Journalist McMichael reveals far-reaching deceptions in his examination of coverups in the case of James Earl Ray (1928-1998), accused of killing Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis in 1968.
The author extensively covers King's shooting, Ray's capture and the 30-year period following his subsequent guilty plea in 1969. McMichael notes that, astonishingly, Ray's attorney Arthur Hanes was a committed anti-segregationist; in 1961, his slogan for his successful campaign for mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, was "Never”—and also served as a Ku Klux Klan "Klonsel" (trial defense lawyer) and consulted with Klan leaders over several years before and after the Ray case. Accompanying Hanes was William Huie, a crusading journalist for Look magazine who was against racial injustice and was also an opportunistic, profit-seeking author and magazine writer. McMichael reveals how Huie lost millions with Ray's guilty plea; Italian producer Carlo Ponti killed the movie deal following the plea because "he understood that the masses weren't interested in a story about a petty criminal from Missouri; they wanted the dark heart of conspiracy." Incomplete congressional investigations of the deaths of both King and President John F. Kennedy fanned the flames of outrage of an increasingly skeptical, distrustful nation. Indeed, both assassinations were later said to have "likely resulted from well-executed conspiracies involving politically-motivated criminals”—in Ray's case, "a Cuban gun-running conspiracy.” Furthermore, neither civil rights activist Jesse Jackson nor King's widow believed Ray was culpable, and a mock trial on HBO in 1993 found Ray not guilty. Because such true stories about government smoke screens and unanswered cries for justice have echoes in the 21st-century American criminal justice system, the author’s narrative remains topical and relevant.
McMichael ably leads readers to the conclusion that, in this case, no one's hands were clean.