Nearly 50-year-old murder case ends with guilty plea

James Clay guilty plea

JACKSON COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - A 49-year-old murder case in Jackson County will end with a Delaware man behind bars for more years to come.

Third Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Henry Boyce announced Tuesday that James Leon Clay, 69, of Georgetown, Delaware pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Clay was sentenced to 20 years in the Arkansas Department of Correction.

The plea is an end result to the kidnapping and murder of James Ricks which happened in 1967.

Boyce said Clay approached them on the possibility of a deal.

In order to reach a deal, Boyce said they had to lessen the original charge of first-degree murder to second-degree murder.

Clay would have been tried based on the law in 1967.

During that time, first-degree murder was equal to capital murder now.

Boyce said he is confident they would have won the case if it went to trial but there were a few unknowns that could have come into play.

"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," Boyce said in the news release.

Jackson County Sheriff David Lucas thought the same thing.

He said he does not take any personal pleasure out of the deal and that he was simply doing his job.

"I was just glad that we were able to give the Ricks family the closure after 49 years," Lucas said. "They've waited a long time for this and I was really pleased that we were able to do that."

He explained that his case was unorthodox.

Since it happened about 49 years ago, Lucas said there was no physical evidence.

He and other investigators had to do a lot of research to corroborate the confession they received from Clay.

Julius Ricks, the brother of the victim, told Region 8 News he and the family were happy to finally have closure after all of these years.

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