James Earl Ray

Submitted by on Sep 1, 2015

James Earl Ray, 70, Killer of Dr. King, Dies in Nashville

Published: April 24, 1998

James Earl Ray died yesterday at Columbia Nashville Memorial Hospital in Nashville while serving a 99-year sentence for the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To the end of his life, he tantalized America with suggestions that his confession to the 1968 murder, which he had swiftly recanted, amounted to a lie. He was 70.

For the last two years, Mr. Ray, who was imprisoned in Nashville, had been treated repeatedly for liver disease at the hospital where he died. The Tennessee Department of Correction attributed his death to that illness and kidney failure.

Mr. Ray pleaded guilty to the King assassination in March 1969, avoiding the possibility of the death sentence that could have resulted from conviction at trial. Then, for the next three decades, he maintained that far from taking the life of the nation’s leading civil rights figure, in a shooting in Memphis that set off racial disturbances in at least 100 cities, he had been ”set up,” used as an errand boy and decoy by shadowy conspirators who included a mystery man he knew only as Raoul.

In the last year or so of his life, with his health continuing to fail, Mr. Ray’s quest to stand trial gained momentum. His lawyer, William F. Pepper, who promoted the notion that the Army and Federal intelligence agencies had conspired to kill Dr. King, was granted new ballistics tests. They failed to establish whether a rifle belonging to Mr. Ray had been the murder weapon as prosecutors maintained, but in the meantime Mr. Ray had found allies in the King family itself.

In March 1997, one of Dr. King’s two sons, Dexter Scott King, went to Nashville to meet with Mr. Ray and told him that the family believed in his innocence. Like Mr. Pepper, Mr. King suggested that the Army and intelligence agencies had been involved in the assassination.

For all of Mr. Ray’s efforts, for all his hinting and insinuation, he never shed any genuinely fresh light on the case. Despite his challenges to it, his guilty plea was upheld repeatedly by state and Federal courts alike. And when he died yesterday, the most exhaustive official investigation of the case ever conducted, by a Congressional committee, remained basically uncontested; the committee concluded in 1978 that although others might have been involved in the assassination, the killer was Mr. Ray.

Mr. Ray’s death coincided with the publication of ”Killing the Dream,” a new book by Gerald Posner. In a review on Wednesday in The New York Times, Richard Bernstein called it ”the most comprehensive and definitive study” of the assassination to date and summarized its conclusions by saying:

”James Earl Ray murdered the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There is no evidence to support Mr. Ray’s 30-year-old contention that he was a patsy drawn into an assassination conspiracy, or that a mysterious figure named Raoul was actually the killer, or that the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. have worked to cover up the truth about Dr. King’s murder.”

In Memphis yesterday, John Campbell, the lead prosecutor in the Ray case for the last four years, said: ”He killed one of the greatest men of this century by his own admission, and he spent his life in prison. And justice has been served.”

But in Atlanta, Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, issued a statement that said:

”This is a tragedy, not only for Mr. Ray and his family but also for the entire nation. 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 King family has asked President Clinton and Attorney General Reno to conduct a full investigation of all new and unexamined evidence related to the assassination and to establish a Truth and Reconcilitation Commission that would grant amnesty and immunity from prosecution for all those who come forward with information.”

An Inept Drifter Filled With a Hatred of Blacks

Long before the act that made him a figure of worldwide infamy, the man imprisoned for killing Martin Luther King had become a drifter prone to inept holdups and burglaries that had caused him to serve more than 13 years in penitentiaries where he became notorious for bizarre and sometimes successful escape attempts. By the accounts of family and associates, he was intensely passionate in his hatred of blacks and especially of Dr. King, who had become the nation’s pre-eminent civil rights leader.

Dr. King was in Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers when, on April 4, 1968, he was shot in the jaw while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. He died almost immediately.

The assassination touched off a manhunt that would last two months and span the Atlantic, although the first clues in the search for the killer were close at hand.

A Remington .30-06 hunting rifle determined to be the murder weapon was found on a sidewalk about a block from the motel, almost directly in front of a rooming house where a man had registered that afternoon under the name Eric Starvo Galt. The Memphis police found that a dresser had been moved in front of a window in Mr. Galt’s room and a chair drawn up so that the Lorraine Motel could be seen from it.

James Earl RayJames Earl Ray
James Earl RayJames Earl Ray
James Earl RayJames Earl Ray

Leave a Comment