Given that James Earl Ray maintained his innocence, you might expect some fruitcakes out there to believe him. You probably wouldn’t expect the family of the man he’d murdered to do so. By the 1990s the vast majority of King’s family (pictured in 1964) considered Ray to have been framed. Even today, with Ray over 20 years dead, some of King’s children continue to advocate for his innocence. The lengths that the bereaved family went to to help the assassin sometimes defied belief (via Vice).
The most striking moment of all came in 1997. That March, as Ray lay in the hospital dying of liver disease, MLK’s son, Dexter King, arranged an on-camera meeting between the two of them. He asked if Ray had killed his father and when Ray said “no,” King replied, “I believe you, and my family believes you.”
Head-scratching as this was, what came next outdid it in the weirdness stakes. In 1999, after Ray had died, King’s family filed a civil suit seeking a symbolic $100 in damages. The lawsuit ended in a sensational trial during which Ray was declared innocent and the government and others were declared liable for King’s death. Since this was a civil trial and all, it didn’t really change anything, and the Department of Justice was quick to point out that Ray was still officially considered guilty. An 18-month DOJ investigation also concluded that no conspiracy existed. Regardless, the trial made for one heck of a moment in legal history.