One of the firearms experts who recently conducted inconclusive ballistics examinations on James Earl Ray’s rifle said Monday that further tests - now under consideration by a Memphis, Tenn., judge - would be pointless. His view was supported by the retired FBI firearms examiner who conducted the first ballistics tests on the bullet that killed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“We’d be spinning our wheels,” said Marshall Robinson, a firearms examiner with the Waterbury, Conn., police department and one of three experts who in May conducted tests on Ray’s rifle at the University of Rhode Island crime lab. “Further tests are not going to reveal anything.”
Robert A. Frazier, the retired FBI examiner, also reported inconclusive results immediately after the 1968 assassination. “That rifle has been test-fired too many times at this point to give reliable results,” Frazier said in an interview.
“A rifle bullet goes down the barrel so fast that after a while it tends to smooth out the microscopic marks we need for ballistics examinations. The temperature is quite hot. The friction level is very high. All of this changes the rifle barrel itself and makes it impossible in some cases to match test bullets to an evidence bullet.”
Frazier said this was one of those cases.
Results of the tests conducted by Robinson and two colleagues - George Reich of the Suffolk County, N.Y., crime lab and Robert Hathaway of the University of Rhode Island lab - were presented last week at a hearing before Memphis Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown.
In a courtroom announcement that made headlines around the world, Brown said that most of the test bullets bore marks different from those on the slug that killed King. But his assertion was later rebutted by Robinson and Reich, who said those markings were irrelevant. They and the third examiner were unanimous in finding the tests inconclusive.
Experts have repeatedly said the King murder bullet was distorted when recovered.
“It was mangled when I first saw it right after the assassination,” Frazier said. “The marks we look for in ballistics testing were all stretched out of shape.”
Robinson said the best test results on the Ray rifle would have come from the initial test firings. “Trust me, the guy who did those tests was the best in the business, Bob Frazier. And he came up with inconclusive results.” Frazier also tested the rifle used in the assassination of President Kennedy.
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