James Earl Ray (March 10, 1928 – April 23, 1998) was a habitual criminal convicted of the assassination of American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which occurred on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.
James Earl Ray came from a poor family in Alton, Illinois, and left school at 15. He joined the army during World War II and served in Germany. In 1949, he was convicted of burglary in California and in 1952 he served two years for armed robbery of a taxi driver in Illinois. In 1955, he was convicted of mail fraud. After an armed robbery in Missouri in 1959, Ray was sentenced to 20 years as a habitual offender. In 1967, he escaped by hiding in a truck transporting bread from the prison bakery.
On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was staying at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. He was shot and killed while standing on the motel's second floor balcony.