- Key Dates in the Life of James Earl
March 10, 1928 - Ray is born in Alton, Ill.
- 1967 - Ray escapes from the Missouri
State Penitentiary where he was serving time for robbery and being a habitual
- April 4, 1968 - Martin Luther King Jr.
is slain at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Race riots follow in more than
- June 1968 - Ray is captured in London
in connection with the King slaying.
- March 1969 - Ray pleads guilty in Memphis
to the King assassination and is sentenced to 99 years in prison. He recants
three days later.
- 1978 - The U.S. House Select Committee
on Assassinations concludes there was a conspiracy to kill King. The panel
says Ray shot King, but a St. Louis-based conspiracy of racial bigots was
behind the slaying.
- 1991 - Ray releases a book, ``Who Killed
Martin Luther King? The True Story by the Alleged Assassin,'' in which
he claims his guilty plea was coerced and his court appearance was a sham.
- March 1993 - A mock Ray trial is held
on the HBO cable TV channel. He is acquitted.
- December 1993 - Former Memphis businessman
Loyd Jowers claims he was paid by a former associate to hire a hit man
to kill King, and it was not Ray. Prosecutors discount the claim.
- April 1994 - A Memphis judge allows Ray's
attorney to call witnesses and present evidence in court to try to prove
- May 1995 - Ray loses another bid in his
appeals for a new trial, when the state Supreme Court rules he had exhausted
his legal remedies.
- Early 1997 - As Ray lies seriously ill,
both his family and King's family renew calls for a trial to establish
who killed King.
- February 1997 - In ruling that bolstered
effort for a trial, judge rules new technology could show whether Ray's
rifle killed King. Matter referred to appeals court.
- April 1997 - Criminal Court Judge Joe
Brown agreed to have the rifle test fired but postponed the firing indefinitely
while lawyers worked out procedures for the test.
- May 1997 - Rifle test fired at a laboratory
at the University of Rhode Island. Ballistics tests comparing bullets with
surviving fragments of the one that killed King prove inconclusive.
- March 1998 - The judge who allowed the
gun tests and made other rulings favorable to Ray was removed from the
case. The state Court of Criminal Appeals found Brown appeared biased in
Ray's favor. Also in March, the district attorney said a reinvestigation
of the King slaying still found no credible evidence that anyone other
than Ray committed the crime.
- Key Evidence in James Earl Ray Case 4-23-98
- (AP) Evidence that James Earl Ray killed
Martin Luther King, and Ray's explanations:
- He pleaded guilty in 1969, avoiding the
possibility of the death penalty, and the plea has been upheld in state
and federal courts eight times. Ray's answer: He was coerced into making
- Ray, a fugitive from a Missouri prison,
came to Memphis on April 3, 1968, the day before the killing, and rented
a motel room using an assumed name. Several hours before the murder, he
used another assumed name to rent a room at a flophouse near the Lorraine
Motel, where King was staying. Ray's answer: He was in Memphis to meet
with a gunrunner named Raoul and rented rooms at his direction.
- Ray bought a .30-06 hunting rifle in
Alabama and brought it to Memphis. It was found a few hundred feet from
the murder scene with his fingerprints on it. It was the type of gun used
to kill King, though ballistics tests were not conclusive. Authorities
say the shot came from the flophouse where Ray was staying. Ray's answer:
He brought the gun as part of Raoul's gunrunning operation. He gave the
rifle to Raoul at the rooming house shortly before the shooting and then
went out to run some errands.
- A small radio with Ray's former inmate
number from the Missouri prison was found with the rifle and a bundle authorities
say he dropped while fleeing. Ray's answer: The rifle and other items were
left outside the flophouse to frame him.
- Another rooming house resident told police
he saw Ray in a hallway seconds after the shooting. Ray's answer: The witness
was too drunk to identify anyone.
- Ray fled Memphis after the shooting and
wasn't found until two months later, in England. Ray's answer: He fled
in his white 1966 Ford Mustang when he tried to return to the rooming house
but found police swarming into the area. He heard on the radio that police
were looking for a man driving a white Mustang.
- Additional questions about Ray, including
whether he may have been part of a conspiracy to kill King, cited by others:
- The U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations
concluded in 1978 that Ray killed King, perhaps in hopes of collecting
a $50,000 bounty offered by a group of racial bigots in St. Louis. The
committee said Ray may have stalked King in Selma, Ala., and Atlanta prior
to coming to Memphis.
