Judge Brown Slams Memphis Over the King Case

The following is a transcription of Judge Joe Brown’s remarks made on the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 3, 1998 at the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis. The remarks were transcribed by author Dick Russell who will be writing an article for High Times this fall on this conference. Russell is also the author of the current book Black Genius which was published by Carroll and Graf earlier this year. Our thanks to Dick for letting us share this transcription with our readers.

In this case involving James Earl Ray, I found one morning that it was on my calendar. I had been totally unaware of that until the prosecutor in this case, Mr. Campbell, came to attempt to approach me and discuss this case off the record which is, of course, improper. I declined to do this. That was the first of a number of ex parte approaches by the state to engage in what are basically improprieties. In any event, I was ultimately confronted with a question: with the application of modern scientific methodology, is this in fact the rifle? As the rifle was excluded from the [unintelligible] of being the murder weapon, does this fact alone—based on an assessment of the entire body of evidence—cause James Earl Ray to be innocent, therefore mandating a new trial? In other words, if the weapon was excluded, I was to conduct an analysis and an evaluation of the entire case—and then write an opinion relative to my assessment.

James Earl Ray, even in the event that the rifle [had] been excluded, might have still been found legally guilty of being an accessory, an aider and abettor, or a conspirator. I won’t touch upon that. But I do know what I saw in terms of the hard evidence, in terms of what’s in that file relative to those things that the untrained might never notice. I would remark initially upon the category of so-called “experts” that everyone has been relying upon in this case. The level of expertise, if they had any such, was extremely low. They had long histories of being able to look at bullets under a microscope and using relatively primitive technology to make an analysis subjectively as to whether in their opinion such-and-such a bullet matched a sample that they were attempting to compare it with. That was the extent of their expertise. They had very little knowledge—if any—about rifles and firearms in general.

They found me with the knowledge that I just happened to have had as an individual. Amongst other things, I have read in the record the big to-do about the mark in the window sill at the boarding house where the rifle was supposed to be fired. Well, let’s talk about the rifle. It’s a 760 Remington Gamemaster, a pump action, just like a 12 gauge pump shotgun. There is very little call for this weapon in any other part of the country other than the eastern seaboard, where certain states forbid the use of semi-automatic weapons for deer hunting. It’s a fast action but it’s not as powerful a weapon. There’s a peculiar thing about this weapon. If you do not rest, if you’re attempting to use a rest when you shoot it—the weapon does not shoot where it is sited in. Any hunter will tell you that if you are attempting to use a rest to shoot game, you put your coat, your hat, your pack, something under the rifle barrel—and you do not allow the rifle barrel to touch hard wood, rock or anything else because your weapon will not shoot where you have sited it in to shoot. Assuming you’ve sited the weapon in. If anyone placed the weapon on that window sill, sufficient to cause an indentation in the window sill, you can guarantee that whatever they were shooting at would not have been hit. Because the weapon would not have hit where it was sited in to hit.

Now Preston Battle, the honorable late initial judge who handled this case, said this on the record. He was firmly convinced that if James Earl Ray in fact did the killing, he did not act alone. Now James Earl Ray in the record is said to have gone to a gunshop and purchased a .243 caliber weapon. It says he was told by others that this was not a suitable weapon for the purpose. “Others”, o-t-h-e-r-s, I’m assuming that means the same to everyone else that it does to me. He returned the .243 to exchange it for a 30.06. Whereupon he had a scope mounted on the weapon in the gunshop.

There’s an interesting thing about the Remington 760 Gamemaster. The breach of the weapon is closed by the receiver—don’t worry about what this means, it’s rather arcane. It means that you can’t simply do what you would do with a bolt action, which ordinarily would be the weapon of choice if you were going to commit any sniping activity because its far more accurate. It means that you can’t simply take the bolt, prop this weapon up on some cushions and sandbags, anything that does not move, look down the bore at some object a hundred yards distant, center that object in the bore and then take your scope site using the adjusting screws, move your crosshairs until they center the object approximately 100 yards away while that object is centered in the bore. That’s called bore siting. What you’d have to do is colonate the weapon. That means you stick something that looks like a small telescope in front of the muzzle of this weapon with an adapter and you attempt to get the crosshairs of the scope registered on the crosshairs of this colonator device that is inserted into the muzzle.

The gunshop in question did not possess such a colonator. So the scope was simply bolted to the top of the rifle. Now it has been my personal experience when siting in more than 60 rifles in my lifetime…if you colonate a weapon, bore-site it or whatever, and you take it to the range to continue to calibrate it so that it hits what you’re trying to hit, and you place a target which is maybe 4-5 feet square on a target rack at 25 yards, you will probably be lucky if the weapon hits paper. And then you crank in 25-30 clicks to the right, 15-20 up, and you get it approximately to the center of that paper at 25 yards. Then you back off to approximately 100, and then you fire again, and you keep adjusting your sites until you hit what you’re trying to hit.

That was not done in this case. It would be the most profound accident I’ve ever heard of if you simply bolted a scope to the top of that weapon and you were able to achieve sufficient accuracy at 100 yards to hit your target. I won’t speak on the number of times that just out of curiosity I took people who had little experience in firearms to arrange or to a measured 100 yard stretch of open ground in the country, set up a silhouette target, and allowed them the opportunity to attempt to hit the head of that target. I can tell you that, with the exception of certain experienced riflemen, there was zero success.


The rest of this article can be found in The Assassinations, edited by Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease.