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[Martin Luther King, Jr., Assassination]

James Earl Ray

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A “St. Louis Reporter is helping efforts to have the Congress de-classify the Congress investigation of the Mlk case.

I think this year we will have the case resolved, one way or the other.

James Earl Ray, 1928–1998.  Convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Autograph Letter Signed,  Sincerely, J. E. Ray, two pages, 8½” x 14”, on plain lined legal stationery, [Nashville, Tennessee,] March 30, 1995.  Signed a second time, J. E. Ray # 65477, at the top of the first page.  With original envelope.

In this letter, which has never been offered on the autograph market before, Ray discusses his recent deposition in a lawsuit against Lloyd Jowers, who had confessed on national television that he paid someone other than Ray to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  Ray also mentions an interview that he gave a London newspaper about the King assassination and discusses efforts to open classified federal files regarding the assassination. 

Ray writes, in full (grammar and spelling as in original):  “I noticed the birthday card you sent me was in a section of letters not answered.  However I was sure I had answered.  Anyway in case I didn’t thanks for the stamps & tell all of thoes who signed the card ‘thank you.’  /  It has been one thing after another here.  Week before last I gave a deposition in the suit against Jowers.  That took 2 days, then I seen a Reporter for a London newspaper.  The article will be out soon.  /  I guess Jerry told you that he’s moving back to Sparta. His son is getting married & there will not be enought room in the trailer.  /  Atty. Pepper is having a book published about the MLK case, and a St. Louis Reporter is helping efforts to have the Congress de-classify the Congress investigation of the Mlk case.  /  I think this year we will have the case resolved, one way or the other.  /  I have me a girl friend here in Nashville.  I just have to shell out about a dollar week for the vending machine to make her happy – – however she is just 2½ years old.  /  Tell that Dude who signed the card complaining Jerry lifted his wallet I’ll look into it . . . habits are hard to break.  /  Back with you later.”

The book by William F. Pepper, Ray’s last lawyer, was entitled Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Pepper, who published the book in 1995, argued that Ray was framed for the King assassination, which Pepper said involved the FBI, the CIA, the Memphis police, organized crime figures from Memphis and New Orleans, and others.  Pepper later published updated versions of the book as An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King (2003) and The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (2016).

Ray confessed to killing King but almost immediately recanted and spent the rest of his life unsuccessfully trying to withdraw his guilty plea and obtain a trial.  Pepper represented Ray in a mock trial for British television, which was part of Ray’s effort to convince Tennessee authorities that he should have a real trial.  The jury in the mock trial acquitted him. 

In 1993, Jowers, who owned a restaurant near the Lorraine Motel, told Sam Donaldson of ABC’s Primetime Live that there was a conspiracy to kill King, that he had hired a Memphis police officer to shoot him, and that Ray was a scapegoat.  There were allegations that the FBI, CIA, and organized crime were all involved.  A jury sided with the King family and returned a judgment against Jowers.  King’s family concluded that Ray was innocent and urged that he be given a trial.  Pepper represented the King family in a wrongful death suit against Jowers and others.  The jury sided with the King family, but in 2000 the United States Department of Justice issued a 150-page report that rejected the conspiracy allegations and the jury’s findings.

In this letter, Ray also refers twice to his brother, Jerry (1936–2016), who supported him and who would later be the executor of his estate.  He adds a second autograph, J. E. Ray # 65477, using his prisoner number, at the top of the letter.

This letter is in fine condition.  It has normal mailing folds.  There are also a couple of small stains in the upper left margin of the first page and a small foxing spot in a blank area on the second page.  Ray has written and signed the letter in black ballpoint.  The original mailing envelope has Jerry Ray’s return address in Sparta, Tennessee, which Ray mentions in this letter. The envelope has been opened at the top.  The back flap is unglued at the left and right ends and likely was never fully glued.  The envelope shows some soiling and stains and has typical postal markings on the front and a Tennessee Department of Corrections stamp on the back.  Overall the envelope is in fine condition.


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