by: Mark Winne Updated:
ATLANTA,None - Channel 2 Action News has uncovered an unaired interview with the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
James Earl Ray did several interviews over the years before he died in 1998, but Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne said this one's extraordinary for the involvement of Dr. King's closest associate.
Here in Dr. King's hometown there are ties too to his killer. The apparent getaway car, for instance was discovered in Capitol Homes.
Jim Gilchrist's voice was deep and at times tremulous as he spoke of a story he had dogged 43 years; a story which now dogs him.
It's the story of James Earl Ray, the man who
pleaded guilty to murdering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then spent much of the rest of his life trying to take it back.
"You never get out of it," Gilchrist told Winne early this year. "That's why I told you … do the story and forget about it." He shook his head. "It'll drag you down into the swamp if you care about it."
In 1985 and early 1986, when Gilchrist was at the apex of his career as a Tennessee television reporter, he conducted interviews with the convicted King assassin and with Dr. Ralph David Abernathy Sr., the man generally considered King's closest associate and best friend. They'd been together since the early days of the modern civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama, and who spoke movingly of King's last breath in his arms in Memphis.
Gilchrist enlisted Abernathy to ask key questions of Ray via video tape. The remarkable scene of King's assassin listening to questions from King's best friend distinguishes this interview from others Ray did.
Gilchrist said it was for a documentary that never aired.
But now, the most remarkable sequence his crew shot, Abernathy on a television monitor in the cell with Ray, questioning the inmate in an effort to unlock the truth, is airing on Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta.
The story has countless ties to Georgia, even beyond the most obvious, that Atlanta was home to King, Abernathy and their families.
Evidence turned up to tie Ray to Atlanta in the days before the assassination in Memphis, and the white Mustang, believed to be the getaway car, turned up in the Capitol Homes public housing project in downtown Atlanta.
As Winne delved into the Ray project over the past month, staff members at Channel 2 unearthed for him 1968 footage of eyewitnesses in Capitol Homes.
Ray did a number of interviews with different journalists before he died in 1998, including Channel 2's Don McClellan.
The treasure trove of unaired video Winne and Channel 2 photographer Richard Guittar viewed in Nashville is unusual, not so much for the Ray interview, but for the others Gilchrist and his crew talked to for the project, including
Abernathy, fellow civil rights activist Hosea Williams and former Memphis Police Lt. Joe Kent.
As Gilchrist put it in the never-aired documentary:
"Kent retired after 24 years with the Memphis police department. He spent eight months with James Earl Ray guarding him in his cell. He says he was stunned when Ray pleaded guilty to the King killing because Ray had repeatedly said he would fight the charges in court. Kent says unless there is a trial, the story of the King killing will go to the grave with James Earl Ray."
Gilchrist said he believes a book deal involving Ray attorney Percy Foreman muddied forever the picture of what really happened in Ray's decision to plead.
Many may find a document provided to Channel 2 by Lynn Robbins, president and founder of Voice Analysis Technologies, adds compelling corroboration to that claim.
Robbins, an expert in layered voice analysis, a controversial but increasingly popular truth technology, has joined Gilchrist and his crew in the effort to renew interest in the Ray story. Her analysis of Ray's interview is part of the story airing on Channel 2.
Indeed, the book deal came up in court proceedings before Ray died.
Another excellent resource on the
Ray case is the Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives, accessible online, especially for those interested in exploring the Atlanta connection. An excerpt:
"The committee reviewed two incidents, however, that compellingly show that Ray did, in fact, return to Atlanta after purchasing the murder weapon in Birmingham. First, the committee established that, on March 31, Ray paid his Atlanta landlord, Jimmy Garner for a second week's rent; he wrote his name on an envelope and gave it to Garner.
In addition, a committee interview with Garner confirmed the date of the 1968.
While Ray was correct about the date he retrieved the clothing, both the laundry receipts and the Piedmont Cleaners ledger, as well as the public testimony of a retired Piedmont employee, Annie Estelle Peters, proved that Ray left his laundry at Piedmont on April 1, 1968.
Ray's charge that the incriminating documents were somehow falsified was refuted by both the sworn public testimony of Mrs. Peters and the Piedmont ledger book."
Winne and his photographer were not allowed to record many of the answers they heard.
Gilchrist said he, a photographer and a producer still hope to sell the documentary they began decades ago and refocus the light of public scrutiny on the case.