A Lesser Known Historical Moment: A Meeting between Criminal Attorney William F. Pepper, Convicted Murderer James Earl Ray and Dexter Scott, Son of Martin Luther King Ends with a Shocking Confession.
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Dexter Scott King, son of the non violent civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., engaged in a 1997 meeting with his father’s alleged killer in 1997. The sit down, which was comprised of convict James Earl Ray, criminal attorney William F. Pepper and the 36 year old son of a legend received very little press, which is surprising since the details of a prominent leader’s death were thoroughly examined on that very day.
Ray, wishing to clear the air once and for all before the terminal illness in his body consumed his life, spoke candidly about the murder he was convicted of several centuries prior to the meeting. Ray was a well known fugitive who definitely fit the profile of an assassin. He had been in and out of prison for the majority of his life. His criminal activities prior to 1968 included armed robbery, mail fraud and even escaping from a correctional facility. He was a notorious anti-civil rights activist and he happened to be in town on the night of the assassination.
Upon Mr. Ray’s 1968 arrest, the King family already had their suspicions. They claimed there was unsubstantial evidence tying Ray to the crime and they called it a government cover up claiming Ray was a mere scapegoat in a master plan that he was incapable of scheming up alone, especially given the fact that Ray reportedly suffered from various psychological disorders.
In 1997, new forensic evidence surfaced that did seem to alleviate Ray from his guilty status. The King family rallied for a retrial. They even won a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the state of Tennessee. By 1997, Ray was already 28 years into his 99 year prison sentence. He had managed to avoid the death penalty; something he admitted was part of the barter his criminal lawyer made several decades earlier, a barter of sentence reduction that would prove useless to a man diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Dexter Scott King leaned forward, staring at the terminally ill ant-civil rights activist with narrowed eyes. He only had one question for James Earl Ray. Ray had nothing to lose or gain by answering the question honestly. He was already in jail for life and his life was already close to the end.
“Did you kill my father?” Dexter bluntly asked the man.
“No, no, I didn’t. No,” the convict confessed and later elaborated with, “I ain’t have nothing to do with killing your father.”
James Earl Ray claims that his guilty plea was submitted because his criminal attorney in the case told him that volunteering a guilty plea would grant him the leniency necessary for him to avoid the death penalty. William F. Pepper, Ray’s new criminal attorney had an entirely different take. He claimed that modern technology could prove Ray’s innocence once and for all, but that Ray’s illness might make a retrial impossible.
“We’re going to be stalled out of existence,” the criminal lawyer sighed.
Unfortunately, Mr. Pepper was right. James Earl Ray passed away shortly after the meeting came to a close and the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination is still an unsolved mystery in the eyes of the King family.
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About the Author:
Michael D. Leader is a criminal lawyer with Fort Lauderdale law firm Leader & Leader P.A. specializing in all forms of criminal law, Leader and partner George Leader offer years of legal experience and commitment to ethics.