DARC Ethiophile Chronicles
On this day
March 10, 1969 James Earl Ray pleaded guilty in a Memphis court to charges of killing Martin Luther King Jr. He was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. The House Select Committee on Assassinations said later that Ray fired the shot that killed King but that he was probably one element in a larger conspiracy.
James Earl Ray, the confessed assassin of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who later proclaimed his innocence but never provided hard facts of an alleged conspiracy was born on March 10, 19
In an interview with CNN shortly after Ray's death, his attorney, William Pepper, said that although there could no longer be a trial, the Ray family and the King family will continue their efforts to uncover the truth.
"The truth will ultimately exonerate James Earl Ray," Pepper said.
The King family said it was "deeply saddened" by Ray's death. "This is a tragedy not only for Mr. Ray, but also for the entire nation," the family said in a statement. "America will never have the benefit of Mr. Ray's trial, which would have produced new revelations about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as establish the facts concerning Mr. Ray's innocence," the statement said.
Prosecutors said Ray fired the fatal shot from the bathroom of a rooming house nearby. Witnesses said that moments after the shooting, they saw Ray running from the building, carrying a bundle.
Ray fled abroad and hopped from city to city. He was finally apprehended at London's Heathrow Airport on June 8. He reportedly put his head in his hands and wept when authorities confronted him.
The FBI quickly identified Ray as the primary suspect. Authorities found Ray's fingerprints on the rifle, a scope and a pair of binoculars. He pleaded guilty in March 1969 and was given a 99-year prison sentence.
Ray admitted buying a rifle similar to the murder weapon and renting the room at the Memphis flophouse where the shot was fired. But soon after being sentenced, Ray began to recant his guilty plea, saying he had handed over the gun to a man he identified only as "Raoul."
Over the years, Ray suggested a conspiracy and government cover-up. His 1992 book, "Who Killed Martin Luther King Jr.?: The True Story by the Alleged Assassin", offered his version of events, but investigators did not reopen the case.
Ray's father was quoted saying his son was not smart enough to have pulled off such a crime by himself. In 1978, a special congressional committee reported a "likelihood" existed that Ray did not act alone.
Meantime, in 1977, Ray escaped from a Tennessee prison and led authorities on a massive manhunt over three days before being recaptured.
Ray came as close as he ever would to being absolved in King's assassination in a March 1997 meeting with one of the civil rights leader's sons, Dexter King.
The King family believed Ray and supports a trial for Ray
Later, King asked Ray directly, "I want to ask for the record: did you kill my father?"
"No, I didn't, no, no," Ray said. "I had nothing to do with shooting your father," Ray told King.
"I believe you, and my family believes you, and we will do everything in our power to see you prevail," King replied.
The King family joined Ray's relatives and others in the call for a trial, saying it would be the only way to discover the full truth about what happened in Memphis.
Civil rights leaders called on Ray to declare all he knew.
"If James Earl Ray confesses to the public that he has more information and more people, there will be a trial," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in July 1997. Jackson was on the Memphis motel balcony with King and witnessed the assassination.
"If he cannot get beyond the mysterious figure called 'Raoul,' he does not warrant another trial."
At the urging of Ray's attorneys, new forensic tests were conducted in 1997 on the rifle believed to have been used to kill King.
But as with earlier rounds of tests, they were found to be inconclusive -- not unlike Ray's own account of the events that placed him at the center of a controversial chapter of U.S. history.