IN AN INTERVIEW on May 29, James Earl Ray said, "I'm interested in getting out. . . They wouldn't have me in a maximum-security prison if I wasn't interested in getting out." And so he did get out - for a little more than 54 hours. His statement, just 12 days before he went over that wall in Tenessee, seems to us to explain his escape far better than all those hysterical comments over the weekend about conspiracies, ouside helpers and plans to set him up so he could killed.
The simple fact that was overlooked in the immediate reaction to news of Ray's escape is that he is veteran inmate of prisons (more than half of his life has been spent in them) who has to break out again and again. He succeeded once in Missourri a decade ago, and successfully eluded police for a year until he was arrested for the murder of Martin Luther King. Since then, he is reported to have tried twice previously to escape from Brushy Mountain State Prison. With a record like that, another escape attempt is hardly a surprise. Ray is not the kind of inmate who is likely to sit quietly while serving a 99-year sentence.
And that's what was lost sight of Friday night by those who are trying to establish that there was some vast conspiracy behind Dr. King's assassination. The idea of a prison breakout engineered to put Ray some place where he could not or would not talk - either in hiding abroad or in a grave - fits perfectly into that conspiracy theory. But like so much of the other "evidence" on which that theory rests, the facts of this escape do not support it. A fleeing convict who has helpers on the outside is not going to spend 54 hours wandering around the mountains and end up in a pile of leaves oinly 10 miles where he started.
In other words, we suspect that James Earl Ray's adventures over the weekend can be written off as a routine prison break. There is no evidence to the contrary. Whether there was a breach of discipline or some bed judgement about manning the prison wall are question for the Tennessee authorities to deal with. While the House Assassinations Committee could look into such question, we doubt that it would accomplish much. It seems unlikely to us that the work of that committee had anything to do with the timing of Ray's dash for freedom. That was probably determined by opportunity, which is the key to most flights by prisoners who are unwilling to accept confinement for all or most of the remaining years of their lives.