Today's Paper Obits Newsletters Home Style Crime Beto to visit NWA EDITORIAL: Get this party started Razorback Sports Today's Photos Puzzles
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
story.lead_photo.caption This April 12, 2019, photo shows the gravesite of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. Byrd was killed on June 7, 1998, after he was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for nearly three miles along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper in what is considered one of the most gruesome hate crime murders in recent Texas history. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- A man who orchestrated one of the most gruesome hate crimes in U.S. history was executed Wednesday for the dragging death of a black man.

John William King, who was white, received lethal injection for the slaying nearly 21 years ago of James Byrd Jr., who was chained to the back of a truck and dragged for nearly 3 miles along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper, Texas. The 49-year-old Byrd was alive for at least 2 miles before his body was ripped to pieces in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998.

Prosecutors said he was targeted because he was black.

Authorities said the 44-year-old King was openly racist and had various tattoos on his body, including one of a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree.

King was put to death at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. He was the fourth inmate executed this year in the U.S. and the third in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state.

King kept his eyes closed as witnesses arrived in the death chamber and never turned his head toward relatives of his victim. Asked by Warden Bill Lewis if he had a final statement, King replied: "No."

Within seconds, the lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital began taking effect. He took a few barely audible breaths and had no other movement. He was pronounced dead at 7:08 p.m., 12 minutes after the drug was administered.

As witnesses emerged from the prison, about two dozen people standing down the street began to cheer.

King's appellate lawyers had tried to stop his execution, arguing that King's constitutional rights were violated because his trial attorneys didn't present his claims of innocence and conceded his guilt.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected King's last-minute appeal.

"From the time of indictment through his trial, Mr. King maintained his absolute innocence, claiming that he had left his co-defendants and Mr. Byrd sometime prior to his death and was not present at the scene of his murder. Mr. King repeatedly expressed to defense counsel that he wanted to present his innocence claim at trial," A. Richard Ellis, one of King's appellate attorneys, wrote in his petition to the Supreme Court.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday rejected a similar request to stop the execution.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles on Monday turned down King's request for either a commutation of his sentence or a 120-day reprieve.

Over the years, King has also suggested that the slaying was not a hate crime, but a drug deal gone bad involving his co-defendants.

King, who grew up in Jasper and was known as "Bill," was the second man executed in the case. Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in 2011. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.

In a 2001 interview with The Associated Press, King said he was an "avowed racist" but wasn't "a hate-monger murderer."

Louvon Byrd Harris, one of Byrd's sisters, said King's execution sent a "message to the world that when you do something horrible like that, that you have to pay the high penalty."

Compared with "all the suffering" by her brother before his death, Harris said King and Brewer got "an easy way out."

Billy Rowles, who led the investigation into Byrd's death when he was sheriff in Jasper County, said after King was taken to death row in 1999, he offered to detail the crime as soon as his co-defendants were convicted. When Rowles returned, all King would say was, "I wasn't there."

"He played us like a fiddle, getting us to go over there and thinking we're going to get the rest of the story," said Rowles, now the sheriff of neighboring Newton County.

A week before Brewer was executed in 2011, Rowles said he visited Brewer, who confirmed "the whole thing was Bill King's idea."

Mylinda Byrd Washington, another of Byrd's sisters, said she and her family will work through the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing to ensure her brother's death continues to help combat hate everywhere.

"I hope people remember him not as a hate crime statistic. This was a real person. A family man, a father, a brother and a son," she said.

Photo by Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP
This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King.

A Section on 04/25/2019

Print Headline: Texas executes instigator of man's dragging death

Sponsor Content

Comments

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT