James Earl Ray

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A Shot Against Freedom: The Assassination of Martin Luther King

James Earl Ray was the perfect man to fit the description of King's murderer. He was a white, racist, petty criminal, an army throw-away, a nobody trying to make a name for himself. He left the perfect evidence behind as well, a rifle with his prints, and a personal radio with his prison ID engraved on it. James was also quite an unstable individual. At his own request, in 1966 Ray began psychological counseling to quiet the voices in his head (Gribben 2005). It turned out to be something of a mistake, because the authorities that had watched him do his time quietly with only that one rule violation learned they had a neurotic, obsessive-compulsive paranoid on their hands.

James Earl Ray managed to stay out of trouble as a child -- a little truant, perhaps, but generally not a bad kid. He had it rough; his family was poor, they moved around frequently, thanks to a couple of shiftless relatives that made life difficult in the small towns in the Midwest the family lived in. He was accused of theft in the sixth grade, and by the time he was 15, he had had enough of school. He got his first taste of prison life after joining the Army and getting sent to Germany in the years following World War II. Seems James liked to drink and got himself arrested by the MPs on a drunk and disorderly charge. He was sentenced to 90 days hard labor in the stockade (Gribben 2005). When he got out of the service, he began drifting around and spending a few nights in jail for vagrancy. His first big arrest came in 1949 and he served eight months in a California jail for burglary (Fisher 2006). In 1952, he did two years for an armed robbery of a taxi driver in Illinois (Fisher 2006). With all of these facts it would seem that James was the most probable suspect, but one would be wrong to make those generalizations without the whole picture.

Doubts about Earl being the assassin of King have been widespread since almost directly after the time that King was murdered. Many have speculated that the FBI, especially J. Edgar Hoover, was involved in the murder of Martin Luther King. J. Edgar Hoover had a strong contempt for Martin Luther King. Hoover wasn't necessarily a racist; he just hated anybody who challenged his almost omnipotent power over the American justice system (Lane 58).
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