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Ray's death won't end assassination controversy

William Pepper
William Pepper  
icon From a CNN interview with Ray's attorney William Pepper:

"The truth will ultimately exonerate Mr. Ray ..."
(281 K / 22 sec. audio)
Will Ray's name ever be cleared? Pepper's answer:
(306 K / 25 sec. audio)
On his last conversation with Ray
(383 K / 32 sec. audio)

April 23, 1998
Web posted at: 6:34 p.m. EDT (2234 GMT)

(CNN) -- The death Thursday of James Earl Ray won't end the controversy over the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ray confessed to the killing, but later recanted his confession. He was serving a 99-year sentence when he died.

Ray's attorney, William Pepper, has worked for years to try to get the state of Tennessee to get Ray a trial, and the King family has supported those efforts.

CNN talked with Pepper about Ray's death, and how it might affect attempts to learn more about the slaying of the civil rights leader.

Pepper denounces state for refusing trial

"James, I can assure you, took no material secrets with him to his grave," said Pepper. He knew only what he had to know, what he was told to know in terms of the role of an unknowing patsy. And it's regrettable not only that the state of Tennessee denied him a trial that he'd been trying to get for over 20 years, but they didn't even have the decency to let this man spend his last days outside of prison when he was terminally ill, and allow him to die in the bosom of his family."

Will still seek 'the truth'

"There's no petitioner now for a trial, so there cannot be a trial," Pepper said. "(Ray's death) does not end the attempt of the Ray family and the King family to seek out the truth in this case. The truth will ultimately exonerate Mr. Ray if we are given the opportunity to seek it out through one or another forum. And the leading possibility at this point in time is Mrs. (Coretta Scott) King's request for a national reconciliation commission to look into all aspects of this case and all of the new evidence."

King reiterates call for investigation

Lorraine Motel shooting scene
The assassination scene at the Lorraine Motel   

The King family said it was "deeply saddened" by Ray's death. "This is a tragedy not only for Mr. Ray and his family but also for the entire nation," the family said in a statement.

"America will never have the benefit of Mr. Ray's trial, which would have produced new revelations about the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as well as establish the facts concerning Mr. Ray's innocence. The King family has asked President Clinton and Attorney General (Janet) Reno to conduct a full investigation of all new and unexamined evidence related to the assassination and to establish a truth and reconciliation commission that would grant amnesty and immunity from prosecution for all those who come forward with information."

Attorney Andrew Hall talks about Ray's last days in prison
icon 306K/26 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Martin Luther King III reacts to Ray's death
video icon 1.7 MB / 33 sec. / 240x180
QuickTime movie

Audio-only interview between James Earl Ray's attorney, William Pepper, and CNN's Lou Waters
icon 4 min. 56 secs. VXtreme

"We make this appeal not only for our families but for the entire nation," the statement said. "We are more determined than ever to find the truth about the tragedy which has had such a profound impact on our society. It is regrettable that Mr. Ray was denied his day in court. The American people have a right to the truth about this tragedy and we intend to do everything that we can to bring it to light."

Speaking to reporters after learning of Ray's death, Martin Luther King III, the son of the assassinated civil rights leader, said, "We certainly send out our condolences to the Ray family."

"At this time, although Mr. Ray is deceased, we do still believe that there is enough information that if a thorough job is done, we can only hope and pray that the truth one day emerges," he said.


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