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VINSON: History 101: Rumble in the courtroom & first-time ‘evers’

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I first heard it on the 10 o’clock news on Monday night, March 24: Judge Joe Brown had been arrested in a Memphis courtroom for “contempt” in a child-support case and had been sentenced to five days in jail.

As is customary, I’ll provide a bit of a back story to ensure first-time readers grasp the full effect of this particular column:

Joe Brown, 66, African-American, hails from South Central Los Angeles, and earned both his undergraduate degree and law degree from the University of California at Los Angeles/UCLA. Landing in Memphis in the early ’70s, Brown worked both as a prosecutor and in the private sector.

Having become a criminal court judge, Joe Brown presided over the Martin Luther King/MLK assassination, and James Earl Ray’s guilt/innocence thereof, from approximately 1993 through early 1998. (MLK was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968.)

In the spring of 1997, Judge Brown allowed a re-testing of the alleged MLK murder rifle, which totally went against the grain of then-Memphis prosecutors.

It should be noted here that two ballistics tests had previously been performed on the alleged murder rifle, in 1968 and 1977, and both proved “inconclusive” meaning: Authorities couldn’t state with any certainty that the fatal slug was fired from the alleged murder rifle.

Of the 18 bullets fired through the alleged MLK murder rifle under orders from Judge Brown in spring 1997, 12 had land and groove markings “dissimilar” to the fatal slug, and ballistics experts couldn’t tell, one way or the other, about the other six.

Given these overwhelming ballistics results — and for the sakes of jurisprudence and historical correctness — Judge Brown was set to allow yet a fourth round of ballistics testing on the alleged MLK murder rifle. However, before the fourth round of testing was conducted, the Tennessee Court of Appeals removed Judge Brown from the King-Ray case, claiming Brown had lost the ability to act as an “impartial judge,” and, instead, was acting more as an investigator.
When removed from the King-Ray case, Judge Brown went on the media circuit and spoke out against the Memphis establishment, sparing no words is his personal theory about “just why” he’d been removed from the case.

Some keen-eyed TV producers noticed how well Judge Brown handled himself — a good mix of street savvy and academia — and the next thing you knew, there was the “Judge Joe Brown Reality Court Show.” The show, which maintained stellar ratings, ran from fall 1998 through fall 2013, ending because of reported contractual disputes.
I am acquainted with Joe Brown, and over the course of the past 16 years, have been in his company on several occasions. The commonality between us is James Earl Ray: I conducted the last live, Q&A interview with Ray to be published, ever. The interview took place March 25, 1998, was published April 5, 1998, and Ray expired from liver disease April 23, 1998.

Turning up the burner a couple notches, Brown is running against incumbent Amy Weirich for district attorney general of Shelby County/Memphis (30th Judicial District). If he wins, Brown would become the first African-American to be elected attorney general at the district level in Tennessee history.

While on the subject, another first exists right here in Warren County/McMinnville: Lisa Zavogiannis is district attorney general for the 31st Judicial District, which is composed of Warren and Van Buren (Spencer) counties. Elected in August 2006, Zavogiannis was the first female to go through the entire electoral process and win the seat of district attorney general in Tennessee history.

Is Brown guilty of contempt as charged by the Memphis judge? Well, I listened to a video-audio exchange between the two, and I did hear Brown offer the judge “10 dollars” for the contempt charge, and, also refer to his courtroom as a “circus.” However, I’ll let you go online, listen to it, and be your own judge.

I will state this, though: If Joe Brown is elected district attorney general for Shelby County/Memphis, a new page might be added to Tennessee history.

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arrested, james earl ray, judge joe brown, martin luther king, memphis, mlk, shelby county
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