We've all seen the famous photo, dating from 1968, of James Earl Ray, who was later convicted of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, as the ex-con vagabond , trussed up and held from behind by then Sheriff (later Shelby County Mayor) Bill Morris, was placed under local custody.
And we've seen Ray in any number of other poses, some of them stills and quite a few of them videos in which, well after the fact of his trial, at which he pleaded guilty, he can be seen mumbling his strangely smirky denials of any involvement in the King assassination.
But we haven't yet seen a series of videos that were apparently made by the Sheriff's Department of some key early moments in the Ray case: scenes of his arraignment, his gulty plea, and others of Ray being transported to Memphis on a plane and as a prisoner in his cell.
We learn of all these from a news release issued by Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood which proclaims that the Register's Office "is in possession of eight (8) 5" reels and one 7" reel of video tape" made by a Sheriff's Department video camera — a Sony Model DVK-2400 — that has since disappeared. But the tapes exist, marked as to the nature of their contents, though they are formatted by an obsolete method that, as of now, keeps them from being seen.
Accordingly, says the Leatherwood news release, the Register's Office "is currently seeking a qualified company and grant opportunities to restore/convert these tapes to a digital format so as to preserve and provide public access to this historical material. "
As the release notes, "the labels and the daily jail activity entry indicate a possible view of historical events never before seen" and the tapes present "a unique opportunity" to bring to light "a critical piece of our nation's history."
Here is the text of the Leatherwood news release:
JAMES EARL RAY VIDEOTAPES DISCOVERED
Shelby County Register’s Office to restore/convert obsolete videotapes
Memphis, TN 2/9/2012
The Shelby County Register’s office is in possession of eight (8) 5" reels and one 7" reel of video tape. These video tapes have not been released yet due to obsolete formatting. It is known that the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department purchased a video tape camera system in July of 1968. While the equipment has long since disappeared, we still have the owner’s manual. It was a Sony VideoCorder, Model DVK-2400. One tape is labeled “James Earl Ray Arraignment 7-22-1968.” Another tape says “Ray Guilty Plea,” both of which are interesting given that at the time no cameras of any kind or even sketch artists were allowed in the courtroom. Still another one is dated November 11, 1968, which corresponds with a date Ray went to court. A note that appears to have been attached to one of the reel’s boxes is dated July 19, 1968 and reads “Ray on Plane and Arrival at Jail.” One of the daily jail activity entries mentions taking video equipment into Ray’s cell “for the purpose of making a video tape.” While the actual content of the tapes has not been viewed, the labels and the daily jail activity entry indicate a possible view of historical events never before seen.
The Shelby County Register’s office is currently seeking a qualified company and grant opportunities to restore/convert these tapes to a digital format so as to preserve and provide public access to this historical material. “This is a unique opportunity to potentially bring to light and preserve intriguing images of a critical piece of our nation’s history” said Register Tom Leatherwood.