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Ray tells M.L. King's son he didn't kill his father

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March 27, 1997
Web posted at: 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT)

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- James Earl Ray told a son of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Thursday in an extraordinary meeting that "I had nothing to do with shooting your father."

Later during their conversation in a state prison hospital, Dexter King asked the dying Ray point-blank if he killed the civil rights leader.

king and ray

"No, I didn't," Ray replied.

"I believe you," King said, "and my family believes you."

icon The question
(196K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
icon The reaction
(672K/14 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

King and Ray met at the Lois DeBerry Special Needs Facility where Ray is serving 99 years for killing King. Ray, 69, is being treated for terminal liver disease.

Ray pleaded guilty to the 1968 shooting of King on a hotel balcony in Memphis and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

But he later recanted his confession, which he said was made to avoid facing the death penalty, and claims he was framed. He has proclaimed his innocence ever since, and it has generated considerable support elsewhere.

'No, I didn't. No, no.'

The King family has joined in the call for a trial for Ray, saying it is the only way they'll know the truth about King's death.

"This has been an especially painful issue for the family for some time," said family spokesman Phillip Jones before the meeting. "They are trying to heal. In calling for a new trial, the family is very interested in seeing justice."

Dexter King, 36, told Ray that the media always asked if he believed that Ray had killed his father, and "I would always say I don't know."

He told Ray that it was "important for myself and my family to reach out firsthand and for all time's sake have this opportunity. I want to ask for the record: did you kill my father?"

"No, I didn't," Ray said. "No, no. But sometimes you have to make your own evaluation and maybe come to the conclusion. I think that could be done today, but not 30 years ago...."

Lowering his voice, Ray went into a rambling discussion of a conspiracy and government cover-up. He also mentioned his reputation as a "con," alluding to the fact that he was a petty criminal before his arrest for King's assassination.

'I believe you, and my family believes you'

"As awkward as it may seem, I believe you and my family believes you," King said, "and we will do everything in our power to see you prevail."

After the two men spoke before cameras and microphones for about 20 minutes, the room was cleared and they spoke privately.

A judge in Memphis ruled last month that the technology exists that might prove once and for all if Ray's rifle killed King. He asked a state appeals court to rule on whether he can order new tests on the rifle and on the bullet taken from King's body.

Ray requested the tests in an attempt to get a trial.


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