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1998: Martin Luther King killer dies

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

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 4 April 1968.

The assassination sparked race riots in more than 100 cities and set off one of the biggest manhunts in US history.

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 to escape the electric chair, but three days after his jail sentence began he withdrew his confession.

Campaign to clear Ray's name

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.

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.

Ray was known to have a fanatical hatred of black people. Even while serving his sentence in Missouri, he rejected a move to an open farm prison where conditions were better on the grounds he could not live with black inmates.

In Context
Members of the King family who supported James Earl Rays' fight to clear his name believed the US Government may have been involved in Dr King's death.

Their case was strengthened in December 1999 when a jury in a wrongful death case brought by the King family, decided the civil rights leader was the victim of a murder conspiracy.

But in June 2000 the US Justice Department said it had uncovered no reliable evidence of a conspiracy.


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