- MEMPHIS, Tenn. - A jury hearing
a lawsuit filed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s family found Wednesday
that the civil rights leader was the victim of a vast murder conspiracy,
not a lone assassin.
- The King family had sued Loyd Jowers, a retired businessman
who claimed six years ago that he paid someone other than James Earl Ray
to kill King in Memphis in 1968. The family's lawyer claimed that the FBI,
CIA, the Mafia and the military were involved.
- The family wanted the jury to find evidence of a conspiracy
and lend support to their call for a new investigation into the killing.
Prosecutors have long said that they are convinced Ray fired the fatal
shot and that they could find no evidence anyone else was involved.
- The Kings asked for only a token amount in their wrongful-death
lawsuit. After three hours of deliberations, the jury of six blacks and
six whites awarded the family $100 in damages.
- "I'm just so happy to see that the people have spoken,"
King's son Dexter said. "This is what we've always asked for."
- Ray confessed to shooting King and was sentenced to 99
years in prison. He spent the rest of his life claiming to be innocent
and trying to get a trial. He died of liver disease last year.
- Ray's guilty plea was upheld eight times by state and
federal courts. A congressional committee concluded in 1978 that Ray was
the killer but that he may have had help before or after the assassination.
The committee did not find any government involvement.
- William Pepper, the Kings' lawyer, told the jury that
Jowers, 73, was part of a conspiracy involving the Mafia and federal agents
to kill King because of his opposition to the Vietnam War and plans for
a huge march on Washington.
- In his closing argument, Pepper said the order to kill
King came from the head of organized crime in New Orleans to a Memphis
produce dealer who got Jowers to handle the payoff and murder weapon. An
Army sniper squad was in place to shoot King if the Mafia hit failed, Pepper
- Later, the FBI, CIA, the media, Army intelligence and
state and city officials helped cover up the assassination, said Pepper,
who also represented Ray in his efforts to get a trial. Pepper told the
jurors they could rewrite history.
- Juror David Morphy said he believed the assassination
was too complex to be carried out by one person.
- "We all thought it was kind of a cut-and-dried case,
with the evidence that Pepper brought forth that there were a lot of people
involved, everyone from the CIA, military involvement in it -- Jowers was
involved in it, we felt," he said.
- Lewis Garrison, Jowers' lawyer, told the jury that while
they could reasonably conclude King was the victim of a conspiracy, his
client's role was minor at best.
- In 1993, Jowers said on ABC-TV that he hired King's killer
as a favor to an underworld figure who was a friend. He did not identify
the purported killer, but said it wasn't Ray.
- Jowers, who has never repeated the claim but has not
recanted it either, was sick for much of the trial and did not testify.
- At the time of the killing, Jowers owned a small restaurant,
Jim's Grill, across the street from The Lorraine Motel, where King was
killed. On the day of the assassination, Ray, a prison escapee from Missouri,
used an assumed name to rent a room in a rooming house above Jim's Grill.
- Garrison told the jury it was hard to believe that "the
owner of a greasy spoon and an escaped convict" could have pulled
off King's assassination.
- King's widow, Coretta Scott King, testified that her
family believes Ray did not act alone.
- "If we know the truth, we can be free and go on
with our lives," she said on the trial's opening day.
- Shelby County prosecutor John Campbell, who has investigated
the assassination but was not involved in the Jowers trial, said Jowers'
claims have no merit. Campbell said several of Jowers' friends and associates
said he was merely hoping to get a movie or book deal.
- "We looked at this off and on for five years ...
and I've still seen nothing that would change my opinion," Campbell
- Last year, Attorney General Janet Reno ordered a limited
probe by the Justice Department into two allegations of a conspiracy in
the King murder. One was Jowers' claim; the other was a statement by former
FBI agent Donald Wilson that he found papers in Ray's car that might support
- "Our review is still ongoing," Justice Department
spokeswoman Carol Florman said. She would not comment on the Memphis case.