Man pleads to murder in 49-year cold case

Henry Boyce, Third Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney, announced today that James Leon Clay, 69, of Georgetown, Delaware pled guilty to Murder in the Second Degree. Clay’s plea is the conclusion of a murder case which began in rural Jackson County, Arkansas in June, 1967.

Clay was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in the Arkansas Department of Correction by Third Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Harold S. Erwin.

This case stems from the abduction of James Ricks, age 27, on or about June 8 1967 in North Little Rock, Arkansas. According to investigators Clay and his now deceased brother shot and kidnapped Ricks in order to steal his car during their flight from a pawn shop burglary the same day. Evidence gathered indicated that Clay and his brother were arrested in Ellicott City, Maryland within two weeks of Ricks’ disappearance in possession of Ricks’ car.

In August of 1967, Ricks’ badly decomposed body was found by hunters in a wooded area south of Newport in Jackson County. The body had a bullet wound to the back of the head. The two men were subsequently tried and convicted in federal court in 1967 for transportation of a stolen vehicle and firearms which were linked to the pawn shop burglary. No charges were brought by authorities at the time for the murder of Ricks.

Through collaborative efforts between Delaware FBI and Jackson County Sheriff David Lucas, an investigation began in 2011 resulting in the State of Arkansas being able to file charges against James Leon Clay in March 2015.

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.”
The State of Arkansas was represented by Boyce and Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys Rob Ratton, Steve Howard and Ryan Cooper.

Press Release

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