C H A R L E S T O N, S.C., Oct. 5, 2000 -- A judge has awarded $11 million to a manwho said he was libeled in a book that claimed Martin Luther KingJr.’s assassination was a conspiracy among the government, sniperteams and organized crime.
Billy Ray Eidson sued London lawyer William F. Pepper and hispublishers in 1997 for writing that Eidson was part of a SpecialForces unit sent to Memphis on April 4, 1968, to kill King.
Eidson was a firefighter in Birmingham, Ala., at the time andsaid in a deposition he had never been to Memphis and was workingin the fire station the day King was slain.
Life Changed ForeverPepper, in Orders to Kill: The Truth About the Murder ofMartin Luther King, wrote that Eidson was killed to ensuresecrecy. Eidson, alive and well and living in Costa Rica, surprisedPepper in June 1997 on the ABC television show Turning Point.
The lawsuit was brought in South Carolina, which has a two-yearstatute of limitations on libel. The book was published in 1995.
Judge Roger Young awarded $1 million in actual damages and $10million in punitive damages Wednesday.
“Eidson may well spend the rest of his life trying to undo thedamage done by Mr. Pepper,” Young wrote.
Winner By DefaultIn court documents, Pepper denied Eidson’s allegations that hewas negligent in his research. Pepper was later found in defaultfor failing to appear after receiving notice of Eidson’s depositionand the damages hearing.
The judge wrote Eidson testified “callers threatened to killhis family and that he is constantly getting questions regardinghis involvement in the plot. In fact, Eidson testifies hisday-to-day routine has been altered substantially due to therecognition that has been thrust upon him.”
Eidson’s local attorney, Steve DeAntonio, did not return atelephone call seeking comment. Attempts to reach Pepper at hisLondon office were unsuccessful.
The lawsuit also named Carroll & Graf Publishers Inc. and WarnerBooks Inc. Both settled with Eidson.