The lynching-style murder of Black Texas man James Byrd Jr. (pictured) in 1998 was one of the most-vicious hate crimes in modern American history. On this day in 1999, one of the three perpetrators, John King (pictured below), was sentenced to death and still awaiting his final day.
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Byrd’s murder took place in the town of Jasper, which rests some 130 miles northeast of
Houston. While heading to his home in Beaumont, Byrd accepted a ride from Shawn Allen Berry, who was also driving around White supremacists Lawrence Russell Brewer and John William King.
According to accounts, the men had been drinking earlier in the day. Berry and Byrd knew each other from residing in the same area, so Byrd accepted the ride home not knowing the fate that awaited him.
Instead of driving him home, Berry drove Byrd to a dark dirt road and the three men reportedly beat him, urinated on him, and then chained him to the back of the pickup truck then drove around with him dangling from the vehicle for a distance.
Although Brewer claimed Berry slashed Byrd’s throat prior to the dragging, evidence revealed that Byrd was very much alive and conscious throughout the painful ordeal. Byrd was killed when his arm and head were severed by a water pipe structure.
Berry, Brewer, and King dumped Byrd’s body in front of a Black church then allegedly attended a barbecue gathering. Evidence collected suggested that the men were responsible, including a wrench with Berry’s name on it and a lighter with King’s prison nickname.
In all, pieces of Byrd’s remains were found in 81 places across the region. As Brewer’s and King’s affiliation with hate groups were known, the city charged the men with a hate crime and called in the FBI.
King showed no remorse for the heinous crime, writing in a seized letter to Brewer that he was proud of the murder. King praised the crime and used a popular Nazi phrase in celebration. The men were tried and convicted of the murder, which enraged much of he country.
Both Brewer and King received the death penalty, with Brewer dying by lethal injection on September 21, 2011. Ross Byrd, Byrd’s only son, called for a halt to Brewer’s execution and said that his family thought life in prison for the men would be enough.
The younger Byrd has also asked for mercy for King despite what he did to his father. King remains on Texas’ death row due to Gov. Rick Perry‘s insistence that the law was harsh enough in handing down their sentences.
While Berry is serving life in a Texas prison in protective custody, spending 23 hours in a small cell with only one hour per day for physical activity.