DOJ may test fingerprints from MLK slaying
The Justice Department is considering a request to test unidentified fingerprints from the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Researchers of the April 4, 1968, assassination of King have suggested that unidentified fingerprints from the crime scene and elsewhere be run through the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which holds the fingerprints of more than 55 million people.
Stuart Wexler, co-author of the upcoming book, Seeking Armageddon: The Effort to Kill Martin Luther King Jr., said the FBI is believed to have dozens of “unidentified prints from potential suspects. What they have not done, according to any record or statement, is use the AFIS system to potentially match any of these prints against the millions of prints they have in their database.”
On Monday, spokesman Alejandro Miyar said the Justice Department is considering that request to determine what, if any, action to take.
Wexler said there would be minimal cost for conducting such fingerprint comparisons and that they would “shed light on King’s assassination and could even result in a major breakthrough.”
Checking these unknown fingerprints is in keeping with President Obama’s call for less government secrecy, said author Lamar Waldron.
Waldron — who wrote the book Legacy of Secrecy with Thom Hartmann on the assassinations of King and President John Kennedy — said he would like to see these unidentified fingerprints (including those found in James Earl Ray’s Mustang) checked against well-known racist Joseph Milteer, whom they believe played a role in King’s assassination.
In 1968, Ray pleaded guilty to King’s murder and was sentenced to life. Days later, he insisted on his innocence. He died in prison in 1998.
In 1979, a congressional committee investigating King’s slaying concluded that Ray shot King and that there was a likely conspiracy in the assassination.
In 2000, the Justice Department announced that a two-year internal investigation, launched at the request of the King family, had failed to find sufficient evidence to warrant a full investigation.
FBI records show fingerprints found after King’s killing were checked against thousands of people, but Wexler said he has yet to find documents that show the FBI checked to see if these fingerprints matched any members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi, which reportedly had a $100,000 bounty on King.
According to FBI records, Ray learned of the Klan’s bounty before escaping from prison in 1967. Ray may have learned of other bounties, too.
David Garrow, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said he believes Ray “wasn’t enough of a pure racist to be interested in the project without the prospective ‘payoff.’”
This originally appeared on Jerry Mitchell's blog "Journey to Justice"