FERRIER FILES: Last interview with James Earl Ray

(Fox 17 News)

Mike Vinson walked into a McMinnville bar in 1997 and walked out on a different life path. Nothing has been the same, and he is more determined than ever to share his story.

Mike Vinson was the last person to interview James Earl Ray a few weeks before his death in prison.

“This was basically a deathbed interview,” Vinson said. “He said if the difference between me going to heaven or hell is whether I killed Dr. King, then I’m good because I didn’t do it."

Vinson said he really believed him. So how did this freelance writer end up conducting the last interview with James Earl Ray? A chance meeting in a McMinnville bar.

“He stuck out his hand and said I’m Jerry Ray," Vinson said. "I am James Earl Ray’s younger brother. I hear you are a freelance writer."

Ray's little brother wanted Mike Vinson to believe that James Early Ray did not kill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was Jerry Ray who helped set up that last interview. It was Jerry Ray who right up to his death in 2016 was dedicated to this story.

“He said 'what good is your life if you can't fight to clear your brother's name? What else have you done that is worth more,'" Vinson said. "Obsession is a good word. He was obsessed with clearing his brother’s name."

Before it was over, it was a shared obsession. Mike Vinson has written a screenplay called “James Earl Ray: The Last Conversation.”

He has spent 20 years gathering all the facts that he says point to one truth; James Earl Ray did not kill Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

First there are the ballistics.

“All three tests have been inconclusive there," Vinson said. "Meaning there is not a definite murder weapon in the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior."

Then there is Ray's long-running claims he didn't do it. Right after he pleaded guilty, he immediately attempted to recant and get a new trial.

Ray asked Vinson to be there when the congressional records on the assassination are unsealed in 2027. Mike Vinson can't wait.

“I’ve had people ask me 'why don't you write about something else?' Do this or do that," Vinson said. "I think, man, I have one of the best stories of all time."

It is important to point out James Earl Ray did plead guilty. The Shelby County District Attorney was convinced they had the right man, his fingerprints were on the rifle.

Nevertheless Vinson has well known allies like Judge Joe Brown, Hollywood actor Cylk Cozart, members of the King family and close friends of Dr. King.

So if not Ray, than who?

“I call that the ultimate rabbit hole conspiracy," Vinson said. "We are not going there. I don’t know who did it. I am just telling you James Earl Ray didn’t do it."

The King family strongly supported a new trial for James Earl Ray. For years they aligned themselves with his legal team, trying to get him a new trial before he died.

Some like civil rights leader Hosea Williams believed the FBI was behind the assassination. Of course, any chance of a new trial died with James Earl Ray

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