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Archive of material, 5 boxes, related to the defense of James Earl Ray in connection with the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the files of Rays attorney, Jack Kershaw of Nashville, Tennessee. Lot only partially illustrated here, more photographs upon request.
King was shot and killed by a sniper on April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Two months later, Ray, a convicted armed robber with a lengthy record, was arrested in London. Ray confessed to the murder on the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman and was sentenced to life in prison (avoiding a jury trial and possible death sentence) but recanted three days later, claiming there was a conspiracy to kill King and that he was coerced into confessing. Ray requested a trial in two letters to Tennessee Judge Preston Battle. The Judge did not act upon the letters and was found dead at his desk of a heart attack three weeks later, with Rays appeal under his body. The case was closed and Ray spent the rest of his life trying unsuccessfully to win a jury trial. He hired Kershaw as his attorney in 1974. In 1977 and 1978, Kershaw and Ray were interviewed by the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations. Ray and Kershaw convinced the committee to run ballistics tests to show Ray had not fired the final shot. Those tests proved inconclusive, but based on Ray's admissions, fingerprint evidence, and the testimony of other witnesses, the committee ultimately determined that James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Kershaw then convinced Ray to take a lie detector test as part of a Playboy Magazine article on the case, but the results indicated Ray was lying when he said he did not kill Dr. King. Ray fired Kershaw, alleging he had accepted money from the magazine. Ray died in prison in 1998 without ever standing trial; Kershaw died in Nashville in 2010.
This lot contains Kershaws collection of papers in connection with his defense of Ray, including many letters between the two and other parties, photos, along with audiotapes of Ray, Kershaw and others discussing the case and portions of Ray's testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and Kershaws handwritten, unfinished (and never published) manuscript for a book about the case.
Box 1: Typewritten letter from Ray to Kershaw, Ive received a letter from my brother saying you might be willing to represent me in a legal matter, dated Feb. 18, 1974, signed by Ray. Typewritten contract between Ray and Kershaw, signed by both parties. Subpoena ordering Kershaw to appear before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (Friday June 30, 1978) and a book of Committee Rules. Letter from Ray dated Aug. 13 1990 discussing his agreements with the fugitive Tupper Saussy to have a book called Tennessee Waltz published and hopes for a film. As to the book, as I believe I mentioned, I have criticized quite a few persons including those in the great State of Tennessee and Jesse Hill Ford, about the shooting incident at his home in Nashville. But this shouldnt affect any business deals. Paperwork regarding Rays lawsuit against Playboy Magazine as a result of the interview, article, and polygraph test done by the magazine in the late 1970s (The results indicated that Ray was lying when he said he did not kill Dr. King and that he was telling the truth when he denied he was part of a conspiracy. Ray was displeased with the article and, alleging Kershaw had accepted a monetary deal from Playboy, he fired Kershaw).
Box 2: Original typewritten affidavit signed by Ray re Ray v. Tenn., Notatized June 29, 1977, claiming In late February or early March 1969, the Attorney represetnting me, Percy Foreman, of the Texas Bar, informed me that if a guilty plea was not forthcoming by me in the suit I could expect the prosecution/FBI to prosecute one or more of my brothers (John and Jerry Ray) in the case, also alleging the FBI told his brother to inform him if he did not enter a guilty plea then his father would most likely be arrested, and alleging that on March 11, 1969 an FBI agent after gaining access to me through a ruse threatened that if he did not cooperate, he could expect his brothers to be imprisoned. Handwritten copy of a letter sent via telegram from Kershaw to U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell (undated) I have been recently retained by James Earl Ray to prepare for him a petition for a new trial our petition will be presented in the light of a Tennessee statute specifically authorizing a new trial under the peculiar conditions where a presiding judge dies while a petition for a new trial is pending , along with a Western Union receipt of the telegram sent to Bell 2/27/77, with typewritten transcript. Original typewritten letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell on June 16, 1977 by James Earl Ray (signed). Ray quotes news reports that TN Governor Ray Blanton has asked the Federal Government to take custody of Ray and lays out his reasons why this should not take place. Ray expresses concern for his personal safety if this were to happen: The FBI apparently has an agent in residence stationed in all federal prisons and if in fact the bureau was culpable in the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. then it would be a relatively easy matter for them to have me killed under their jurisdiction He also alleges that immediately after his arrest, Justice Department United Press International etc. began utilizing an FBI informant named Raymond Curtis to incriminate me in the homicide and that when I entered the State of Tennessee prison system in 1969 I was detained in solitary confinement for several years because of a demand by then Tennessee corrections commissioner Mr. Harry Avery and later Warden James E. Rose that I terminate legal efforts petitioning the court for a trial under said indictment. He concludes by saying If the United States Government is interested in killing me then they are going to have to do it by forcible (sic) removing me from the state prison in Petros Tennessee, not ambush from a federal prison, or a federal mental institution, then the above mentioned parties to the transfer can answer for their acts in a civil suit. Handwritten copy of a letter written by Kershaw to Attorney General Bell (undated) regarding the same matter, arguing against the constitutionality of the suggested move. Sadly, there are sound reasons for suspecting that the FBI or other Government elements may be involved in the murder of Dr. King; the ready access that FBI agents have to Federal prisons may then be a dangerous situation for this particular inmate, Mr. Ray, Kershaw writes, and he issues a plea for a trial for Ray. Only in this way may the search for justice be satisfied and public fears and suspicions be laid to rest. Original typewritten (signed) letter dated June 7, 1976 from Ray to attorney William Burton of Nashville, discussing a possible civil suit against the government (in order to force discovery of the evidence against him), and his previous attorneys Fensterwald and Weisberg. Weisberg also evidently intends publishing a book. Concerning MR. Fensterwald, his theory, based on his heretofore published statements are that White Racists were responsible for the MLK incident while Weiserg agrees but would add government agencies. Conversely what I have learned based on what evidence in this area we have, Whites of that persuasion were most likely not involved and while that type allegation would naturally appeal to the large publishing companies am concerned that if their (sic) were not considerable evidence in support the allegation might not be taken well with the type persons who sit on juries. But, he adds, their (sic) will not be any public disagreement about this matter as it is not in his or my interest to go into this matter in public. Dozens of typewritten and signed letters from Ray to Kershaw discussing the case. In one he writes One of my problems I believe, with interviews is that I attempt to look at the case from a legal standpoint while the reporters apparently want to here (sic) the emotional statements (not guilty framed persecuted sob-sister routine). File of notes (including photocopies of the result) of the lie detector test arranged by Playboy magazine in connection with their 1977 interview with Ray (which resulted in him firing and eventually suing Kershaw).
