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James Earl Ray
*On this date, in 1928, James Earl Ray was born. He was a white-American fugitive and felon.
Ray was born on March 10, 1928, in Alton, Illinois, the son of Lucille and George Ellis Ray. He had Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry and a Catholic upbringing. Ray was the firstborn of nine children, including John Larry Ray, Franklin Ray, Jerry William Ray, Melba Ray, Carol Ray Pepper, Suzan Ray, and Marjorie Ray. His sister Marjorie died in a fire as a young child.
In February 1935, Ray's father, known by the nickname Speedy, passed a bad check in Alton, Illinois, then moved to Ewing, Missouri, where the family changed their name to Raynes to avoid law enforcement. Ray left school at the age of fifteen. He later joined the U.S. Army at the close of World War II and served in Germany. Ray struggled to adapt to military life and was eventually discharged for ineptness and lack of adaptability in 1948.
Twenty years later, he was convicted of assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. Ray was convicted on his 41st birthday after entering a guilty plea to forgo a jury trial and was subsequently sentenced to 99 years imprisonment for the murder of King. Had he been found guilty by jury trial, he would have been eligible for the death penalty.
He would have been eligible for parole in 2018 after serving half his sentence (49 1/2 years), at which point he would have been 90 years old. At the time of his death in 1998, he had served 29 years of his sentence. James Earl Ray died on April 23, 1998.