Martin Luther King Assassination
Interview with Dr. William Pepper - February 14, 1997
The world was shocked on April 4, 1968 when a sniper's bullet put an end to the life of the nation's best known advocate of non-violent resistance to injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was planning a massive poor people's march in Washington DC, scheduled for the summer of 1968, and the civil rights leader had already come to oppose the United States deepening involvement in Vietnam. King was already a target of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who ordered his agents to "neutralize" anyone who might rise to be what Hoover called a "black messiah," as part of Hoover's COINTELPRO operation of illegal spying and dirty tricks aimed at destroying the Black liberation movement.
King had come to Memphis, Tennessee to support a sanitation workers strike. He was shot and killed as stood on the porch of his room in the Lorraine Motel. James Earl Ray, who confessed to the crime, was arrested in London after a still unexplained world wide jaunt to allude authorities. Not long after confessing, Ray tried to recant his story, but he's been denied a new trial on seven different occasions.Ray's lawyer is Dr. William Pepper, who is also the author of "Orders to Kill, The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King". Pepper says new investigative techniques could prove once and for all that Ray did not shoot King.
Pepper spoke with Paul DeRienzo, an investigative reporter for radio station WBAI in New York City
Dr. William Pepper: James Earl Ray should get a trial precisely because he's never had a trial and because he was coerced into pleading guilty back in 1969, and because a considerable amount of new evidence has been uncovered that shows that he is actually innocent of the crime. James of course has been trying to get this trial since three days after the guilty plea on March 10, 1969.
Paul DeRienzo: Who advised Ray to plead guilty?
Pepper: Percy Foreman coerced him into pleading guilty. Percy came in two months after they'd been negotiating a plea behind Ray's back and told him he had to plead guilty because Ray was already deemed guilty in public opinion and he'd be convicted by a Memphis jury. Foreman told Ray his family would be harassed, his father, a probation violator, would be sent back to prison and they'd fry Ray in the electric chair. Foreman added that his own health was so bad he wouldn't be able to give Ray an adequate defense anyway.
Foreman told Ray to plead guilty and he'd then give his brother $500, if Ray didn't cause any problems at the guilty plea hearing, and he could take that $500 and hire a lawyer to set aside the plea. Foreman actually put that in writing.
DeRienzo: Did Foreman have had connections to a man known as Raoul, a person that James Earl Ray says was part of the conspiracy?
Pepper: Raoul was the chap who controlled Ray and I've uncovered a witness who knew Foreman very well and said that Foreman told her at one point in 1978 that Ray was innocent but that he had to be sacrificed. Foreman also told this woman, who had known Raoul for many years, that he knew Raoul and that he would try to intervene with him to protect her.
DeRienzo: Is there evidence Raoul exists?
Pepper: He exists and we have four people who identified him and I know who he is, where he is, what his phone number is, everything about him that one needs. All I need is a criminal trial so I can have him subpoenaed.
DeRienzo: Who is Raoul? Is he a government informant, Mafia informant, what was his role in this?
Pepper: He was associated with the Marcello organized crime group out of New Orleans and he also had intelligence ties.
DeRienzo: Are you saying that Martin Luther King was assassinated by some conspiracy involving the Mafia and United States government?
DeRienzo: Could you briefly describe the nature of such a conspiracy and why it would arise?
Pepper: It arose because they were committed to not letting Martin Luther King bring half a million people to Washington in 1968, and because his growing opposition to the Vietnam war was becoming such a problem at home that he was no longer tolerable. The descent into Washington of 500,000 or so people who were going to camp there was unacceptable because they believed it was going to turn into a rebellion, they didn't have the troops to put it down and General Westmorland wanted another 200,000 troops in Vietnam. So at all costs Martin Luther King was not going to be allowed to lead that group to Washington and he was going to be stopped.
DeRienzo: Looking at you book "Orders to Kill", I see among the photographs a picture of a number of military officer, the Special Forces officers at Fort Bragg. Why is their picture included in your book?
