Retired Cleveland judge recounts work on congressional committee investigating MLK assassination

Published: Jan. 14, 2023 at 9:05 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The moment will remain with him forever.

As an undergraduate at Fisk University in Nashville, Ronald Adrine walked out of his dorm room to the campus commons.

He was enveloped in the despair that had engulfed the campus as news spread that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed as he spoke in Memphis, Tennessee.

That day, in more ways than one, changed the trajectory of the life of the future Cleveland Municipal Court judge, but all he knew in the moment was grief.

“All of us who were in the dorm poured out onto the campus and there was a lot of angst and as you might imagine and screaming and yelling,” he said. “And we were just kind of milling around for the most part.”

Even as a young man, Adrine was well aware of the impact that moment would have, and realized the magnitude of the man the world had just lost.

“I can’t say for a fact that if there had been no Martin Luther King, that there wouldn’t have been a civil rights movement. But I can say pretty clearly that Dr. King was the voice of the civil rights movement and was its moral compass,” Judge Adrine said. “And as a result of the movement that he headed up, this country was changed forever.

What Adrine did not know was that someday he would play a role in the investigation into what happened that horrible evening in Memphis.

Adrine graduated from Fisk University and then from Cleveland State University’s Marshall College of Law.

There he began his career, spending three years with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.

Adrine had just left the prosecutor’s office and went into practice with his father, when a phone call came. It was a phone call that had the potential to change his life.

“It was from Louis Stokes, who was a confidant of my dad’s,” Adrine said.

Stokes, then a United States Congressman, was calling with an offer.

He wondered if Adrine would be interested in serving in Washington D.C. on the House Select Committee investigating the assassination of Dr. King.

It was an incredible offer, but would require Adrine to pull up and leave Cleveland.

He’d have to say goodbye to a job he had just started with his father’s practice, and set up in Washington D.C. for at least a year.

“I saw it as an excellent opportunity on so many different levels, not the least of which being that I actually would get an opportunity to see what that whole investigation was about,” Adrine said. “And I would be able to participate in history.”

So he did.

Adrine threw himself into long days and nights, where among projects, he spent considerable time reviewing the original guilty plea of James Earl Ray.

The committee ultimately was put in place to investigate the multitude of conspiracy theories that had been floated regarding Dr. King’s murder.

Those theories, all but one, according to Adrine, were disproved by the work of investigators.

Adrine’s work was impressive, to the point he was assigned a role in putting the final report together.

It was a year of hard work, work that changed Adrine’s life.

“Well I am certainly very satisfied with the fact that I got that opportunity and it really kind of changed my life,” he said.

Ronald Adrine became Judge Ronald Adrine and served for over 30 years on the bench of the Municipal Court of Cleveland, a career that grew out of the year he spent in Washington D.C.

“I certainly am proud of the fact that we were able to put together that report for the world to see,” he said.

But he is equally as proud of the work he did on the Municipal bench, serving the people in Cleveland.

“I really thought that I got an opportunity to touch more people and to have people benefit from what, I thought, I brought to the table at that level,” he said. “I might have been able to move to the Common Pleas court, but certainly wouldn’t have seen as many people. I wouldn’t have gotten to them at a point when they were less likely to move on to more serious criminal activity for the most part.”

Adrine found a way, in Washington D.C. and in Cleveland, to make a difference, and did so with the spirit of MLK guiding his path.

Editor’s Note: Below is the final report from the Select Committee on Assassination. Reader discretion advised.