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Sunday, 26 April, 1998, 21:33 GMT 22:33 UK
King family invited to Ray's funeral
king ray
Dexter King told Ray he believed him innocent
The family of James Earl Ray, the convicted killer of Martin Luther King, want to hold his funeral at a black church and plan to invite relatives of the murdered civil rights leader.

Ray, 70, died in prison in Tennessee on Thursday still protesting his innocence.

His relatives hope to hold a public funeral at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Memphis - the city where Dr King was shot in 1968.

Protests of innocence

Members of the King family have supported claims of Ray's innocence.

In that spirit Ray's brother Jerry said he hoped Dr King's relatives would attend the funeral.

king
Dr King: thousands marched to pay tribute on the 30th anniversary of his death
"It will be a memorial to James to show he did 30 years for a crime that he didn't commit," he said.

The Reverend Herbert Lester, minister at the church, said on Sunday that he had not been approached by the Rays about the planned funeral.

But he added: "I'd be open to talking about it."

Funeral services for Ray are due to be conducted by the Reverend James Lawson, a former pastor of Centenary United, who invited Dr King to speak to striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968.

It was during that visit that Dr King was fatally shot on a motel balcony.

Ray, an escaped convict on the run, was arrested in London for the murder more than a year after the killing.

He subsequently pleaded guilty and avoided the death penalty, but later recanted his confession.

Calls for new investigation

Ray's lawyer has claimed that an alleged conspiracy to kill Dr King involved the US army, the FBI, the Mafia and the Memphis police department, and that President Lyndon Johnson knew about it.

This version of events has been supported by Dr King's son Dexter, who last year went to meet Ray in prison and expressed his belief in the prisoner's innocence.

king
Scott King: full truth has not emerged
Dr King's widow Coretta Scott King has also appealed to US President Bill Clinton for the case to be reopened.

She has said she wants a national commission similar to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the assassination.

Such a commission, she has said, would provide immunity and protection for anyone who came forward with information.

However, many other black leaders are upset by the actions of the Kings and in particular Dexter King. They maintain that Ray was guilty and say that claims to the contrary play into the hands of white racists.

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