James Earl Ray Takes A Plea


King’s Murder Gets a Life Sentence

Martin Luther King is the most iconic civil rights figure in the United States, possibly even the world.  King is usually mentioned with luminaries such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.  His 1968 assassination shocked the nation and sent waves of rioting across the country.  Many know that James Earl Ray was responsible for the murder of King, but the details of his evasion and capture are usually less known. 

Ray, a career criminal, shot King in Memphis on April 4, 1968, as King was standing on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  A single shot from a Remington rifle ended the life of the Nobel Prizewinning freedom fighter.  Ray had shot from a rooming house he had been staying at across the street from the hotel. After the shot was fired Ray immediately went on the run.

Fleeing the room, he ditched a bag that was found to contain a rifle and binoculars, both had his fingerprints on them.  Jumping into his Ford Mustang he made the 11-hour drive to Atlanta.  There he picked up some clothing and property from his apartment and made his way up to Canada via car and train. 

He hid out in the Toronto area for a month and procured a fake Canadian passport with the name Ramon George Sneyd.  He flew to London and stayed there for a while.  He formulated a plan to flee to apartheid South Africa.  His first stop was Portugal, but his travel plans collapsed when he literally missed the boat. He returned to London.  Ray then found a flight to Brussels with a connection to Africa.  What he needed was a few dollars to finance his new life.  Returning to his criminal days, he robbed a bank in London to get some cash and headed to the airport. 

The FBI had taken the King assassination case from the get-go.  The Bureau assigned almost 3,000 agents and the crime lab to find the killer.  They had quickly identified James Earl Ray as the perp.  Realizing that he had fled to Canada, they were able to determine the fake alias he was traveling under.  An alert was put out for him and his fake passport. 

On June 8th, 1968, Ray was going through customs to catch his plane.  An eagle-eyed immigration agent named Kenneth Human, saw that Ray had two passports in his bag.  After investigation, Ray was arrested and turned over to Scotland Yard, who in turn called the FBI.  The FBI brought him back to Tennessee to stand trial.

On March 10, 1969, James Earl Ray appeared in court in Tennessee and plead guilty to murder.  He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.  Ray soon recanted his confession and pointed to a conspiracy.  Although Ray died in 1998, conspiracy theories about the murder of Martin Luther King persist to this day. 

Christopher Flanagan


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