WASHINGTON (AP) â€” After 18 months, a Justice Department investigation rejected allegations that conspirators aided or framed James Earl Ray in the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. It recommended against further investigation.
The new investigation found no credible evidence to support allegations in recent years from former Memphis bar owner Loyd Jowers and former FBI agent Donald Wilson, and earlier from Ray himself, that a mysterious Raoul or others, including federal agents, police or black ministers, participated in a plot to kill King.
As in four earlier investigations, the Justice investigators ``found no reliable evidence that Dr. King was killed by conspirators who framed James Earl Ray,'' according to their 150-page report released Friday. ``We found nothing to disturb the 1969 judicial determination that James Earl Ray murdered Dr. King.''
``We found no credible evidence to support allegations of any conspiracy to kill Dr. King involving Jowers, Raoul, the Mafia, Memphis police officers, figures involved in the Kennedy assassination, federal agents, U.S. military personnel or African-American ministers close to Dr. King,'' said Barry Kowalski, head of the investigation and one of the department's leading civil rights prosecutors.
``We are convinced of our conclusions beyond a reasonable doubt.''
The investigation did not convince some people close to the case.
``The American public and the King family believe James was innocent,'' said James Earl Ray's brother, Jerry Ray of Smartt, Tenn., ``so it doesn't matter to me what the politicians say.'' The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with King with he was shot, told CNN he still believes other people assisted Ray.
The King family declined immediate comment.
Although Ray pleaded guilty in 1969 to killing King, he claimed three days later â€” and until his 1998 death in prison â€” that a mysterious Raoul, later Raul, had framed him.
But the weight of the evidence ``establishes that Raoul is merely the creation of James Earl Ray,'' the report said.
Prodded by the King family's embrace of some of these theories, Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the new probe Aug. 26, 1998, even though two Justice Department investigations, a U.S. House committee and the Shelby County, Tenn., district attorney's office previously studied the murder.
Last December, a Memphis civil court jury ruled for the King family in its wrongful death lawsuit against Jowers. That jury concluded Jowers and ``others, including government agencies'' conspired to assassinate King.
The new Justice Department probe rejected those findings as well, although King's son Dexter had said after the verdict: ``We know what happened. This is the period at the end of the sentence.''
The Justice team also ``found insufficient evidentiary leads remaining after 30 years to justify further investigation'' of suggestions by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1979 and the Shelby County district attorney in 1998 that Ray's surviving brothers may have helped him.
In 1993, Jowers, who owned a tavern across the street from the motel where King was shot, said a produce dealer involved with the Mafia gave him $100,000 to hire an assassin and assured him Memphis police would not be around. Jowers, who died last month, claimed someone named Raoul gave him a gun and the assassin fired from behind Jowers' bar, not from a rooming house window above it where Ray had stayed.
In many retellings, Jowers ``has contradicted himself on virtually every key point,'' the report said. No physical evidence corroborates Jowers' story, and some contradicts key elements, including the lack of footprints in the muddy ground behind the bar after the shooting.
In 1998, ex-FBI agent Wilson claimed to have found papers 30 years earlier in Ray's abandoned Mustang in Atlanta. Before spurning immunity and ending his cooperation, Wilson turned over part of a page from a 1963 Dallas telephone directory and a piece of paper with handwritten words and numbers.
The name ``Raul'' was handwritten on both papers. The phone directory scrap carried the handwritten 1963 phone number of the Dallas bar owned by Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy. But Kowalski said, ``We don't believe the papers came from Ray's car.''
Wilson's accounts were inconsistent, Justice investigators said. He later claimed also to have found, but did not produce, three other documents, including one with the FBI's Atlanta telephone number. He gave contradictory stories about them being stolen, the report said.
Investigators also found contradictory evidence. Photos showed the Mustang door was closed and locked, not open as Wilson claimed. Ray did not confirm the papers were his. No one saw Wilson when the car was found; he is not in photos of the search.
In the Memphis civil trial, Kowalski said, ``Everything about a conspiracy involving federal agents was based on secondhand and thirdhand hearsay without sufficient substantiation.''
``No eyewitness testimony or tangible evidence directly supported any of the conflicting allegations,'' the report said. The Justice investigators reinterviewed some witnesses after the trial and concluded: ``No evidence corroborated the various allegations, and other information contradicted them,'' although that was not introduced at trial.
FBI agents did not work on the investigation because the bureau has been accused of conspiring against King.
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