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James Earl Ray Case; He Did Not Plead Guilty As Charged
Here are the first 18 pages of the court transcript of the guilty plea whereby James Earl Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison for the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. If you study it closely you will find that in the case against James Earl Ray, he did not plead guilty as charged.
The Court Transcript
Guilty Plea of James Earl Ray
Monday, March 10, 1969
First Indication of James Earl Ray's Confusion
The question from Judge Battle, if he was pleading guilty to murder in the first degree under the law as explained to him by his lawyers. James answered, Yes, legally, yes. I asked James about why he didn't just say yes, instead of the 'Yes, legally yes.' James told me that his attorney, Percy Foreman, had told him he was legally guilty whether he shot and killed MLK himself or not, because he was somehow involved. Being an escaped convict and due to extreme tortuous conditions within his cell in the jail and other threats from Foreman he agreed to enter a plea of being 'legally guilty' as Percy Foreman had explained it to him. Of course the problem was that his Percy Foreman was part of the conspiracy to railroad James into taking the wrap for the killing. James was in a confused state, his cell was bathed in light 24 hours a day with microphones and cameras recording him each and every moment of the day and night. He told me that on that day he assumed he was pleading guilty because he was on the low end of the totem pole and according to Foreman would "Die in the electric chair." if the case went to trial. The threats included that the FBI would arrest his elderly father and send him to prison if James did not plead guilty. He didn't know that the prosecution was having problems mounting a case that could be proven in court beyond a reasonable doubt. So he replied, 'Yes, legally yes.', meaning that he wasn't guilty of killing King but according to his attorney he was 'legally guilty'.
District Attorney, Prosecutor Phil M. Canale Jr. Introduces Himself
Canale tells the Jurors that some of them may have heard James Earl Ray was a fall guy in a conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King Jr. This is evidence that the prosecution's case had some problems. And there is more; We now know that they didn't have a murder weapon (the bullet didn't match James' rifle). Of the several witnesses who should have been able to identify James as the assailant, there was no consistent identification between them. This is something a good defense lawyer would have used very effectively. There was no motive; James was not a racist, was not part of a conspiracy which would have been the case if he had been paid to kill MLK, he had nothing against MLK, no personal conflict or any other reason to want the man dead. So, you see here is a case with no motive, no weapon and no identification of James as being the person that shot and killed MLK. No matter how you try to pitch it the prosecution had no case. As a matter of common sense as well as legal precedent there wasn't even enough evidence to arrest the man let along convict him and send him to prison for the rest of his life.
Foreman Brags: He, Canale and Judge Battle Are Saving James Ear Ray From a Death Penalty.
Polling of the Jury
This is where James Earl Ray stands up in open court and says he would like to say something then includes that something with the words, "I can't agree with Mr. Clark." His attorney, Percy Foreman, clarifies the statement by saying, "Ramsey Clark". (Ramsey Clark was the Attorney General of the United States who had been consistently declaring that James Earl Ray and James Earl Ray alone killed MLK. James Earl Ray just said in open court that he did not agree with that; meaning he did not agree with the charges against him.
James Earl Ray:
"Your honor, I would like to say something. I don't want to change anything I have said, but I just want to enter one other thing. The only thing that I have to say is that I can't agree with Mr. Clark.
My notes: 2 things here; and I asked James about this myself. He said, "I don't want to change anything I have said..."; What he meant, and he will refer to this again shortly, is that he had said that he was 'legally guilty' as explained to him by his attorney, Percy Foreman. His attorney had explained it to him this way; James, your an escaped convict and were at the scene sometime around the shooting, they found the murder weapon (Which was a lie, to this day the gun has not been proven to be the murder weapon. The bullet still doesn't match the rifle.) and can prove you bought it and it has at least one of your fingerprints.
His attorney went through a litany of evidence and threats to convince James that he would go to the electric chair if the case went to trial (Again a lie. I have went over this case with many defense attorneys and once they see the whole thing they all agree that it would be hard for the prosecution to get a conviction if it went to court.).
James was saying that he pled 'legally guilty' because he was somehow involved but did not really know how he was involved. Without knowing the weakness of the case against him and under the duress and threats against him, even though he did not shoot King, he felt he had to plead 'legally guilty' as explained to him by his attorney.
The 2nd thing-at this point James said, "I can't agree with Mr. Clark." He was talking about Attorney General of the United States Ramsey Clark. Ramsey Clark had been quoted in the press as saying that there was no conspiracy and that James Earl Ray and James alone had shot and killed MLK. Here James is saying that he did not agree with that theory; that he had killed Martin Luther King Jr. and that there was no conspiracy. James Earl Ray was hereby saying he did not agree with the very 'quilty plea' his attorney was forcing upon him. A judge in any court trial should certainly at this point realize that the defendant was not pleading guilty to the crime for which he was being tried and stop the proceeding until the matter is cleared up.
