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Looking Back On 45 Years Since MLK Assassination

FBI photo of James Earl Ray. Ray assassinated Rev. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. (photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

FBI photo of James Earl Ray. Ray assassinated Rev. Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. (photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Thursday marks 45 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The civil rights leader was shot to death at the age of 39 as he stood on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

Shortly after the assassination, James Earl Ray was arrested and later pleaded guilty to killing King.

He was sentenced to 99 years behind bars and died in 1998.

Despite pleading guilty, Ray long maintained his innocence. He argued that he was just a petty thief and a prison escapee on the lam around the time of the assassination.

He admitted to being a North American gun-runner, but said he got duped into taking the fall for the King assassination.

WCBS 880’s Steve Scott spoke with Ray many times over the years, including two jailhouse interviews.

In one sit-down in April, 1992, Ray tried to explain how he came to take the murder rap.

“I had nothing to do with the shooting of Martin Luther King and I had no advance knowledge of it,” Ray told Scott. “Having said that, I had been committing criminal offenses but I wouldn’t have gotten no 99 years for it, what I was doing.”

“I really didn’t confess to anything, I entered a guilty plea. There’s a difference between a confession and a guilty plea,” said James Earl Ray.

Scott asked Ray in 1992 why he’d pleaded guilty to a crime he said he didn’t commit.

“If I didn’t enter a guilty plea, they might charge my brother Jerry Ray for conspiracy in the Martin Luther King murder,” Ray told Scott.

Ray said authorities also could have arrested his father, who’d also escaped from prison and had been a fugitive since 1925.

“I agreed to enter a guilty plea on those conditions,” Ray told Scott.

As Scott reported, until the day he died, Ray suggested that the FBI was behind the King assassination because then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was terrified of ing’s influence over black America.

Ray also reminded Scott that he was a prison escapee in 1968. He often said ‘what better way to stay below the radar than by killing Martin Luther King?’

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