Friday, December 10, 1999

M.L. King family wins
wrongful death suit

Bullet The issue: The family of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. has won a wrongful death suit against a retired businessman.

Bullet Our view: The verdict seems to do little to bolster the case that King was the victim of a conspiracy.

A verdict in a civil suit against a retired businessman in Memphis, Tenn., has deepened the mystery surrounding the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. A Memphis jury ruled Wednesday that the civil rights leader was the victim of a conspiracy.

The King family won a wrongful death suit against Loyd Jowers, a retired businessman who claimed six years ago that he paid someone -- not James Earl Ray, the confessed killer -- to kill King. Ray pleaded guilty to the murder in 1969 but tried for 30 years to take back the guilty plea. His plea was upheld eight times by state and federal courts. Ray died in prison of liver disease last year.

The six blacks and six whites on the jury deliberated only about three hours before returning the verdict. They awarded the Kings $100 in damages, but the family had said they were more interested in a verdict that would support their belief in a conspiracy and requested minimal damages.

It was the first time that a jury had heard the family's conspiracy theory -- and confirmed it. However, the significance of the verdict is anything but clear. The suit named Jowers and other "unnamed conspirators," so the verdict did not identify anyone else who might have been involved.

The Associated Press quoted Dexter King, son of the murdered leader, as saying the family has no plans to take legal action against anyone else. He called the verdict "kind of a final far as legal remedies go."

Jowers owned a small restaurant across the street from the Lorraine Motel, where King was killed. On the day of the murder, Ray, a prison escapee from Missouri, rented a room under an assumed name in a rooming house above the restaurant.

In 1993, Jowers said on ABC-TV that he hired King's killer as a favor to an underworld figure. He did not identify the purported killer, but said it wasn't Ray. Jowers was sick for much of the trial and did not testify.

William Pepper, the Kings' lawyer, told jurors that Jowers was part of a vast conspiracy involving the Mafia and agents of the federal government. He said King was targeted because of his opposition to the Vietnam War and plans for a huge poor people's march on Washington.

Pepper also said there was a cover-up following the assassination that involved the FBI, CIA, the news media and Army intelligence, as well as many state and city officials.

However, none of these claims apparently was substantiated at the trial. A U.S. House committee concluded in 1978 that Ray was the killer but may have had help before or after the assassination. The committee did not find any government involvement in the murder.

Last year, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered an investigation by the Justice Department into two allegations of a conspiracy in the King murder. One was Jowers' claim; the other was a statement by a former FBI agent that he found papers in Ray's car that might support a conspiracy. Reno's deputy, Eric Holder, said the investigation isn't likely to produce any criminal charges.

It's difficult to see how the Memphis verdict contributes significantly to the conspiracy allegations, although the King family says it's satisfied. For the rest of the world, the assassination remains a mystery, the conspiracy charges unsubstantiated.

Holt’s addiction
wrecked his career

Bullet The issue: Former state Sen. Milton Holt is sentenced to 12 months in federal prison for mail fraud.

Bullet Our view: In a courtroom statement made to supporters, Holt vowed to "resume a clean and sober life" and to care for his sons upon his release. We hope he can follow through.

MILTON Holt has hit bottom. Once touted as a likely gubernatorial contender, and highly influential while a state senator, the 47-year-old former legislator was sentenced to 12 months in federal prison for fraudulently converting campaign contributions to personal use.

In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Alan Kay scolded the once prominent politician for disappointing his family and community. "Your drug addiction cost you your freedom, your wife and a promising career in government," said the magistrate. "The only way to turn your life around is (to) participate in drug treatment."

Holt has admitted to writing a $2,051 check to a Honolulu printing company and receiving cash back in return. Five other counts of fraud were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Seabright said that Holt also illegally gave checks to friends, and had them give him cash and bogus invoices in return. Further, Holt provided false information to the Campaign Spending Commission.

Holt has already spent four months in a detention facility in Oakland, Calif., after his bail was revoked for testing positive for crystal methamphetamine use, which will count toward his sentence. He must now spend eight more months behind bars. That is plenty of time for reflection on the scourge of drugs and their role in the ruination of lives.

Bishop Estate Archive

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