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James Earl Ray loses bid for hearing

Ray September 18, 1997
Web posted at: 2:31 p.m. EDT (1831 GMT)

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- James Earl Ray was dealt a setback Thursday in his bid for a trial in the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. A judge denied a motion from attorneys who said Ray was improperly denied a trial for the 1968 Memphis killing.

The attorneys had sought a hearing on the issue. The request was rejected by Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn who said Ray's lawyers produced no evidence that his 1969 guilty plea should be set aside.

Ray, who has never been put on trial, recanted 16 days after his confession. At that time, he wrote to Judge W. Preston Battle of Memphis asking for a trial.

Battle died of a heart attack five days later, before he could rule on Ray's request.

Ray contends a state law in effect at the time of his plea stipulates that a motion for a new trial must be granted automatically if a judge dies before ruling on it.

Prosecutors said Ray gave up his right to appeal by pleading guilty. And they said Battle's successor considered his request and properly denied it.

Defense attorney Andrew Hall told CNN he will appeal Thursday's decision, but added that it is unlikely that the 69-year-old Ray, who has a terminal liver disease, will survive long enough for the decision to be overturned.

Ray is serving a 99-year sentence at a Nashville prison.


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