James Earl Ray lost his bid for freedom Wednesday when a parole board rejected claims that he did not kill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and that he was pressured into pleading guilty.
At his first parole hearing in 25 years, Ray claimed his lawyer convinced him that he already had been convicted by the news media and that pleading guilty in return for 99 years in prison was better than risking a trial and possible death sentence.
"First, I didn't kill Dr. King," Ray said. "I wasn't involved in any type of collusive activity."
King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, as he stood on a motel balcony in Memphis, where he had come to support a strike by sanitation workers.
"You had a choice," Tennessee Board of Paroles member Rose Hill said. "I did not have a choice," Ray replied.
The vote was 3 to 0 against parole. Ray, 66, needed four votes. One of the seven board members investigated King's assassination and disqualified himself.
The remaining three decided not to vote when it became clear that Ray had lost his bid.
Two board members said they would consider parole in June, 1999, once Ray has served one-third of his sentence. "That is full service for the crime you committed," board Chairman Charles Traughber said.
Wednesday's parole hearing dealt with Ray's record as a prisoner, which included a 54-hour escape in 1977 and a 1981 attack in which he was stabbed 22 times.
The hearing was separate from Ray's legal efforts to win a trial in Memphis, where a judge last week gave permission to test-fire the rifle believed to have been used in King's assassination. Previous ballistics tests were ruled inconclusive.
King's slaying sparked riots in more than 100 cities and set off one of the largest searches in U.S. history before Ray was captured in London. Ray was returned to Memphis, where he pleaded guilty to murder. Three days later, he recanted.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in 1978 that there had been a conspiracy to kill King. The panel said that Ray shot King but that a St. Louis-based conspiracy of racists was behind the slaying.