Autopsy confirms Ray died of liver failure
April 24, 1998
James Earl Ray
Web posted at: 6:04 p.m. EDT (2204 GMT)
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- An autopsy Friday confirmed
that James Earl Ray, the confessed assassin of Martin Luther
King Jr., died from the failure of multiple internal organs
due to cirrhosis of the liver, which was caused by a chronic
Ray, who confessed to King's murder, then recanted, had
sought a trial for nearly 30 years for the 1968 assassination
of the civil rights leader. He died Thursday at the age of
70 from kidney failure and complications from liver disease
that had repeatedly sent him to prison hospitals over the
past 16 months.
Tennessee state law requires an autopsy for any inmate who
dies in custody.
|Dr. Bruce Levy gives a statement on the cause of death for James Earl Ray
371K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
Dr. Bruce Levy, Nashville's chief medical examiner, said that the autopsy, which lasted about 90 minutes, was routine and
the findings "consistent with what we expected based on Ray's
More tests were planned to determine what type of hepatitis
Ray had, Levy said, potentially allowing examiners to
speculate on where and when he might have contracted the
There are few treatments for hepatitis, Levy noted. "You have
to treat the symptoms and allow the disease to follow its
King family invited to funeral
Although funeral arrangements were pending, King's family has
been invited to a private memorial service for Ray, Ray's
brother Jerry Ray said Friday. Within the past two years,
the King family had joined the effort to win Ray a trial,
saying they believed there was still a hidden conspiracy
surrounding the civil rights leader's death.
There was no immediate word on whether the King family would
attend the memorial service, being arranged by Ray attorney
But King's widow, Coretta Scott King, and other family
members said Thursday they were saddened by Ray's death and
the fact that the country "will never have the benefit of Mr.
Ray's trial, which would have produced new revelations about
Ray was to be cremated and his ashes flown to Ireland, home
of his family's ancestors.
Ray's survivors include seven brothers and sisters. Jerry Ray
told CNN on Friday that his brother didn't want to be buried
or have his final resting place in the United States, because
of "the way the government has treated him." ( 136 K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound )
Ray family had autopsy observer
The autopsy, performed by Levy, was observed by Dr. Cyril
Wecht, a forensic pathologist from Pittsburgh.
Wecht, known for making controversial comments on several
high-profile deaths -- including the assassination of
President John F. Kennedy -- attended the autopsy at the
request of Ray's family and Pepper.
Wecht said Ray died of hepatitis and that an autopsy may seem
unnecessary. But Ray's family wants to know what type of
hepatitis it was, when Ray got it and whether he received
appropriate medical treatment.
Further autopsy results also may determine whether Ray could
have successfully undergone a liver transplant, "which would
have been available for him in Pittsburgh, but Tennessee
authorities said no," Wecht said Thursday.
Prior to the autopsy, Levy told CNN he appreciated "the
opportunity for another independent forensic pathologist to
come in and to hopefully put to bed any rumors about any kind
of controversy or conspiracy about Mr. Ray's death."