Prosecutor Henry Boyce of Newport announced today that a guilty plea had closed a 49-year-old murder case.
James Leon Clay, 69, of Georgetown, Del., pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the June 1967 slaying of James Ricks, 27, of North Little Rock.
A news release from Boyce said Clay and his now-deceased brother shot and kidnapped Ricks to steal his car during flight from a pawn shop burglary.They left Ricks in rural Jackson County, where his body was found a couple of months later.
Clay and his brother were arrested in Ricks’ car about two weeks later in Ellicott City, Md. Ricks’ body, with a bullet wound in the back of the head, was found by hunters south of Newport in August 1967.
Clay and his brother were convicted in federal court for transportation of a stolen vehicle and firearms linked to the pawn shop burglary. No charge was brought in the death of Ricks.
Delaware FBI and Jackson County Sheriff David Lucas began an investigation that allowed the state to charge Clay in 2015 with first-degree murder and begin extradition proceedings.
Boyce said, “Several witnesses from Delaware were prepared to travel to Arkansas for trial when Clay decided to plead guilty. Mr. Ricks surviving family members have consented to this plea agreement. It’s an extremely rare day that we have the opportunity to close a case this cold. I’m happy we were able to give Mr. Rick’s family closure after such a long time.”
An affidavit for the arrest by the sheriff indicates that Clay admitted his role in the slaying to a fellow inmate in 2012 while serving a sentence on an attempted robbery charge. He told of shooting Ricks and then taking him to Jackson County and handcuffing him, still alive, to a tree.
The fellow inmate, Ron Malone, in 2014 was wired by the FBI and talked with Clay in a parole office and in his truck. From the affidavit:
During these conversations James Clay again stated that “if looks could kill, I’d be dead ten times.” He told Malone that his (James Ricks’) wife was on the front row during the federal court trial staring at him. He also said that if he had been charged with the murder, “he would have gotten the death penalty, because Arkansas kills a lot of people.”