James Earl Ray (March 10, 1928 - April 23, 1998) was the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King Jr..
Ray was arrested in London on June 8, 1968 for King's April 4 assassination and he plead guilty in Memphis, Tennessee on March 10.
He was sentenced to serve 99 years in prison, thereby avoiding the possibility of a death sentence, although it is highly unlikely that he would have been executed even if he had been sentenced to death, as the US Supreme Court's 1972 decision in the case of Furman v. Georgia invalidated all death penalty laws then in force.
He recanted his confession within three days after his conviction, claiming that a person with the alias 'Raoul' was involved, as was his brother Johnny, but not himself. He spent the remainder of his life attempting (unsuccessfully) to withdraw his guilty plea.
Ray and six other convicts escaped from Brushy Mountain State Prison in Petros, Tennessee on June 10, 1977 shortly after Ray testified that he did not shoot King to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, but were recaptured on June 13 and returned to prison. (http://knoxville.fbi.gov/hist.htm) More years were then added to his sentence for attempting to escape from the penitentiary.
Ray died from complications related to kidney disease, caused by hepatitis C. The hepatitis C was probably contracted as a result of a blood transfusion given after a stabbing whilst at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.
In 1997 Martin Luther King's son Dexter King met with Ray, and publicly supported Ray's efforts to obtain a trial. Attorney General Janet Reno launched a probe the following year. In 2000 it concluded that there was no credible evidence to support Ray's conspiracy theory claim.