For justice’s sake,

Thirty years ago this week the nation plunged into a bloody and spontaneous urban revolt. The Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination provided the spark; the riots that followed in almost every American city left scars visible today in boarded-up buildings and ruined neighborhoods. People cried out for justice in those days, and after the King assassination justice was in short supply. Even the capture and jailing of a confessed assassin offers more doubt than vengeance.
The legendary civil rights leader was killed by a sniper’s bullet as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. A year later, the FBI captured James Earl Ray, who confessed to the crime but recanted within three days. Sentenced to 99 years in prison, Ray maintains his innocence. His crusade for a trial and a continuing investigation is strongly supported by King’s heirs and widow, Coretta Scott King. The family asserts that Ray was not the shooter, but was the scapegoat of a government conspiracy.
Last Wednesday, Coretta Scott King met with Attorney General Janet Reno to discuss new information about King’s death. Reno agreed to review the evidence and will decide if the case deserves further legal action. Such a task will be difficult. Investigations by congressional committees and Tennessee state officials have already concluded that Ray was the lone assassin. Yet King’s family and other conspiracy theorists argue that King was killed because he threatened the status quo. They speculate that government agencies, including the FBI and CIA, may have participated in the execution of King. Such claims are not entirely preposterous.
During the 1960s, the FBI targeted King for wiretaps, harassment and sabotage. Its counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO, was designed to check the activities of King, Malcolm X and other civil rights leaders. Cartha Deloach, head of the FBI’s surveillance of King, was also in charge of Ray’s arrest. And the FBI director at that time, J. Edgar Hoover, called King “the most dangerous man in America.”
In 1978, the House Select Committee on Assassinations ruled that King was probably killed in a conspiracy, but it still concluded that Ray fired the fatal shot. A year later, Committee Chairman Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, and Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey ordered all the committee’s documents withheld until the year 2029. In addition, Ray’s defense attorneys have not been allowed to examine the murder weapon, a .30-.06 rifle, to this day. But most of the specific conspiracy theories, including the several put forth by Ray, have proven false.
Despite the evidence, King’s family does not believe that Ray, now a 70-year-old with terminal liver disease, was the killer. Their mission, they say, is to discover the truth behind King’s death. Reno must now judge whether Ray’s case has merit. A new investigation will be long and costly. Prosecutors should not approach Ray’s case lightly. But a greater justice than finding one man’s killer is at stake. The nation itself still bears the scars of King’s murder. In the name of justice, whoever killed King and wounded America must be found out.