3-day forum explores Kennedy, King slayings (William Pepper - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
3-day forum explores Kennedy, King slayings
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Thursday, October 2, 2008
By Jason Cato
Four decades later, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. will be dissected this weekend at Duquesne University.
"Making Sense of the Sixties," a three-day symposium starting Friday and hosted by the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law, will examine theories of cover-ups and conspiracies surrounding the slayings as well as ripple effects still felt today.
"It's a pretty weighty thing for people to confront," said Isaac Farris Jr., King's nephew and CEO of The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. "Who knows how their deaths impacted our trajectory? Who knows where our nation might have been? My God, we wiped out three of the greatest leaders of a generation."
John Kennedy was killed 45 years ago, and this is the 40th anniversary of the deaths of his brother and King.
"The common denominators are the political assassinations of major figures, and their assassinations occurred at critical times," said Wecht, a forensic pathologist and the former Allegheny County coroner.
Much of the conference will challenge the official conclusions that John Harvey Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray acted alone in their deeds. In addition to Farris, a lawyer and a judge involved in Ray's legal proceedings will speak at the conference.
"James Earl Ray was decidedly innocent of murder," said William Pepper, a King friend who represented Ray and later won a civil lawsuit for King's family claiming others conspired in his death. He claims the federal government was involved.
In 1998, Pepper filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Loyd Jowers and others accused of being involved in King's death. Jowers owned a Memphis restaurant near the Lorraine Hotel where King was shot dead on April 4, 1968.
Jowers claimed that the plot was hatched by the federal government and the Mafia, involved Tennessee and Memphis police, and that Ray was only a scapegoat. Jowers claimed a Memphis police officer was the actual triggerman.
Pepper called some 70 witnesses during a three-week trial. The jury deliberated 59 minutes before finding Jowers and agents with the federal government, Tennessee and Memphis police guilty. King's family sued for $100.
The Department of Justice in 2000 released a report stating it found no reliable evidence of such a conspiracy.
Judge Joe Brown, of afternoon television fame, presided over Ray's final appeal and in 1997 ordered the alleged murder weapon be retested using modern science.
"James Earl Ray is not the gunman," Brown said. "He is what appears to be one of four scapegoats."
Ray died in prison in 1998.
While some say the retests were inconclusive, Brown said they showed the bullet that killed King was fired using one of 64 specialized barrels -- all of which were in the military's possession.
"It was a classic abuse of power and crime in high places of the U.S. government," Brown said. "(Prosecutors) didn't want to know if they had the truth."
Pepper represents Sirhan Sirhan, convicted of killing Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles. He said new acoustic analysis reveals at least 13 shots were fired. Kennedy was killed by a shot in the back of his head. Most witnesses placed Sirhan in front of the senator.
"I have serious plans for that case," Pepper said.
Pepper, Brown and Farris will take part in Friday's sessions. Pepper also will speak Saturday. The event runs through Sunday.
For information on Wecht Institute events, contact email@example.com.
Jason Cato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7840.