Former WATE anchor looks back at interview with MLK’s convicted killer in prison

Local News

Wednesday marks 50 years since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The murder came at what was already a time of upheaval for the United States, uncorking a flood of anger and chaos that left our nation changed in its wake.

King was killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he had come to support striking sanitation workers.

King had helped galvanize the Civil Rights Movement, from the Birmingham campaign in Alabama to the march on Washington and more recently he had been opposing the Vietnam War and taking part in the poor people’s campaign.

Americans responded with sadness, anger and calls for change.

The hunt for King’s killer eventually led to James Earl Ray.

Ray’s guilty plea earned him a 99 year sentence, part of that served in East Tennessee at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.

It was there where former WATE anchor Steven Oglesby interviewed Ray back in 1978.

“It was overwhelming. You’re sitting across the table from the man convicted of killing Dr. King, but still insists he didn’t pull the trigger,” said Oglesby. 

Ray said he didn’t even know who Martin Luther King was.

In the interview Oglesby asked Ray: “What are your personal feelings toward Martin Luther King Jr?” Ray responded: “I know nothing about him before I was charged with the murder charge.”

When Ray was asked if he shot Dr. King, he said no. 

Oglesby adds, “He also had an interesting comment about the fact that Dr. King’s schedule had not been announced. So how would he know to be there to be able to do the shooting.”

Ray said in the 1978 interview, “It was three days after I was told to take the rifle to Memphis, the public statement was made that he was returning to Memphis.”

Ray said he was only following order to deliver the weapon. Throughout the two hour interview,  he stayed calm answering every question. 

“He was comfortable; he was not on edge. His answers were actually well thought out and it surprised me. He was very well spoken,” said Oglesby. “I asked him, I said, ‘Wwould you ever shoot anybody since you use pistols?’ His comment was it’s not worth it, for that little bit of money.”

Ray maintained until the day he died that he didn’t do it. 

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