Assassination of Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Part 5

About the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., history and account of alleged assassin James Earl Ray.



The Alleged Assassin: James Earl Ray was one of eight children of James Gerald Ray and Lucille Maher. Ray's mother became an alcoholic and died in 1961. Although Ray and his brothers reported their father dead also, Jerry Ray--who had changed his last name to Rayns--is still alive. Because he had been out of touch with his son for some time, he could give little information to the authorities. But he did say that if James had killed King, "he couldn't have planned it alone; he wasn't smart enough for that."

Ray dropped out of school in the 10th grade and worked at menial jobs until 1946, when he joined the U.S. Army. On Dec. 23, 1948, he was discharged for "ineptness and lack of adaptability to military service." Thereafter he was arrested for a series of armed robberies, served three years for forgery, and was involved in other small-time smuggling and burglary activities.

When he escaped from Missouri State Prison at Jefferson City on Apr. 23, 1967, he was not regarded as much of a criminal. His "wanted" poster offered the minimum reward of $50 and displayed the wrong set of fingerprints. He was aided by his brother Jerry and remained at large until his capture in England in June. After his incarceration for the King murder, Ray managed to escape from prison again on June 10, 1977. He eluded a massive manhunt until June 13, when he was recaptured and returned to jail.

Ray, who pleaded guilty, maintains his innocence to this day. He claims that "Raoul," a shadowy figure known only to Ray, gave him money and orders. Ray states that he took the money and followed the orders, but that he does not know who, in fact, killed Dr. King.

The evidence that Ray did not act on his own is overwhelming. He had neither the resources nor the contacts to supply himself with passports, money, and weaponry. The bullet recovered from Dr. King's body has never been scientifically linked with the alleged murder weapon. Ray's motive in the killing, had he acted alone, would also be subject to question. It wasn't James Earl Ray who had publicly denounced Dr. King, and it wasn't Ray who had the resources necessary to travel 20,000 mi. and spend vast amounts of money. But it is Ray who has been saddled with the crime and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

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