News Release ~ 09/11/1997

'Strike Force' Ready to Defend Martin Luther King Case Lawyer

Prosecutor's Office Intimidates Law Professor

Washington, DC (September 11, 1997) -- Earlier this week, an investigator with the Memphis District Attorney General's office threatened a respected law professor with obstruction of justice if he did not turn over confidential information he had gathered on an alleged conspiracy to murder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. University of Memphis Law School Professor Mike Roberts was appointed by Memphis judge John P. Colton to review files pertaining to James Earl Ray, who is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea and exercise his constitutional right to trial. Acting at the behest of the court, Roberts interviewed persons claiming to have knowledge of a conspiracy until the Tennessee Court of Appeals revoked his subpoena power last month on technical grounds.

Professor Roberts told the investigator, Mark Glankler, on Sept. 8 that he would be willing to share the results of his official inquiry with the district attorney when and if the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility advises him it would be ethical to do so. At that point, Roberts says, Glankler threatened to charge him with obstruction of justice.

The Lawyers' Assistance Strike Force of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is ready, willing and able to defend Professor Roberts from such blatant intimidation tactics as those used this week by this investigator in the office of Memphis District Attorney General William L. Gibbons.

In a statement from his New York office, the professional bar group's President Gerald B. Lefcourt explained that NACDL aggressively defends its members who are threatened or intimidated for ethically and zealously practicing their profession. "Mike Roberts was appointed by the court to investigate allegations of a conspiracy to murder Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to file his findings under seal. Right now, he's doing the right thing, which is protecting attorney work product." 

"Confidential witnesses often only reveal information when they believe it is safe to do so, without fear of reprisal," Lefcourt said. "Every prosecutor knows that. They shield their own informants all the time. If the D.A's office persists in threatening Professor Roberts, they'll be taking on more than they bargained for. All Americans abhor prosecutorial abuse, and we will fight to put an end to such abuse each and every time we see such flagrant examples as this."

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's approximately 9,000 direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.

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