Today, 50 years ago, Martin Luther King died
Martin Luther King Jr. is shot to death at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. A single shot fired by James Earl Ray from over 200 feet away at a nearby motel struck King in the neck. He died an hour later at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The death of America’s leading civil rights advocates stimulated a wave of rioting in the black neighborhoods of numerous cities around the nation.
Ray, who had escaped from a Missouri prison almost a year earlier, had used the aliases Eric Galt and John Willard to register in some motels in the Memphis area. He fired a Remington rifle from a restroom window that watched out onto the hotel balcony where King was standing.
Ray ran away to Canada, where he stayed for a month. Meanwhile, the FBI positioned him on the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List. After purchasing a passport under the name Sneyd, Ray took a trip to England on May 6. Within a week of arriving in London, he traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, for five days. Back in London, Ray moved from hotel to hotel up until authorities lastly caught up with him on June 8 at Heathrow Airport.
Ray was a career wrongdoer who was in and out of jail for several small-time break-ins. Considering that he had no recognized record of political hatred, many believe that Ray was paid to assassinate King. One factor that has fueled this speculation is that Ray plainly had considerable resources during the time in between the assassination and his capture.
In any event, Ray pleaded guilty before his scheduled trial started in March 1969 and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Ray recanted his confession a few months later and demanded his innocence for years. Nevertheless, his efforts to protect a new trial were futile, despite the support of members of the King family who aspired to figure out if others were included. Ray passed away on April 23, 1998.
Martin Luther King’s Assassination