BlackFacts Details

James Earl Ray

Best Known As:

The man who killed Martin Luther King, Jr.

James Earl Ray is the man who shot and killed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on 4 April 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. King was killed while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, and police determined that Ray had shot him with a rifle from the window of a rented room across the street. Ray, who had a record as a petty criminal and was an escapee from a Missouri prison, disappeared but was captured in England two months later and charged with killing King. Ray pled guilty to the charge in 1969 and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. However, he soon tried to take back his guilty plea, claiming to be innocent. By the 1990s his continued requests for a new trial had gained fresh life; a Memphis bar owner named Loyd Jowers even claimed that he participated in a plot to kill King. Kings son Dexter met with Ray in 1997 and publicly supported him, and the next year Attorney General Janet Reno ordered a full review of the case. That review ended in 2000 with a finding that no credible evidence existed to support the claims of Jowers or the various other conspiracy theories. Ray died in prison in 1998.

Extra Credit

Ray used the alias Eric S. Galt in the months before he killed King.

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