A New Jersey lawyer who faced a lengthy sentence for murdering his longtime girlfriend before fleeing to Cuba five years ago died Sunday after he was found unconscious in his cell, authorities said.

James Ray III, 60, was pronounced dead Sunday at University Hospital in Newark, where he had been taken following a medical emergency call at the county correctional facility, Essex County’s chief of staff, Phil Alagia, said in a statement. The medical examiner’s office will determine the cause of death and an investigation is underway, he said.

Ray had been found unconscious in his cell on Sunday evening, according to Jim Troisi, the vice president of the union representing high-ranking jail staff. A sergeant who found him administered Narcan, a drug that treats overdoses, before he was taken to the hospital, Troisi said.

Authorities said Ray shot 44-year-old Angela Bledsoe in October 2018 in their Montclair home after she dropped their daughter off at school. Prosecutors said she had been planning to move out and was scheduled to meet with a realtor that day. Ray argued he acted in self-defense.

Mother Found Dead
James Ray III stands as the jury enters the courtroom before opening arguments for Ray’s murder trial in Judge Verna Leath’s courtroom in Newark on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

Danielle Parhizkaran / AP

After the slaying, Ray prepared several documents, withdrew checks and cash from a local bank, picked up his daughter from school and dropped her off with his brother at a New Jersey restaurant, and then fled to Mexico and Cuba, authorities said. His life as a fugitive didn’t last long — he was returned to the United States in November 2018 and has been in custody ever since.

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Jurors deliberated for just three hours last month before convicting Ray of first-degree murder and weapons charges, prosecutors said. He faced 30 years to life in prison, NJ.com reported.

“He was reasonably stoic,” recalled Thomas Ashley, one of two defense attorneys at the two-month trial in Newark. “He didn’t show any emotion.”

Raised in Brooklyn, Ray served as a Marine and then spent two years as a New York City police officer before earning an M.B.A. and going to law school.

Ashley told NJ.com that he hadn’t met with Ray since his conviction, but he said Ray seemed resigned as the verdict was read.

“This is a tragic ending to a tragic story,” Ashley said.

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