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His Death Shocked the World. Now, a 2nd Man Will Die for It

John William King to be executed in Texas Wednesday for the murder of James Byrd Jr.
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2019 2:40 PM CDT

(Newser) – A high-profile execution is scheduled to take place in Huntsville, Texas, Wednesday night. John William King, 44, is set to die for the gruesome 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was on June 7, 1998, offered a ride home in Jasper. The offer was a ruse: He was beaten, chained by the ankles to the back of a pick-up truck, and dragged a distance of nearly three miles. The AP reports he was alive for at least two of them; his body was ultimately torn to pieces. "The motive seemed shockingly clear-cut," writes the New York Times: King had just left prison, and he did so an avowed white supremacist. By way of illustration, the paper references one of his tattoos: a black man hanging from a tree. USA Today writes Byrd's death "is still considered one of the grisliest racial killings in American history." The latest:

  • The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 5-4 on Tuesday to let King's execution proceed. Though he's often referred to as the mastermind of the crime, King has maintained his innocence throughout all his appeals, reports the Houston Chronicle, saying he left the two other men he was with prior to Byrd being killed.
  • His last shot is with the Supreme Court, and the AP says his lawyers have argued that his constitutional rights were violated because his trial lawyers ignored his desire to "present his innocence claim at trial."

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  • Billy Rowles heard differently. He was the sheriff of Jasper County when Byrd was killed, and visited the second man sentenced to death in the crime, Lawrence Russell Brewer, a week prior to his 2011 execution. He said Brewer told him "the whole thing was ... King's idea." Shawn Allen Berry was sentenced to life for the crime and won't be up for parole until 2038.
  • Rowles tells the Times he'll be in Huntsville for the execution, but not inside the building. "I've seen people die before. I've had that opportunity and I’m not going to do that. But I am going to go over and make sure it gets done. And even drink an adult beverage."
  • One of Byrd's sisters, Louvon Harris, does plan to watch King die. "He's not chained and bound and dragged on a concrete road, swinging back and forth like a sack of potatoes, with an arm coming off and being decapitated or nothing like that," she says of how he will die. "When you look at it at that angle, I don't have sympathy."
  • CNN reports Byrd's horrific death resulted in hate-crime laws at both the state and federal level. It notes that while Matthew Shepard is the name commonly associated with the federal law, it actually bears this name: the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
  • The Chronicle notes King isn't allowed to choose a last meal. The final man to be offered one in Texas was Brewer, who requested two chicken-fried steaks, a bacon cheeseburger, an omelet, fried okra with ketchup, one pound of BBQ, half a loaf of white bread, three fajitas, a meat-lovers pizza, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, and slab of peanut butter fudge. He didn't take a single bite.
(Read more execution stories.)

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