Martin Luther King Jr. died after being shot by a sniper while at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968; the exact motivation of the assassin, James Earl Ray, remains a mystery. King was a major leader in the United States civil rights movement, and Ray is known to have held segregationist views. This made King a target for the unstable ex-convict.
Martin Luther King Jr. stood outside on the motel balcony before he was shot. King was in the city to participate in a march on behalf of the Memphis sanitation workers. He was on the balcony talking with members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the parking lot below.
The assassin fled to Canada and then to the United Kingdom. He was ultimately captured by British officials at London's Heathrow Airport and promptly extradited to the United States. Ray confessed to the King assassination on March 10, 1969, and received a life sentence of 99 years. Because Ray forewent a jury trial, he was ineligible for the death penalty.
Ray later recanted his confession and sought a retrial, claiming that King was murdered as part of a conspiracy. He was unsuccessful in his attempts and died in prison on April 23, 1998.