Box 3 letters 1971-1975. Approximately two dozen candid photographs of Ray, Kershaw, and others as they work on his defense (some small photos stuck together, likely water damage). Handwritten, unfinished manuscript by Kershaw: The James Earl Ray Story. Copies of the indictment against Ray (alias Eric Starvo Galt, Harvey Lowmeyer, etc.) dated May 7 1968, and all related trial motions through 1969 including some court transcripts. Two rolls of undeveloped photograpic film titled Ray Exposed? 6/15/77 and Tx Ray 6/15/77 Playboy (condition unknown). Letters between Ray and his legal team including Harold Weisberg, Robert Livingston, and Bernard Fensterwald. Letters between Ray and his brother Jerry. Letters from various media outlets and reporters to Ray requesting interviews and responses by Ray, his brother Jerry and various attorneys (including a photocopy of a personal letter from Dan Rather (9/27/75), and Rays reply rejecting it). Original typewritten pages (4) by Ray detailing his contact with the figure known as Raoul, for whom Ray said he was running guns around the time of the assassination. Four audiocassette tapes labeled Ray Committee 9/29/77; Ray 6/15/77 Escape; Copy Side 1 Playboy 6/15/77; Ray Playboy 6/15/77.
Box 4: Assorted letters and news clippings.
Box 5: Fourteen total reels of reel-to-reel audio tapes, 1.0 MIL on 7" reels. Tapes are Realistic brand by Radio Shack/Tandy Corporation. Each tape is in a labeled box. Five reels of audio tapes dated 3/11/77 and numbered 1-through-5. They appear to be conversations between James Earl Ray and his attorney reviewing transcript statements from his initial statements to investigators and from his original guilty plea. In one segment there are discussions about possible individuals with whom Ray's investigators might be able to get depositions raising doubts about the fairness of his earlier trial. They discuss a Memphis reporter's interview with the wife of the original trial judge (Preston Battle) who claims to have seen within the judge's papers a handwritten outline for an order to throw out Ray's initial guilty plea. They discuss the likelihood of getting Mrs. Battle to tell what she knows. They also have several discussions about authors attempting to get Ray's cooperation on books they're attempting to write about the assassination of MLK.
Three tapes are dated 3/22/77 and numbered 1-3. These also appear to be conversations between Ray and his lawyer. The lawyer asks how Ray came to plead guilty at his initial trial and Ray suggests it was a strategy hatched by his initial lawyer, a Memphis attorney named Percy Foreman. Foreman suggested the guilty plea and by a somewhat convoluted explanation from Ray, the convict seems to believe that a guilty plea will send him to the penitentiary, but will make his story more valuable in the marketplace. Ray even claims he's been approached by a pair of authors or producers who want to buy his cooperation and claim they are backed by the Italian film director Carlo Ponti (husband of Sophia Loren). They also discuss the arguments made by author William Bradford Huie in his book on the King assassination, He Slew the Dreamer.
There is one tape dated 3/27/77, sounds like Ray's testimony in an official proceeding. However the audio was recorded at such a slow speed that playing it back at normal speed makes it unintelligible. The tape appears to be very worn and when played back, the audio from the opposite side of the tape bleeds through and garbles the sound. The audio can probably be salvaged, but it will take an audio engineer and some fairly complex computer software to make this tape usable.
There is one tape dated 3/15/77 that appears to be audio of a documentary made by CBS correspondent Dan Rather on the King assassination and includes an interview with Ray. Kershaw probably made an audio recording of the documentary to have a record of what Ray said publicly in order to build a case to have his guilty plea thrown out and a new trial ordered. In one segment, Ray recounts his meeting with the mysterious Hispanic co-conspirator "Raoul", the man Ray claimed to have been the actual assassin.
There is one tape dated 4/15/77 which appears to be a continuation of Ray's testimony from 3/27/77. This tape appears to suffer from the same condition issues as the 3/27/77 tape.
Ironically, if all the dates are correct, they were recorded only months before Ray made his escape attempt from Brushy Mountain State Prison in June 1977. Ray eluded capture for three days before he was apprehended and returned to jail. Condition: