James Earl Ray

James Earl Ray
James Earl Ray.jpg
Mug shot of Ray taken on July 8, 1955
Born(1928-03-10)March 10, 1928
DiedApril 23, 1998(1998-04-23) (aged 70)
Parent(s)James Gerald Ray
Lucille Ray[1]
Conviction(s)Murder, prison escape,
armed robbery, burglary
Criminal penalty99 years imprisonment (one year was added after his re-capture for a total of 100 years)
VictimsMartin Luther King Jr.
DateApril 4, 1968

James Earl Ray (March 10, 1928 – April 23, 1998) was an American fugitive and felon convicted of assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. Ray was convicted on his 41st birthday after entering a guilty plea to forgo a jury trial. Had he been found guilty by jury trial, he would have been eligible for the death penalty.[2]

Sentenced to de facto life imprisonment, he later recanted his confession and tried unsuccessfully to gain access to a retrial. In 1998, Ray died in prison of complications due to chronic hepatitis C infection.

Early life and education

Ray was born to a poor family on March 10, 1928, in Alton, Illinois, the son of Lucille (née Maher) and George Ellis Ray. He had Ulster Scots and Irish ancestry and had a Catholic upbringing.[3]

In February 1935, Ray's father, known by the nickname Speedy, passed a bad check in Alton, Illinois, then moved to Ewing, Missouri, where the family had to change their name to Raynes to avoid law enforcement.[4] Ray left school at the age of fifteen. He later joined the U.S. Army at the close of World War II and served in Germany, although Ray struggled to adapt to military life.[5]

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