On this Day in History: June 8, 1968

On this Day in History: June 8, 1968

On June 8, 1968, James Earl Ray was arrested in London and charged with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of America's most prominent civil rights leaders. 

 In Memphis 1968, King was standing outside on a balcony at Motel Lorraine when he was fatally shot by a sniper bullet. 

 That same evening, it appeared there was a Remington hunting rifle that was left on the sidewalk one block from the motel. 

 Over the next several weeks, all points in the investigations led to Ray through eyewitness reports and fingerprints found on the rifle that matched with Ray's. 

 In May of 1968, a major manhunt was underway to locate Ray; the FBI eventually discovered that Ray had a Canadian passport under a false identity. 

 When Ray was arrested June 8 in a London airport, he originally wanted to fly to Belgium and then to Rhodesia, which is now known as Zimbabwe. At the time, this country was ruled by an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government.

Ray appeared in the Memphis court in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King's murder. 

 He was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Ray attempted to withdraw his plea three days later, claiming he had been set up and that he was innocent. He said that in 1967, a man named Raoul had found him and recruited him into a gunrunning enterprise. 

 But, Ray eventually realized the next year that there was nothing he could do about getting out of the assassination charge, so he fled for Canada. The court denied his motion and many other requests for a trail during the next 29 years.

As years passed, the U.S. Justice Department, district attorney's office and the House Select Committee on Assassinations reexamined the murder case. All their findings ended with the same conclusion: that Ray killed King. There was also no evidence to prove that a conspiracy might have existed. Government officials concluded that Ray's motive for killing King was hatred. Ray was an outspoken racist who told his family and friends of his intent to kill King. Ray died in 1998.