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Bullet test results due in King assassination


May 21, 1997
Web posted at: 3:14 p.m. EDT (1914 GMT)

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Criminal experts might know by the end of the day whether James Earl Ray Jr.'s hunting rifle was the murder weapon that killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Technicians at the CamScan laboratory were to use a powerful scanning electron microscope to zoom in on markings made on bullets test-fired from the hunting rifle found with Ray's fingerprints on it near the Memphis motel where King was slain in 1968.

The test bullets are to be compared to a bullet taken from King's body. If tests prove Ray's rifle was not the murder weapon, he can ask for a hearing on his assertion of innocence. The results, however, may not be released until June.

Eighteen test bullets were fired from Ray's .30-06 Remington rifle last week in Rhode Island and taken to the CamScan lab near Pittsburgh for the analysis.

Ray, who initially confessed to the assassination only to recant his story days later, is serving a 99-year prison sentence.

A Tennessee judge ordered the tests on the bullets, paving the way for the first steps toward a trial for Ray -- who went straight to prison in 1969 after confessing to King's murder. The test results are to be sent to the Tennessee judge, and then passed on to defense lawyers and prosecutors.


Ray's defense attorneys say the tests will prove King was not assassinated by bullets from Ray's rifle. Prosecutors contend that the tests will show Ray was the lone assassin.

King's family and other civil rights leaders support the idea of a trial, having long feared Ray would take the truth to his grave if a trial is never held. Ray, 69, has terminal liver disease and is in need of a transplant.

Ray admitted buying the rifle and bringing it to Memphis, but he now claims a gunrunner named "Raoul" planted it at the scene.


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