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James Earl Ray

Telling his story in public for the first time, James Early Ray appeared before the House Assassination Committee in Washington in August 1978. Ray swore that he did not kill Martin Luther King, Jr. and was not even present at the murder scene.

© Bettmann/CORBIS

When civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, it sparked a two-month manhunt that spanned several countries.

James Earl Ray, a small-time criminal who had escaped from a Missouri prison one year earlier, was the subject of the manhunt. Ray came under suspicion after investigators connected him to a hotel reservation made under the assumed name Eric Starvo Galt. They began tracking Ray and questioning his friends and associates, revealing Ray's multistate trek and potential plans to head out of the country. A search of 175,000 passports turned up one under the name George Ramon Sneyd that looked suspiciously like Ray. Ray, posing as "Sneyd," was tracked to Canada, Portugal and the United Kingdom. He was arrested on June 8, 1969, at Heathrow Airport in London.

After confirming his identity, Ray was extradited to the U.S. where he confessed to King's murder. A bundle found at the crime scene included a rifle with Ray's fingerprints on it. Ray entered a plea and was sentenced to 99 years for King's assassination. Three days later, Ray recanted, saying he was part of a conspiracy. By 1997, the King family agreed that Ray did not act alone and offered their support for a new trial. While awaiting this trial, Ray died in 1998 at age 70 [sources: CBS, CNN, Gribben].

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