Justice for James Earl Ray
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the acclaimed civil rights leader, shook the world. It was hard for the American people to accept that a racist petty criminal by the name of James Earl Ray could bring an end to the life of a man so great. Perhaps the American public had a point in questioning Ray's guilt. The government and FBI investigators seemed quick to conclude that this man, Ray, was King's lone assassin (Gibbons). Though he was convicted, there is still great controversy today over whether he actually committed the heinous crime he was accused of. By the imprisonment of James Earl Ray, an innocent man, justice was not served nor can it be served until the right person or people are punished. As he did not commit the crime, and there is credible evidence that proves the murder to have actually been a government conspiracy, James Earl Ray was innocent.
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on his balcony of the Loraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee (Overbeck). There was a search put out, and a rifle with James Earl Ray's fingerprints was soon found near the crime scene (Gibbons). Weeks later, in June of that year, Ray was arrested in a foreign country with fake passports. He pled guilty to the crime in exchange for a promise by the prosecutors not to seek the death penalty. Three days later, he recanted his plea of guilt and changed his legal council. The judge, though, died with the recantation papers on his desk making Ray's recant not valid (Who Killed). He was sentenced, without a trial, to 99 years in prison. He sought a trial for more than thirty years in an attempt to prove his innocence. He was never given that much deserved trial and died in jail of liver disease in 1998 (Who Killed).
There are some who argue that James Earl Ray was guilty of King's murder, and that justice was therefore done by his imprisonment. This view, however notable, is based on distorted facts that must be put into perspective. The most prominent factor of this view, perhaps, is that Ray originally pled guilty to the crime. Also, Ray's fingerprints were found on the alleged murder weapon. His plea appears, despite its following recantation, quite incriminating. Under normal circumstances, this could be enough to condemn someone, but Ray was put through extreme torment preceding his plea. Not only was he given misleading legal advice, he experienced harsh police tactics.
Now, it's true that Ray pleaded guilty to the crime in 1969. It's also true that he was kept in a brightly lit cell 24 hours a day, with two armed guards and television cameras watching him until he did so. It's also true that he did so only after his mob-connected attorney told him that he would get the death penalty unless he pleaded guilty, that his father and brother would be jailed unless he pleaded guilty, and most importantly (and falsely), that he could not change his attorney until after he had pleaded guilty.(Zepezauer)
The gun that was found did undeniably have Ray's fingerprints on it, but it was placed all too perfectly to be the legitimate murder weapon. It was supposedly dropped outside the door of a restaurant during the getaway. No competent criminal of any kind would leave evidence as incriminating as the murder weapon behind at the scene of the crime (Gibbons).
James Earl Ray was not guilty. It can not be proven beyond reasonable doubt that he was the shooter of Martin Luther King, Jr. The closest piece of evidence linking Ray to the crime was the gun found at the murder scene with Ray's prints on it. This gun, first of all, was placed too perfectly to be the legitimate murder weapon. Secondly, the gun was never forensically proven to have given the deadly blow. Forensic scientists concluded that 12 out of 18 shots fire from the gun in a test did not match the slug from King's body (Gibbons).
Also, it is unlikely that James Earl Ray could plan a crime as complicated as the assassination of a well-known civil rights leader such as Dr. King. The killer, without connections with authorities, would have to meticulously plan every move of the crime to carry out the murder. Escaping the scene of the crime and fleeing the country would take a criminal mastermind (Leherer). Ray, being a petty criminal, was in no way qualified for such an extensive plan. He had committed small crimes in the past, and he had been caught for all of them (Leherer). Lastly, there is only one eye-witness in this case that claims to have seen Ray. This man is in no way reliable as he was a known drunk, and his story contradicts all other witnesses of this crime.
Another major question in this crime is that if James Earl Ray is not the killer, then who is? The most logical answer is the United States government in a conspiracy to eliminate this civil rights leader. The government did indeed have motive. J. Edgar Hoover, the president at the time, despised King for his views on civil rights (Gibbons). Dr. King even once said that he thought the U.S. government was against him (King 334-335). Secondly, it is believed that there were indeed army intelligence agents in Memphis at the time of the murder (Zepezauer). This created ample opportunity to fire the deadly shot. Lastly, there are certain government officials who have come forward with their alleged role in the King conspiracy. They were later hushed in order to keep the public from the truth of this atrocious murder (Zepezauer). Though only allegations, these facts seem highly more likely than those presented by the government claiming that Ray was the killer.
The definition of justice is the award of merited punishment. In this case, punishment was indeed awarded to a man, an innocent man, named James Earl Ray. The problem that lies within the punishment administered to him is that it was not merited. James Earl Ray committed no crime, and he certainly did not murder Martin Luther King. If he made any mistake at all, it was that he untruthfully pled guilty out of sheer desperation. With James Earl Ray's death, there may always be controversy over who committed the crime. Until the true assailant or assailants are identified and earnestly punished, though, the answer to the question of whether or not justice was done for either Dr. King or James Earl Ray is no. The punishment James Earl Ray was unfairly given did in no way do justice to the murder of Martin Luther King, as James Earl Ray was an innocent man.