James Earl Ray, the petty criminal who confessed to assassinating Martin Luther King Jr., then recanted and spent decades seeking a trial, died today. He was 70.

By pleading guilty in March 1969, Ray avoided the possibility of a conviction at trial and a death sentence. He then argued for years that he was coerced into making the plea.His attempt to get a trial drew an unlikely coalition that included his family as well as King's family and other civil rights leaders who believe King was the victim of a murder conspiracy, not a lone man.