Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray in 1968—but King’s friend, attorney William Pepper, spent the remaining decades trying to prove it was merely a cover-up for a government ploy to end the activist’s influence.
In an exclusive video, Pepper recounted his history with the late Reverend Dr. King.
Pepper became friends with King in the last year of the activist’s life. King contacted the then-journalist after seeing his photo essay, “The Children of Vietnam,” in the January 1967 issue of Ramparts magazine, depicting victims of napalm in Vietnam.
Afterward, they planned to create a third-party ticket to “change American history,” with Dr. King running for President. They even held a convention at Palmer House in Chicago on Labor Day of 1967. Whether or not their plans would come to fruition was cut short by King’s death less than a year later.
In an interesting twist, Pepper would later serve as Ray’s lawyer as part of Pepper’s efforts to uncover the truth behind King’s assassination.
MLK Civil Trial Finds a Conspiracy
On December 8, 1999, after four weeks of testimony and with over 70 witnesses in a civil trial in Memphis, Tennessee, twelve jurors reached a unanimous verdict after about an hour of deliberations that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.
According to The King Center, King’s family stood firmly behind this civil trial verdict.
Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the widow of the late activist, spoke at a press statement after the trial, saying: “There is abundant evidence of a major high-level conspiracy in the assassination of my husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. And the civil court’s unanimous verdict has validated our belief.”
She stressed that her family was not seeking retribution but the full truth of the assassination to be validated by the court.
There was allegedly substantial evidence identifying someone other than James Earl Ray as the shooter and that Mr. Ray was set up to take the blame.
Witnesses even testified that Ray was not a racist.
Ray originally pled guilty to the murder in 1969—agreeing to do so to avoid the death penalty—and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He maintained his innocence until his death 30 years later, from complications of Hepatitis C.
He said he was the patsy of a mysterious figure named Raoul.
Orders to Kill
Everything would be explained in Pepper’s book that was published in 1995, called “Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King.”
According to the book, U.S. military intelligence and CIA agents teamed up with the mafia, renegade Memphis police officers, and J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI (which some speculated wanted Martin Luther King dead), because they believed King’s ideas were too revolutionary.
After all, Dr. King was strongly anti-war and publicly decried the US government for being the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
In the words of William Pepper, Dr. King “had just become too inconvenient a leader, and so they decided to dispose of him.”
Pepper wrote that a crack team of snipers was assembled by these organizations, plus a civilian shooter named Raoul Pereira—and set up King to be neutralized in Memphis on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel.
Unfortunately, Pereira fired too early. In the ensuing chaos, the supposed execution squad failed to take out its secondary target, the esteemed activist and later, Congressman, Andrew Young.
Pepper would further state that he met with King’s family members to discuss his theory in 1997, which they found convincing.
On the video footage below, Pepper detailed alleged inconsistencies between the public’s knowledge of the murder, and the actual evidence corroborating his beliefs.
MLK’s Family Believes the Government Was Involved
“[The King family] were astounded at the results and the meeting was highly emotional. It was clear that they had already decided to help,” Pepper wrote in his book. This helped Pepper to push for a new trial for his client James Earl Ray.
Nine days later, on February 13, the King family, including Coretta, held a press conference and announced that they supported a new trial for Ray.
It didn’t stop there. The unthinkable, for some, occurred only a month later: on March 27, Dexter King, who bears a striking resemblance to his father, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., visited James Earl Ray in prison with the help of Bill Pepper.
King told Ray he was glad to meet him and shook his hand. They had a short conversation culminating in the point-blank question, “Did you kill my father?”
“No, no, I didn’t, no. But like I say, sometimes these questions are difficult to answer, and you have to make a personal evaluation,” said Ray, according to The New York Times.
There were certainly skeptics to this newly mounting theory.
“I simply don’t understand it,” former Martin Luther King aide Samuel Billy Kyles told the Associated Press.
Another former aide named Julian Bond said he was “mystified,” adding “I’m open to the argument that others were involved, but to say Ray wasn’t involved is impossible to me.”
After Ray’s death in 1998, Pepper and the King family turned their attention to Loyd Jowers, owner of a restaurant next to the Lorraine Motel called Jim’s Grill. Four years previously, he claimed to have hired a gunman—a renegade Memphis cop that would ultimately be King’s assassin, not James Earl Ray.
Jowers had claimed that James Earl Ray’s rifle was a dummy and that he concealed the real murder weapon.
The now 71-year old testified in 1999 that Memphis police officer Earl Clark fired the fatal shots. The jury found Jowers responsible and found that the assassination plot also included “governmental agencies.” The jury took less than an hour to find in favor of the King family for the requested sum of $100.
In his videotaped public discussion, Pepper even went on about how Dr. King didn’t die immediately from gunshot wounds, but later in the hospital.
Support For Pepper and Government Involvement in MLK Assassination
Several prominent figures have since come forward with support for Ray’s theory.
Clayborne Carson, the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Papers project at Stanford University, declared that Pepper’s work “should be read by every serious student of King’s life and his tragic death.”
Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general who served under President Lyndon B. Johnson during the time of the assassination, stated, “No one has done more than Dr. William F. Pepper to keep alive the quest for truth concerning the violent death of Martin Luther King.”
Is Pepper’s theory merely a standard conspiracy that emerges from a major historical event, or has it been conveniently obscured from public view to further government agenda?