CORETTA SCOTT KING, et al, Plaintiffs, Vs. Case No. 97242 LOYD JOWERS, et al, Defendants. was a civil trial held in the circuit court of Shelby County, Tennessee for the thirtieth judicial district at Memphis held between November 15 to December 8, 1999. The trial found defendant Loyd Jowers and unknown co-defendants civilly liable for participation in a conspiracy to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the amount of $100. Members of Dr. King’s family acted as plaintiffs. Local assistant district attorney John Campell, who was not involved in the case, commented that the case was flawed and “overlooked so much contradictory evidence that never was presented”.
THE COURT: In answer to the question did Loyd Jowers participate in a conspiracy to do harm to Dr. Martin Luther King, your answer is yes. Do you also find that others, including governmental agencies, were parties to this conspiracy as alleged by the defendant? Your answer to that one is also yes. And the total amount of damages you find for the plaintiffs entitled to is one hundred dollars. Is that your verdict?
THE JURY: Yes (In unison).
Loyd Jowers (November 20, 1926 — May 20, 2000) was the owner of a restaurant (Jim’s Grill) near the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. In December 1993, Jowers appeared on ABC’s Prime Time Live and related the details of an alleged conspiracy involving the Mafia and the U.S. government to kill King. According to Jowers, James Earl Ray was a scapegoat, and was not involved in the assassination. Jowers believed that Memphis police officer Lieutenant Earl Clark fired the fatal shot.
The United States Department of Justice published the results of its investigation into Jowers’ allegations and concluded that they were not substantiated nor credible and that they found significant evidence to refute them. According to the DOJ report, Jowers contradicted himself on virtually every key point about the alleged conspiracy:
In these statements, Jowers has repeatedly changed key aspects of his new story, disavowed his confession, and even retreated to his long-standing account of the previous 25 years. For example, he not only identified two different people as the assassin, but also most recently claimed that he saw the assassin and did not recognize him. Jowers also abandoned his initial allegation that he received $100,000 with which he hired a hit man to kill Dr. King, claiming instead that he merely held the money for the conspirators. Additionally, Jowers has been inconsistent about other aspects of the alleged conspiracy, including his role in it, Raoul’s responsibilities, whether and how Memphis police officers were involved, and the disposal of the alleged murder weapon.
According to the same report, Jowers initially sought compensation for his story, and his friends and relatives acknowledge that he hoped to make money from his account. He also refused to cooperate with the DOJ investigation. Even though he repeatedly confessed publicly without immunity from prosecution, he was unwilling to provide a final, definitive version of his story in order to be granted immunity by the Department of Justice. Jowers has never made his conspiracy claims under oath according to the report.
In 1998, the King family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jowers and “other unknown co-conspirators” for the murder of King. A Memphis jury found Jowers responsible on December 8, 1999, and that the assassination plot also involved “governmental agencies.”
The Memphis county prosecutor said on several occasions that Mr. Jowers’ claims were without merit and that his motivation was to sell his story for a book or a movie. Both sisters that worked at Jowers’ restaurant recanted their support for the case. Their conversation in which the main witness for Jowers admitted that the story was false was taped by the authorities. The sister admitted that Jowers had fabricated the story so he could make $300,000 from selling the story, and she in turn corroborated his story in order to get some money to pay her income tax.
Following the verdict, John Campbell, an assistant district attorney in Memphis who was part of the criminal trial said:
I’m not surprised by the verdict. This case overlooked so much contradictory evidence that never was presented, what other option did the jury have but to accept Mr. Pepper’s version?