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Thursday, April 23, 1998 Published at 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK

World: Americas

Luther King killer dead
image: [ James Earl Ray continued to campaign for a re-trial despite failing health ]
James Earl Ray continued to campaign for a re-trial despite failing health

James Earl Ray, the convicted killer of the black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, has died, aged 70, still protesting his innocence.

Real Video: BBC Correspondent Philippa Thomas reports from Washington
Officials in the Tennessee prison department said he died in hospital where he was being treated for terminal liver disease. He had been treated in hospital several times in the last 15 months.

Dr King died from a single rifle shot as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, on April 4, 1968. The assassination touched off race riots in more than 100 cities and set off one of the biggest manhunts in U.S. history.

BBC correspondent Bill Turnbull: "We'll never know the truth." (1'29)
Ray, an escaped convict, was captured in London more than a year later.

He pleaded guilty to the killing and was sentenced to 99 years in prison for the murder, but later withdrew his confession.

His case was taken up by the King family, which has campaigned for a new investigation into the assassination in the belief that it may have been plotted by senior officials in the US Government.

The King family issued a statement expressing grief over the death of Ray and renewed its call for a fresh inquiry.

[ image: Martin Luther King: mystery over his assassination]
Martin Luther King: mystery over his assassination
Events marking the anniversary of Dr King's assassination in Memphis last month were dominated by a debate over the viability of claims that new evidence points to a vast government conspiracy to kill him.

Some black leaders regard the campaign for a new inquiry as a distraction from the search to put Martin Luther King's vision into action.


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