- Conspiracy theorists have long argued
that Ray could not have fled the country and avoided authorities for as
long as he did unless he had help. In 1992 book, ``Who Killed Martin Luther
King?'' Ray tells of his flight to Canada and then England with a brief
trip to Portugal. He describes how he got fake identification and a passport
but does not mention getting help from anyone who knew what he was up to.
- James Earl Ray Dies By Joe Edwards 4-23-98
- NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - James Earl Ray,
the petty criminal who confessed to assassinating Martin Luther King Jr.,
then recanted and spent decades seeking a trial, died this morning. He
- Ray, who was serving a 99-year prison
sentence for the April 4, 1968, slaying, died of kidney failure and complications
from liver disease, said his brother, Jerry Ray. He had been hospitalized
repeatedly since late 1996.
- By pleading guilty in March 1969, Ray
avoided the possibility of a conviction at trial and a death sentence.
He then argued for years that he was coerced into making the plea.
- His attempt to get a trial drew an unlikely
coalition that included his family as well as King's family and other civil
rights leaders who believe King was the victim of a murder conspiracy,
not a lone man.
- ``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,'' Coretta Scott King, the slain civil rights
leader's wife, said shortly after Ray's death.
- Wayne Chastain, one of Ray's lawyers,
agreed: ``We still think he's innocent. ... History will have to write
the final verdict,'' Chastain said today.
- William Gibbons, the lead state prosecutor
in Memphis, said Ray's legal petitions aimed at getting his guilty plea
thrown out are now over.
- ``About the only thing I can say is I
believe the history books will accurately record that James Earl Ray was
the killer of Dr. King,'' Gibbons said.
- The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a co-founder
of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said earlier that he
never believed Ray was smart enough to plan the assassination alone.
- Dexter King, one of the slain civil rights
leader's four children, met with Ray in 1997 at Riverbend Maximum Security
Institution in Nashville and said he no longer believed Ray killed his
- But prosecutors cited the evidence against
Ray and noted that courts had repeatedly upheld the guilty plea.
- It was 30 years ago this month when King
was shot while standing on a second- floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel
in Memphis. He was in town to support striking sanitation workers.
- The assassination touched off race riots
in more than 100 cities and set off one of the biggest manhunts in U.S.
- Ray, a fugitive from a Missouri prison
where he was serving time for robbery, was staying in a flophouse near
the Lorraine at the time of the assassination. He had a lengthy criminal
record, including armed robbery, burglary, forgery and unauthorized use
of a motor vehicle.
- He fled the city shortly after the shooting
and was captured in London two months later.
- When he pleaded guilty the following
year, he agreed to a detailed description of how investigators said the
- Prosecutor Phil M. Canale Jr. said there
was no evidence of a conspiracy. He did not outline a motive for the killing
or accuse Ray of being a racist.
- Even though he had told the judge he
understood the plea couldn't be appealed, Ray began trying to take it back
three days later. He claimed he was set up by a shadowy gun dealer he met
in Montreal and knew only as Raoul, and said he was off changing a tire
when the shooting happened. Authorities have never established any connection
between Raoul and the slaying, and numerous courts said there was no evidence
anyone else was involved. No one else was ever charged.
- In a report this March, state prosecutors
in Memphis said the person identified by Ray as Raoul existed but had nothing
to do with the killing. His name was not released. Prosecutors said the
man was in his home city working when King was shot. The U.S. House
Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1978 that Ray was the killer
but a group of racial bigots in St. Louis, reportedly with a $50,000 bounty
on King's head, might have been involved, too.
- The House committee issued a report on
the killing but its investigative files are sealed until the year 2029.
Civil rights groups have lobbied for those records to be opened.
- Ray's last legal effort concentrated
on tests he wanted conducted on the rifle that prosecutors say was the
murder weapon. It had been purchased by Ray and was found near the murder
scene moments after King was shot, with Ray's fingerprints on it. But Ray
claimed it was placed there to frame him.
- Ballistics tests by the FBI and a congressional
committee in the 1970s failed to prove beyond a scientific doubt that the
rifle was the murder weapon, though King was killed with a similar gun.
- Ray's lawyers argued that more sensitive
tests developed since the '70s might show the gun was not the murder weapon.
But tests that were undertaken after a court ruling in 1997 proved to be
- The efforts to gain a trial were dealt
a severe blow this March 6 when Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown, who allowed
the gun tests and made other rulings favorable to Ray, was removed from
the case. The state Court of Criminal Appeals found he appeared biased
in Ray's favor. A replacement judge was not appointed.
- Ray had been in poor health, suffering
most notably from cirrhosis of the liver believed caused by hepatitis,
which he apparently contracted during a blood transfusion after being stabbed
by black inmates in 1981.
