A state appeals court Wednesday allowed for new tests on the rifle and bullet believed used to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., keeping alive James Earl Ray’s quest for a trial.
The State Court of Criminal Appeals said a judge has the authority to order new tests on the bullet and the .30-06 hunting rifle found with Ray’s fingerprints on it near the Memphis hotel where King was slain in 1968.
Ray, who is 69 and suffering from liver disease, wants the tests to further his decades-old attempt to reverse his guilty plea in the assassination. He contends the rifle in court custody since the 1960s is not the murder weapon.
Memphis Judge Joe Brown ruled in February that new technology exists to prove once and for all if Ray’s rifle killed King. Ray’s lawyers must now formally ask the judge for permission to conduct the tests. Brown tried to give that permission in 1994, but was overruled by the appeals court.
If tests prove Ray’s rifle was not the murder weapon, he can ask the court for a hearing on his claim of innocence.
The FBI and the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations tested the rifle in the 1970s, but could not establish beyond a scientific doubt that it was the murder weapon. The tests showed King was killed by the same kind of weapon.
Ray contends the rifle found near the murder scene was put there by conspirators trying to frame him.