James Earl Ray

James Earl Ray

Infobox Criminal
subject_name = James Earl Ray

image_size = 176px
image_caption =
date_of_birth = Birth date|1928|03|10
place_of_birth = Alton, Illinois
date_of_death = Death date|1998|04|23 (aged 70)
place_of_death = Nashville, Tennessee
alias =
conviction = Murder, prison escape,
armed robbery, forgery
penalty = 99 years imprisonment
status = deceased
occupation =
spouse = Anna Sandhu (divorced)
parents = James Gerald Ray
children =

James Earl Ray (March 10, 1928ndash April 23, 1998) was convicted of the assassination of American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which occurred on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. Ray had been placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list twice.

Early life

James Earl Ray came from a poor family in Alton, Illinois and left school at 15. He joined the army and served in Germany. In 1949 he was convicted of burglary in California and in 1952 he served two years for armed robbery of a taxi driver in Illinois. In 1955 he was convicted of mail fraud. After an armed robbery in Missouri in 1959, Ray was sentenced to 20 years as a habitual offender. In 1967 he escaped by hiding in a truck transporting bread from the prison bakery. [cite web|url=http://www.crimelibrary.com/terrorists_spies/assassins/ray/3.html|title=James Earl Ray: The Man Who Killed Dr. Martin Luther King|format=HTML|publisher=Crime Library|accessdate=2008-06-25]

Capture and trial

main article|Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was staying at a motel in Memphis. He was shot and killed while standing on the motel's second floor balcony.

A little more than two months after King's death, on June 8, 1968, Ray was captured at London's Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd. Another passport Ray carried with a second name was sighted and made him look suspicious. Ray was quickly extradited to Tennessee and charged with King's murder, confessing to the assassination on March 10, 1969, (though he recanted this confession three days later) and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. On the advice of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray took a guilty plea to avoid a trial conviction and therefore the possibility of receiving the death penalty.

Ray later fired Foreman as his attorney (from then on derisively calling him "Percy Fourflusher") claiming that a man he met in Montreal, using the alias "Raoul" had been deeply involved, as was his brother Johnny, but not himself, further asserting that although he didn't "personally shoot Dr. King," he may have been "partially responsible without knowing it," hinting at a conspiracy. He spent the remainder of his life attempting (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his guilty plea and secure the trial he never had.


On June 11, 1977 Ray made his second appearance, this time as the 351st entry, on the FBI Most Wanted Fugitives list. He and six other convicts had just escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee on June 10, 1977. They were recaptured on June 13, three days later, and returned to prison. [cite web|url=http://knoxville.fbi.gov/hist.htm|title=Federal Bureau of Investigation - History of Knoxville Office|format=HTML|publisher=FBI|accessdate=2008-06-25]

One more year was added to his previous sentence to total 100 years. Shortly after, Ray testified that he did not shoot King to the House Select Committee on Assassinations.


In 1997, King's son Dexter met with Ray, and publicly supported his efforts to obtain a retrial. Loyd Jowers, a restaurant owner in Memphis, was brought to civil court and sued as being part of a conspiracy to murder Martin Luther King; Jowers was found liable, and the King family was awarded $100 in restitution to show that they were not pursuing the case for financial gain.

Dr. William Pepper, a friend of King in the last year of his life, represented Ray in a televised mock trial and avoid of testimony under oath in an attempt to get Ray the trial that he never had. Pepper then represented the King family in a wrongful death civil trial against Loyd Jowers. The King family does not believe Ray had anything to do with the murder of Martin Luther King. [cite web|url=http://www.thekingcenter.org/news/trial.html#Statement|title=Complete Transcript of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Assassination Conspiracy Trial|format=HTML|publisher=The King Center|accessdate=2008-06-25] If Ray was really guilty, as supported by the eye-witnesses and physical evidence that was collected ["He Slew the Dreamer: My Search for the Truth about James Earl Ray and the Murder of Martin Luther King" by William Bradford Huie, Delacorte Press, 1968,1969,1970] and his immediate flight out of the U.S. using an alias name, he had the last laugh. Ray told his wife, Anna (Sandhu) Ray, who thought he was innocent, that he had killed King and threatened to kill her. In discussing the events surrounding King's death, Ray admitted his guilt with the statement: "Yeah, I killed him. But what if I did; I never got a trial." [cite web|url=http://www.drjameshaney.com/BPAssassn.htm|title=The Assassination of Dr. Martin L. King, Jr.|format=HTML|publisher=DrJamesHaney.com|accessdate=2008-06-25]


Ray died in prison at the age of 70 from complications related to kidney disease, caused by hepatitis C probably contracted as a result of a blood transfusion given after a stabbing while at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. It was also confirmed in the autopsy that he died of liver failure. Ray is survived by seven brothers and sisters. His brother, Jerry Ray told CNN on Friday that his brother didn't want to be buried or have his final resting place in the United States, because of "the way the government has treated him." Ray was cremated and his ashes flown to Ireland, home of his family's ancestors. [cite web|url=http://www.cnn.com/US/9804/24/ray.autopsy.pm/index.html|title=Autopsy confirms Ray died of liver failure|format=HTML|publisher=CNN|accessdate=2008-06-25]

Later investigation

In 2000, an 18-month investigation by the Justice Department rejected allegations that conspirators aided or framed Ray in the murder of King, and recommended against any further investigation.


Further reading

* Ray, James Earl, "Who Killed Martin Luther King?: The True Story by the Alleged Assassin," Washington D.C.: National Press Books, 1992, ISBN 0915765934
* Pepper, William, "An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King"
* Posner, Gerald, "Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr."
* Ray, James Earl with Saussy, Tupper, "Tennessee Waltz: The Making of a Political Prisoner"
* McMillan, George, "The Making of an Assassin"
* Heathrow, John, "Why Did He Do It?"
* Melanson, Dr. Phillip H., "The Martin Luther King Assassination: New Revelations on the Conspiracy and Cover-Up, 1968-1991"
* Green, Jim, "Blood and Dishonor on a Badge of Honor"

NAME = Ray, James Earl
DATE OF BIRTH = March 10, 1928
PLACE OF BIRTH = Alton, Illinois, United States
DATE OF DEATH = April 23, 1998
PLACE OF DEATH = Petros, Tennessee, United States

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