Some fingerprints still untested in MLK killing

January 22, 2014

Some fingerprints still untested in MLK killing.
Jerry Mitchell
The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger
12:34 p.m. EDT April 4, 2013

PHOTO In 2010, Justice Department said it was considering a request to run unidentified prints but didn’t
FBI has larger database of fingerprints now, better technology to match them

JACKSON, Miss. — Forty-five years after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the one-time chief counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations says the FBI should run the unidentified fingerprints in King’s assassination.

“Thoughtful people today, not just nuts, think that more people than James Earl Ray were involved,” said G. Robert Blakey, a former Justice Department official who also served as staff director to the House committee from 1977 to 1979.

Almost a year after King’s April 4, 1968, assassination, Ray pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Three days later, he tried to withdraw his plea, claiming he was innocent and had been set up as a patsy in a larger conspiracy. He died in prison in 1998.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations examined a $50,000 bounty on King’s head that a St. Louis businessman supposedly put up. The White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi also promised a $100,000 bounty that Ray heard about while in prison in Missouri, according to FBI documents.

The committee concluded that Ray shot King, and a conspiracy to kill King was likely.

In 2000, the Justice Department looked briefly at a few conspiracy claims before concluding a full investigation wasn’t needed.

In 2010, the Justice Department said it was considering a request to run the many unidentified fingerprints through the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System but apparently never ran them.

In his book, Gerald Posner, author of Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.,concluded that Ray had indeed killed King but that Ray may not have acted alone.

Running the fingerprints makes sense, he said.

“It’s a great idea to run the unidentified FBI prints through their new computer. Nothing to lose, and there’s a chance it produces something productive, possibly even tantalizing.”

For the past several years, Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock, co-authors of The Awful Grace of God: Religious Terrorism, White Supremacy and the Unsolved Murder of Martin Luther King Jr., have been trying to get the FBI to run the fingerprints.

Although FBI agents ran a few dozen fingerprints through the computer in 2000, most were never matched, Wexler said. Today, the FBI can access a database that is far more robust with millions and millions of possible fingerprints to compare to.

The FBI lifted a fingerprint from a registration at the William Len Hotel in Memphis — just a mile from the Lorraine Motel, where King was assassinated.

The same afternoon of the assassination, two men, identifying themselves as Lawrence Rand and Vincent Walker, registered at the hotel and checked out about midnight.

Hotel staff reported their suspicious behavior.

“The FBI investigated and found that one of the men got into a cab, told it to go to West Memphis, Ark., then mid-trip ordered the cabbie to turn around and take him to the airport in Memphis,” Wexler said. “He scouted the airport, then told the cabbie to return to the William Len. There he picked up his partner. The two then left on the airplane to Houston, Texas.”

Agents determined the names and addresses were fake, but the trail grew cold once it reached Houston, he said. “They simply threw their hands up and said, ‘Maybe they were just two criminals in town and wanted to avoid the heat.’ Perhaps that is right, perhaps not.”

Blakey said mysteries surrounding the King assassination should be solved if the cost is reasonable.

“Shouldn’t we do whatever we can to find out what happened? Suppose we find fingerprints that point to people against whom already have other evidence showing that they might have been involved. It would break the case wide open, probably not for a prosecution, because everybody is dead, perpetrators and witnesses,” he said. “History is involved, too.”

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