Judge hears dispute over Martin Luther King Jr.'s Bible, Nobel medal

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 13, 2015 10:32 AM

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A legal battle between the children of the late Martin Luther King Jr. over ownership of his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal and the Bible he carried with him during the civil rights movement is being heard by a judge in Atlanta on Tuesday.

The feud pits King's sons, Dexter King and Martin Luther King III, against his surviving daughter, Bernice King.

King's estate sued Bernice King last year, seeking an emergency court order for her to turn over the medal and Bible on the grounds that she had signed a 1995 agreement giving control of King's possessions to the estate.

The estate, controlled by the three siblings, had voted 2-1 to sell the items. Bernice voted against the sale, describing the Nobel Prize and Bible as "sacred" and vowing to keep them in the family.

President Barack Obama used the Bible to take the oath during his second inaugural ceremony.

Last February, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ordered Bernice King to turn over the medal and Bible so they could be placed in a safe deposit box controlled by the court until the lawsuit filed by the King estate was resolved. She complied with the order.

On Tuesday, McBurney will hear arguments from each side on why the court should rule in their favor. A trial is set for February if the case is not settled before then.

Attorneys for Bernice King and the estate did not return phone calls seeking comment before Tuesday's hearing.

King had no will when he was assassinated in 1968. His estate was inherited by his widow, Coretta Scott King, who died in 2006, and his four children, one of whom also has since died, according to court documents.

In 1995, the siblings assigned their rights to King's possessions to the estate. In one of an ongoing series of legal battles between King's children, Bernice and Martin sued Dexter in 2008 challenging the 1995 agreement. A judge held that the 1995 agreement was legally valid.

Bernice King says her father gave the Nobel medal to her mother during his lifetime, which would mean the King estate does not control it. Lawyers for Martin Luther King Jr.'s estate refute that claim.

"Bernice readily admits, however, that she has absolutely no evidence to support this contention," the estate said in court filings. "It is nothing more than a belief, which is insufficient as a matter of law under Georgia law."

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Susan Heavey)