Civil rights activist, clergyman, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King, Jr., met with a tragic end, when he was assassinated on 4th April, 1968. He was only 39 years old. The world lost a courageous leader and a human rights icon (as he is referred to even today).
On the fateful day, King was in Memphis, Tennessee, staying in the Lorraine Motel. He was to lead a protest march to support the black sanitary public works employees, as they were paid less in comparison to their white counterparts. But, it remained incomplete as, at 6 pm, King was shot while he was standing on the second floor balcony of the motel.
He was declared dead within one hour at St. Joseph's Hospital. Following the assassination, immediate riots arose in more than 50 cities in the United States. James Earl Ray was charged with murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Who was James Earl Ray
He was fugitive and a small-time criminal. Two months after King's murder, Ray was arrested at Heathrow Airport, London. He was trying to escape to Canada using a fake passport. Ray confessed to King's assassination. He was convicted and sentenced to 99 years of imprisonment. Surprisingly, Ray immediately retracted.
He pleaded innocent several times, and claimed that he had confessed under pressure. But to no avail. On 10th June, 1977, he, along with other six convicts, escaped from the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. However, they were recaptured within three days. As a punishment, one more year was added to their sentence, making it 100 years of imprisonment.
Twenty years later, King's son, Dexter King met Ray and supported his efforts to obtain a new trial. King's family does not believe Ray to be the assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr. According to some investigations, Ray was an ordinary thief and almost incapable of committing any violent crime, single-handedly.
There was no previous record of any serious crime committed by him. He attempted several pleas of innocence, but failed to get his name cleared. Ray died in the prison in 1998, due to liver failure at the age of 70.
Claims of Conspiracy
Various speculations were made about the assassin and death of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was claimed that King was killed through a high-level conspiracy that involved the government and the FBI. It was alleged that James Ray was merely a scapegoat in the conspiracy (similar allegations were made about Lee Oswald, the assassin of President Kennedy).
Ray was, perhaps, pressurized to confess the crime, on condition that he would not have to face a death penalty. The witnesses, present with King at the time of his assassination, claim that the bullet shot was fired from a shrub and not from the window of the opposite room, as claimed.
In 1999, King's family won the 'wrongful death claim' against Loyd Jowers, a restaurant owner in Memphis, and other unknown conspirators. Jowers was found guilty, but no further investigations were possible due to lack of evidence about the alleged conspiracy. Perhaps, King was killed to curb the civil rights and the anti-war movement in America.
King's family believes that he was killed through a conspiracy, involving government officials. It can also be a possibility that there was no conspiracy, and the assassination of King was committed by James Earl Ray himself, as he was also believed to be a racist and segregationist psychopath.
Mystery still revolves around the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Whoever may be the assassin, with King's assassination, America lost one of its greatest leaders.