers: When the frail, 73-year-old Jowers became ill after three days in court, Judge Swearengen excused him. Jowers did not testify and said through his attorney, Lewis Garrison, that he would plead the Fifth Amendment if subpoenaed. His discretion was too late. In 1993 against the advice of Garrison, Jowers had gone public. Prompted by William Peppers progress as James Earl Rays attorney in uncovering Jowerss role in the assassination, Jowers told his story to Sam Donaldson on Prime Time Live. He said he had been asked to help in the murder of King and was told there would be a decoy (Ray) in the plot. He was also told that the police "wouldnt be there that night."
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In that interview, the transcript of which was read to the jury in the Memphis courtroom, Jowers said the man who asked him to help in the murder was a Mafia-connected produce dealer named Frank Liberto. Liberto, now deceased, had a courier deliver $100,000 for Jowers to hold at his restaurant, Jims Grill, the back door of which opened onto the dense bushes across from the Lorraine Motel. Jowers said he was visited the day before the murder by a man named Raul, who brought a rifle in a box.
As Mike Vinson reported in the MarchApril Probe, other witnesses testified to their knowledge of Libertos involvement in Kings slaying. Store-owner John McFerren said he arrived around 5:15 pm, April 4, 1968, for a produce pick-up at Frank Libertos warehouse in Memphis. (King would be shot at 6:01 pm.) When he approached the warehouse office, McFerren overheard Liberto on the phone inside saying, "Shoot the son-of-a-bitch on the balcony."
Café-owner Lavada Addison, a friend of Libertos in the late 1970s, testified that Liberto had told her he "had Martin Luther King killed." Addisons son, Nathan Whitlock, said when he learned of this conversation he asked Liberto point-blank if he had killed King.
"[Liberto] said, I didnt kill the nigger but I had it done. I said, What about that other son-of-a-bitch taking credit for it? He says, Ahh, he wasnt nothing but a troublemaker from Missouri. He was a front man a setup man."
April 5, 2010