- Funeral arrangements weren't immediately
announced, but earlier this year Jerry Ray said his brother wished to be
cremated and his ashes flown to Ireland.
- Previously, Jerry Ray had said his brother
wanted his ashes sprinkled on the FBI building in Washington.
- King-Ray Alliance Baffles Observers By
Paul Shepard 4-25-98
- WASHINGTON (AP) - The dreamer's son and
the dream-killer spoke only a few minutes that day 13 months ago. But the
prison meeting between a deathly ill James Earl Ray and Dexter King, son
of Martin Luther King Jr., left many in the civil rights movement cringing.
- Ray peered into the eyes of Dexter King
and mumbled, ``I had nothing to do with shooting your father.''
- Replied King, seated three feet away,
``I believe you.''
- In that meeting on March 27, 1997, America's
first family of civil rights seemed to deliver absolution to a man who
by nearly all accounts was responsible for murdering King.
- In the aftermath of Ray's death Thursday,
the King family's relationship with the convicted murder stands as one
of the more bizarre twists in the 30-year ordeal set off by King's shooting
on a Memphis motel balcony.
- ``I simply don't understand it,'' said
Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles, pastor of Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis
and a former King aide who stood alongside the civil rights leader as the
fatal shots were fired in 1968.
- ``I would much rather have seen Dexter
say, `In the spirit of my father, I forgive you. Now tell me who else was
involved.' But to say that he believes in Ray's innocence when everything
points right there, I just .
- Kyles didn't complete the sentence. He
didn't need to convey his incredulity, a sense shared by Julian Bond, another
former King aide who now is board chairman of the NAACP.
- ``I'm mystified,'' Bond said last week
of the King-Ray alliance. ``I have never seen any evidence that shows that
James Earl Ray did not pull the trigger. I'm open to the argument that
others were involved, but to say Ray wasn't involved is impossible to me.''
- Ray's Friday autopsy showed he died of
liver failure caused by chronic hepatitis. He had tried in vain to get
a liver transplant that he hoped would give him more time to prove he didn't
- A high school dropout and petty criminal,
Ray confessed 11 months after the shooting to assassinating King, then
fled to London. He was captured, brought back and tried. Three days after
receiving a 99-year prison sentence, he recanted the confession.
- The rifle used in the shooting was traced
to him. Ray's fingerprints were found in the room from where the shots
were fired. A witness testified seeing Ray at the hotel room moments after
- A House of Representatives committee
investigated and concluded in 1978 that Ray shot King but that others may
have been involved.
- Attorney General Janet Reno, acting on
a request by King's widow, agreed this year, to consider a reinvestigation.
- Last month, the District Attorney's office
in Shelby County, Tennessee, released a voluminous report on the evidence
and stated the state ``remains absolutely convinced of James Earl Ray's
- ``The evidence against him is overwhelming,''
the report read.
- In recent years, Ray and his attorney
William Pepper waged a high-profile campaign for a new trial, and members
of the King family became some of Ray's strongest supporters in the effort.
- Days after Dexter King met with Ray,
Martin Luther King III, new president of the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference his father helped found, joined his younger brother in proclaiming
- ``I have always felt it was a conspiracy,''
King III said at the time. ``Mr. Ray has just been used as a patsy.''
- Following Ray's death, the family released
a statement saying it was ``deeply saddened'' and again proclaiming his
- Author Gerald Posner re-examined the
assassination of the new book ``Killing the Dream'' and concluded that
Ray, possibly with the help of others, did shoot King.
- Posner said the King family's willingness
to ignore the evidence and accept Ray's innocence represents ``a final
victory'' for Ray.
- ``For the King family to exonerate Ray
is a complete perversion of the truth,'' Posner said in an interview. ``Sadly,
it allows Ray to go to his grave knowing he pulled off the murder and pulled
one over on the King family.''
- Posner said the government campaign led
by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI to discredit King may have made the family susceptible
to the idea Ray was framed. He added that Pepper, Ray's attorney, is a
``very effective presenter of his evidence.''
- ``He seems loaded with documents and
new witnesses, but his information always falls on its face,'' Posner said.
``It's sad the family is willing to put their stamp of approval to it.
They've bought the whole kit.''
- Pepper could not be reached for comment.
- So while Ray may have taken the truth
with him to the grave, some like Bond are left to wonder why the people
with the greatest reason to shun Ray chose to embrace him.
- ``I just hope the Kings know something
that no one else knows,'' Bond said. ``And I'd like them to tell the rest
of us what the information is.''