5 things to know about James Earl Ray, the man who shot Martin Luther King Jr.

On April 4th, 2018, one of the greatest civil rights activists, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed while he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Here’s what we know about King’s murderer, James Earl Ray.

1 He sought help from hypnotists.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Ray lived in Southern California for a few years under the alias Eric Galt. While there, he visited the psychologist Mark Freeman, who specialized in hypnotism. William Bradford Huie, who wrote a book about Ray, also told the Times that Ray consulted with Scientologists, and that at the same time he was taking dance classes and bartender lessons.

2 Ray had a long criminal record.

At the time of King’s killing, Ray was fleeing authorities after escaping from prison in Missouri. The criminal was even called “The Mole” because of how many times he had escaped prison.

3 He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Ray died of complications from hepatitis C in 1998, when he was 70 years old. At the time of his death, he was serving a 99-year prison term for the murder of King.

4 There was no trial because of his confession.

Less than a year after the assassination, Ray pleaded guilty to the crime. He signed an account of the murder in March 1969, and in exchange for his confession, he was spared the death penalty. However, three days after he confessed, Ray wrote in a letter that he wished to withdraw his plea and have a trial. His request was ignored.

5 Some believe that Ray didn’t kill King.

Despite Ray’s confession, some have claimed that King’s murder was the work of a larger organization. According to the Washington Post, King’s wife Coretta Scott King and youngest daughter Bernice King believe that Ray was framed by the FBI, which was really responsible for King’s death. This idea partially stems from the fact that the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had reportedly ordered the surveillance of King in 1963. Ray’s claim that he was innocent and the lack of witnesses of the moment the murder weapon was fired have also bolstered belief in this theory.

Regardless of whether or not Ray was really guilty, King’s assassination was a tragedy. As a country, we have come a long way since King’s death, and we will look to his teachings as we continue his fight against injustice.

Filed Under