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Judge Rules Ray Can Search For Evidence Of Innocence But Blasts 2 Memphis Judges For Exceeding Their Authority

Michael Dorman Special To Newsday

A Tennessee appeals court ruled Friday that James Earl Ray may continue trying to produce evidence to show his innocence in the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The decision in Jackson, Tenn., came after King’s son Dexter made a surprise appearance before the court to urge a full-blown trial for Ray.

The state Court of Criminal Appeals narrowly rejected a motion by prosecutors that would have blocked further judicial consideration of Ray’s innocence claims. But the judges ruled that, as charged by the prosecutors, two Memphis judges have overstepped their authority in the case.

Judge Joe Brown has been considering a second round of ballistics tests on the rifle authorities say Ray used to kill King. Judge John Colton Jr. wanted to appoint a special investigator to subpoena witnesses and take sworn testimony about a possible murder conspiracy in King’s death.

The court said Colton would be “acting without authority” in making the appointment. Brown may order new tests, but he also acted improperly in ordering the FBI to turn over bullets it tested from Ray’s rifle in 1968, the court said.

“A judge is a fair and impartial adjudicator, not an investigator,” the court said. “In this regard we find that Judge Joseph D. Brown Jr. has crossed this line. Upon review of the record as a whole, we are disturbed by the trial judge’s handling of these procedures.”

Dexter King argued, as he has in the past, that a full trial for Ray would help clear up questions about possible conspiracy in the assassination. “I think the state has every obligation to pursue justice until justice prevails,” King said after his court appearance. “The state continues to be obstructionist.”

Prosecutors argued that both Brown and Colton were violating the state constitution’s separation-of-powers provisions by assuming duties reserved for prosecutors.

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