At this writing, James Earl Ray is back in custody. If he doesn't prove to be too slippery to hold, he'll still be in custody when you read these lines.

Ray's return poses a question: Now that he's back in jail, what do we do with him - just let him sit in solitary until his 99-year sentence has run its course?

I think not. Too many people suspect that there's been dirty work afoot.

Radio station WRC puts a topical question to its listeners each day. A few days ago, the question was whether listeners thought Ray's escape had been a routine prison breakout or whether they thought people in high places had plotted to make it easy for Ray to escape so that he could be killed in the ensuing manhunt.

The answers came back 2 to 1 in favor of the conspiracy theory. Many who responded said they thought the government itself had tried to silence Ray.

Every newsman with whom I discussed this response thought it was preposterous! They pointed out that there is not one iota of evidence to support the notion that "certain people" had arranged to make it easy for Ray to escape. My own opinion coincides with that of my colleagues.

Nevertheless, when so many people are so suspicious of their government, there is need to deal with the issue - openly and candidly.

Many Americans will not believe that the full story has been told until Ray is brought before congressional investigators in an open hearing to which television cameras are admitted. The man must be permitted to tell his story, however false or self-serving it may be. If there is contrary testimony available, it must also be produced in the same forum and in the same manner. Only then will the public have a chance to judge for itself where the truth lies.

It seems to me that anything short of this type of open hearing would be ineffective. Apparently millions of minds have been poisoned by the suspicion that our government was party to a plot to have Ray silenced. We must try to counteract that poison before it destroys our dream of becoming one nation, indivisible.