My note: Judge battle didn't seem to understand so James added, "J. Edgar Hoover." Both FBI Director and Ramsey Clark had been quoted in the press and on television news as saying that there was no conspiracy and that James and James alone was the assassin. Then James says, "I agree with all these stipulations and I am not trying to change anything." (But in fact he was absolutely changing his plea.) He had been told by his attorney that these stipulations his attorney had him sign clearly showed the court that he was pleading 'legally guilty' because he was somehow involved but James understood that he was not pleading guilty to killing MLK himself. He made it clear before the court that he did not agree with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Attorney General Ramsey Clark that he killed MLK and that there was no conspiracy.
The Judge says, "You don't agree with those theories?
My note: Here Judge Battle is talking about the theories (theories, because they had not been proven one way or the other) by Hoover and Clark that, There was no conspiracy and that James Earl Ray and James Earl Ray alone shot and killed MLK.
James answers; Mr. Canale's, Mr. Clark's, and Mr. J. Edgar Hoover's about the conspiracy. I don't want to add something on that I haven't agreed to in the past.
My note: This time he adds Mr. Canale. Philip Canale was the prosecutor of the case standing there in court prosecuting James for the crime of killing MLK without anyone else being involved. James is saying here that he did not agree with the charge being brought against him and therefore didn't agree that he was pleading guilty as charged. He knew, of course, that there were others who conspired to kill King but he didn't shoot MLK himself. What you have here is a person before the court with a jury present saying he thought he was pleading 'legally guilty; to a charge that wasn't before the court. Think about this, how can a man plead guilty to a charge when he doesn't agree that he is pleading guilty to that charge but instead thinks he is pleading guilty to another charge, 'conspiracy'?
(Mr. Canale, Mr. Clark and FBI-Federal Bureau of Investigation Director-Mr. J. Edgar Hoover were all quoted in the press as saying that there was no conspiracy and that James and James alone killed MLK) James Earl Ray is clearly pleading guilty to conspiracy rather than the charge before the court that he and he alone killed King. James Earl Ray told me that he thought he had agreed to being involved in the assassination due to his proximity and contact with those who killed King. He had signed stipulations given him by Foreman that he believed established that; hence his statement; "I don't want to add something that I haven't agreed to in the past.
James told me that at this point, "Percy Foreman put his hand on my shoulder pushed me down into my seat."
Foreman then tells the court that he thinks Ray is saying that he doesn't agree that the Attorney General Ramsey Clark or J. Edgar Hoover is right (about James and James alone being the killer of MLK). Then says, I didn't argue that as evidence in this case, I simply stated that under riding the statement of General Canale that they had made the same statement. (James said that this is where Foreman still with his hand on James shoulder and bringing significant force with his hand to make his point turned to him and finished with) "You are not required to agree with it at all."
This in fact and full legal consequence was a lie to James Earl Ray in open court. Of Course he had to agree that he and he alone killed MLK because that was the charge and was what he was supposed to be pleading guilty to.
Judge battle asks the question if James was guilty of murder because, "...you killed Dr. Martin Luther King under such circumstances that it would make you legally guilty of murder in the first degree under the law as explained to you by your lawyer." Your answer is still yes? Alright, Sir, that is all, you may swear the jury."
Judge battle asked the question but got no reply from James because James told me at that point his attorney Percy Foreman was forcing him to keep his seat by pushing on his shoulder and he was confused and really did not understand what was going on, but notice, he did not at that point say, "Yes." to the Judges question because he was really unsure about what he was pleading guilty to. He told me that he did not nod or give any indication that he was then pleading guilty. He said the judge then glanced at him briefly and went on to swearing the jury without getting his reply to this final question. He became certain at this point that in fact he didn't agree with the charges. James had made several attempts to explain that he wasn't pleading guilty to killing MLK himself and the judge was clearly frustrated, James attorney was grasping James shoulder which to James meant for him to shut up and the court was proceeding without James pleading guilty as charged.
Judge Battle then went through the ceremony of asking James if he was pleading 'legally guilty' and Ray remembered that he just sighed and withered in his seat but never said a word or even made a gesture that he agreed he was then pleading guilty.
(It was at this point that Judge Battle should have stopped the proceeding and found out for sure if James Earl Ray was pleading guilty because he believed that he was involved in a conspiracy or if James Earl Ray was truly pleading guilty to killing Martin Luther King Jr. himself. This was a sad day in the history of our country and especially in the history of our courts, judicial system and our government. Because of Judge Battle's failure to proceed in a judicious manner we are still paying the price that comes with courtroom corruption.
Witnesses were then called to provide some credibility to the shameful judicial circus that was going on and ultimately James Earl Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison (without a trial). He stayed in prison and died in prison almost 30 years later.
If any court in this land is engaging in this kind of judicial practice today then my friends we are not getting justice; what our courts are doing to us all (and what was done to James Earl Ray) is a farce, a fraud and a corruption of the very intents of the Constitution of the United States of America.
Note: James' father, George Ellis Ray, was still alive when James went to prison. Prior to his death he was asked hundreds of times about his son's ability to pull off the MLK killing. He consistently maintained that, "He couldn't have planned it alone, he wasn't smart enough."
In a River Front Times article by Ellis E. Conklin, published: April 02, 2008, James’ brother, John, put it this way;
“James got caught up in something he didn’t understand. He didn’t know what was going down. He just thought he’d be the getaway driver. He was never a racist. Never.”
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