James Earl Ray

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James Earl Ray

James Earl Ray (March 10, 1928 - April 23, 1998), was the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ray also has the distinction of having been twice placed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

A little more than two months after King's death, on June 8, 1968, Ray, an escaped convict who had broken out of the Missouri State Penitentiary a year before the assassination, 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. 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, Canada, 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. Shortly after, Ray testified that he did not shoot King to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. They were recaptured on June 13, of the same year, and returned to prison. One more year was added to his previous sentence to total 100 years.

In 1997 Martin Luther King's son Dexter King met with Ray, and publicly supported Ray's 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 retribution as a sign that they were not following the case for monetary reasons.

Dr. William Pepper remained James Earl Ray's attorney until Ray's death and then carried on, on behalf of the King family. The King family does not believe Ray had anything to do with the murder of Martin Luther King.

Ray died in prison on April 23, 1998, 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.