On today’s date, June 8 in 1968, James Earl Ray, was arrested in London, England, and charged with the assassination of African American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Dr. King was killed by a gunshot from a sniper while he stood on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Later that evening, investigators found a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle one block from the Lorraine on a sidewalk by a rooming house near the Motel. Over subsequent weeks, the weapon, fingerprints found on it, as well as eyewitness accounts all combined to point a guilty finger one James Earl Ray (above), a small-time criminal who had escaped from a prison in Missouri wherein he was serving a sentence for a holdup, and from which he had escaped in April of 1967. Ray had been able to escape the massive manhunt that had been seeking him by using a false ID to acquire a Canadian passport which was fairly easy to do at that time.
Ray – the Likely Suspect
Since his escape from prison in Missouri, Ray had moved around the south and southwest of the U.S., even spending time in Mexico trying to produce pornographic films.
But eventually, he returned to Los Angeles, CA. where he took an interest in George Wallace’s presidential campaign. Ray was an outspoken racist, and liked Wallace’s segregationist platform. He considered moving to Rhodesia where a white minority government ruled. Indeed this was Ray’s ultimate destination when he was arrested by investigators from Scotland Yard on today’s date at London’s Heathrow Airport. The name on Ray’s passport — Sneyd — was on a watchlist kept by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Officials then noticed that Ray carried a second passport under a second name. Clearly this man up to something. So he was apprehended by Scotland Yard and identified as the suspect in the murder of Dr. King. He was then quickly extradited back to the U.S. where he was charged with Dr. King’s killing. Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King’s murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Ray Recants Confession, Later Attempts to Escape.
It took Ray a mere three days to recant his confession. He claimed that he had been set up as a “patsy” in a larger conspiracy Allegedly a shadowy character named “Raoul” had gotten him involved in a gun-running scheme. But by April 4 he realized that he was the intended fall-guy for the King murder, and that this had been why he had fled to Canada and from there on to London.
Ray’s motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years. Ray made an attempt with six fellow convicts to flee captivity, escaping from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee, on June 10, 1977. But this freedom was short-lived as Ray and the others were recaptured on June 13. A year was added to Ray’s previous sentence, totaling it to 100 years. There have been numerous conspiracy theories set up around this case as always happens in the case of political murders. Some of these theories have even been supported by some members of the late Dr. King’s family. But none of them ever held up. Ray died at the Columbia Nashville Memorial Hospital in Nashville on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70, from complications related to kidney disease and liver failure caused by hepatitis.