Pepper: Because the 20th Special Forces Group was a backup unit in Memphis if the civilian contractor failed. If the contractor was unable to carry out the contract and kill Martin Luther King then there was an eight man team, the Alpha 184 team, in Memphis that would make sure the job was done. I know all the members of the team, their names, rank, serial numbers, where they came from, the details of their briefing at 4:30 AM on the 4th of April and where they were located in Memphis at the time of the killing. They did not kill Dr. King, but they were there as a back-up to do the job.
DeRienzo: Dr. William Pepper, describe yourself, only because I want to assure the readers that you're not a conspiracy nut, or a conspiracy theorist, but a person with a lot of experience. Tell us about yourself?
Pepper: I practice International law primarily, I'm a Barrister in England and an attorney in the United States. I was a friend of Martin Luther King in 1967 and 68, the last year of his life, after I got back from Vietnam where I was a journalist. He asked to meet with me and I came to know him and work with him. He asked me to lead a group called the National Conference on New Politics, an umbrella organization designed to remove the Johnson administration from office.
DeRienzo: So, you're not a conspiracy nut or theorist?
Pepper: I've not been involved in conspiracies. I've been involved in this case because in 1977 Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Martin's friend, asked me to interview James Early Ray who I thought was the killer. When they killed Martin I went with Benjamin Spock to the memorial march in Memphis and then I walked away from politics. Nine years later Rev. Abernathy came back and said he wanted me to interrogate Ray. That started this for me on October 17, 1978 and I've been involved in the case ever since. It was 10 years after that when I eventually agreed to represent Ray. I agreed to represent Ray only when I became totally convinced that he was a patsy and was used by forces well beyond his comprehension to carry out this murder. But I have not been involved in investigating the other assassinations.
I handled Robert Kennedy's Senate campaign as a citizen chairman in Westchester county, New York when he ran in 1964. I was quite a young person when they killed Kennedy in 1968 and I looked at that as most people did and assumed they had the right guy. But I have not investigated that case. I don't dwell on these things, but I've been involved in this one and its been difficult to let go.
DeRienzo: It's mind-boggling to me as a reporter to have someone so coolly. so rationally, describe such a monstrous crime. What happened in the initial investigation and how was it that a conspiracy of such monstrous proportions could get past so many people for so long?
Pepper: It didn't get past them, they were part of it. The conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King went to the highest levels of the American government. It's been covered-up all this time to the present and I'm not optimistic that we're ever going to break through because the forces behind the assassination are formidable. It's not a question of "getting by" people, the assassination was the result of covert efforts, and not so covert efforts, to make sure the truth doesn't get to the American people. The media have been a part of the cover-up and they have been controlled and influenced each step of the way.
My book "Orders to Kill" has never been reviewed or even considered in the United States, yet "USA Today" prints an article this past week that asserts the book was "dismissed." It's not been dismissed, it's never been considered.
The truth will be, at the end of the day, whether we can put our witnesses on the stand, and they can put their evidence out there for the world to see, and the state can do its best by cross-examining them to break down there credibility, but I want that done in front of a jury. We want Ray to have an opportunity to have that trial, to have that evidence out there and let a jury decide. It's my belief that in a New York minute the jury will decide that James Earl Ray is not guilty, just as a television jury decided he was not guilty after they heard a fraction of this evidence back in 1993 when we tried this case for television over a ten day period.
DeRienzo: Do you think they're going to give James Earl Ray a trial before he passes?
Pepper: I don't know. I hope they will, the King family coming forward has been a great assistance, I'm very grateful to them and admire their courage, but the powers that have kept this truth suppressed so long, denied them the truth so long, even denied the defense the right to testify or examine the murder weapon for so long, these powers have an arrogance that knows no bounds. All we can do is keep going up against then as long as Ray is alive because when he dies it will not be possible to establish the truth of his innocence in a court of law.
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