F. Lee Bailey took on a lot of high-profile cases in his career, but perhaps he was wise not to take on the case of James Earl Ray. Even the best lawyers in the country for criminal defense could not get him in subsequent battles, and Bailey saw that it was a futile cause before he decided to turn down the case. Perhaps there were personal reasons why he turned down the case too. Who would want to defend someone who had murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. An esteemed civil rights hero had been murdered, and not just a civil rights hero, but a personal hero to many millions of Americans. Ray had committed an evil act, and Bailey had decided wisely not to take on the case. The ramifications of Ray’s murder were felt for several generations, and there was even a national holiday to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr., and a stamp, and a whole lot more.
Bailey was a hero to many people after his participation in the O.J. Simpson case, because it was considered a victory for black rights in the sense that bias was always being showed against black people in murder cases, or so a lot of experts postulated. It was a turning point and a pivotal point in American history when the O.J. Simpson jury verdict was read out. This was a much better case for Bailey to have worked on than the Ray case, and it marked him as a defender of civil rights, versus someone who stood up for the worst kinds of people against civil rights. Bailey was notable for being involved in both of these cases to some degree.
James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. He attempted to get Bailey to defend him, but Bailey did not want to take the case. This would not be the first racially charged case that Bailey would take. He also took on the O.J. Simpson trial.
Killing Martin Luther King, Jr. was a huge thing that seared the national consciousness, and it was James Earl Ray that was responsible for forever altering the movement of a nation in a negative way. The assassinations during the 1960s were some of the worst in American history, and James Earl Ray might have been responsible for the most troubling assassination on U.S. soil in national history, outside of Abraham Lincoln, Robert Kennedy, and John Kennedy. It was definitely something that forever altered the nation, in a negative way. Ray was in London, and he tried to hire F. Lee Bailey to handle his case while he was there, and he was about to be extradited back to the United States. James Earl Ray refused though. Ray then attempted to hire Arthur Hanes, a lawyer who had defended the Ku Klux Klan murderers at one time.
A racist organization offered to put up the costs of Ray’s defense, but Hanes said that he would have no part in defending him if that racist organization were involved. In lieu of that, Hanes said to Ray that Huie would pay all the way up to $40,000 if Ray would tell the true story. While he was still in Europe, he agreed to that agreement, and Arthur and his son were hired as Ray’s only lawyers.
Ray was taken back to Memphis with an Air Force jet. A couple of days later, after talking privately with Ray, Hanes let out the following statement. He basically said that Raoul was mostly responsible for the killing, and that Raoul had done the actual shooting, and then he had rushed down to where Ray was waiting in the car, and he had sped off together with him.
When he was asked the question of whether or not he believed Ray’s statement, he said merely that he believed part of it. He said that Ray was a complete idiot, basically, if he had made the decision to kill King all on his own. It wouldn’t make any sense for him to put his freedom at risk by shooting a famous man and then having an international manhunt after him. He said that he couldn’t believe he would do the killing, or if he did, it was because he was in the middle of a conspiracy that he couldn’t get out of.
After two and a half months of investigating Ray’s claims and coming up with nothing, Hanes told Ray the bad news. With all the evidence against him, there was no way he could go to trial without risking the death penalty, if he went with a not guilty plea. He said the people of Tennessee were so tired of so much crime, and that they might be prepared to use the electric chair again. He told Ray that there was absolutely no chance of an acquittal, and that was not what Ray wanted to hear. Hanes honesty with his client didn’t pay off, and Ray was just not spilling the information honestly, and he was taken off the case.
Ray fired Hanes, and he hired someone else to take the case. He had acquitted 705 people of their crimes, out of 778 who were charged. After ten more years, he had defended two hundred more murderers, and only one was sent to prison with a life sentence.
The attorney spent 30 hours with Ray and worked with Huie too, and as the trial date came nearer, he told Ray that he couldn’t get him out of it.
Ray said that he knew he couldn’t get him out of it. The lawyer tried to tell him that his cause was hopeless, and that he shouldn’t go to trial.
Ray was ultimately convinced to plead guilty. He received a sentence of 99 years.
He was not saying that there hadn’t been a conspiracy, because there had been. The case was all the way up to the Supreme Court, and he still never got a trial for the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr.