The brother of one of the most notorious U.S. assassins of the 20th century has died in Warren County.
Jerry Ray, 80, died at his home off Bybee Branch Road after years of declining health. He was 80.
He was the brother of James Earl Ray, the man convicted of killing Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Jerry Ray moved to Warren County over 20 years ago to be closer to his brother who was serving time in Tennessee prisons. James Earl Ray died in prison in 1998 at age 70.
Jerry Ray continued to fight for his brother’s innocence even after his death. Jerry Ray wrote a book called “A Memoir of Injustice” that was published in 2011. He had a book signing at Hastings.
“I am convinced my brother James Earl Ray did not shoot Martin Luther King Jr., and this book tells why I believe James was not guilty,” said Jerry Ray in 2011 in launching the book. “This book is not one of those wordy, politically correct type of books that dances around the subject. It is a bare-bones account and gets to the point right from the get-go.”
Over the years, Jerry Ray made a number of high-profile appearances arguing the innocence of his brother. Among those appearances are the CNN-produced “Eyewitness to Murder,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “The Phil Donahue Show,” and “The Geraldo Rivera Show.”
Jerry Ray may have been best known locally for his call-ins to the WBMC radio show in the morning. He originally called in using the handle Junk Yard Dog and would often sing drinking songs. He later changed and went by the handle Honest John.
“Some people thought he was hilariously entertaining and other people couldn’t stand him,” said local resident Mike Vinson. “He had a cutting edge sense of humor.”
Vinson has deep ties to the Ray family, having conducted the last published interview with James Earl Ray from prison and also being the person to find Jerry Ray dead at his home May 26.
Vinson says he became friends with Jerry Ray after the two met at W.T.’s, a local bar. When Jerry Ray discovered Vinson is a writer, he invited him to write about his brother’s case. Vinson has done extensive research on the assassination and doesn’t believe James Earl Ray killed King.
“After 20 years of thoroughly assessing the nuts and bolts of this case, my conclusion is James Earl Ray did not pull the trigger on the weapon that claimed the life of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Vinson.
Vinson went on to say it would be impossible for James Earl Ray, a jail escapee at the time of the assassination, to know the whereabouts of King that day when Memphis police didn’t even have that information.
“One thing I admire about Jerry is he never turned on his brother,” said Vinson. “He had people approach him and say they would make him a rich man if he would go on record as saying his brother secretly confided in him that he was the one to shoot King. But he wouldn’t do it.”
Jerry and James Earl Ray both fought legal battles to have the alleged murder rifle retested, but this effort was relentlessly opposed by prosecutors. The first three ballistics tests all proved inconclusive.
No local services are planned for Jerry Ray. A private service was to be held in Illinois.