James Earl Ray

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 12th grade February 2008

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James Earl RayJames Earl Ray was born in 1928 in Alton Illinois. He was a small time crook who served several prison sentences for robbery and other small crimes. In April of 1967, he managed to escape from Missouri State Penitentiary. One year later, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot while standing on the rear balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Near the site of the murder, a high-powered rifle, presumed to be the murder weapon, was found. The rifle had been registered to Ray, and forensic experts discovered his fingerprints covering the gun. After the assassination, Ray disappeared causing police to consider him a primary suspect of the murder of Dr. King. He fled to Toronto and secured a Canadian passport and flew to London then to Lisbon, then back to London. After an international manhunt, police arrested him in a London airport while trying to escape to Brussels, Belgium.

After his arrest, Ray confessed to the murder without a trial, but he soon withdrew his confession. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison and forfeited the right to appeal the sentence. Even though he gave up his right to appeal, he immediately sought to take back his guilty plea in the days after his conviction. For the next 30 years, he filed many appeals to bring his case to trial. In his numerous appeals, he claimed that he had been set up by members of a conspiratorial group to take the sole blame for the murder of MLK. In 1978, the House of Representatives agreed to reopen the case of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. That committee concluded that Ray had been responsible for the shootings and ordered the case sealed until the year 2029. His efforts to win the appeal finally received backing from some of Martin Luther King's relatives in 1997. Coretta Scott King publically called for a trial for James Earl Ray. The next month, Dexter King, King's youngest son, visited Ray in the Riverbend Maximum Security prison in Nashville, Tennessee. Dexter King voiced that he believed Ray had been framed for his father's murder, and called for a public trial. Even with the backing of the King family, he was still not granted and appeal. During this time, Ray's health was deteriorating. He had cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis. He died on April 23, 1998.