The dragging death of James Byrd Jr. was one of the most gruesome hate crimes in recent memory; rightfully referred to as a “modern-day lynching.” Picked up by the side of the road by three white men in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998, the 49-year-old black man was beaten and his face spray-painted; a logging chain was then tied around his ankles. He was dragged behind a pickup truck for almost 3 miles before parts of his body were displayed in front of a church outside Jasper, Texas.
Now, one of the three men involved in Byrd’s killing, John William King, is set to be executed on Wednesday, barring a last-minute stay of execution, CNN reports. If the death penalty is carried out, King will be the second person Texas has executed in Byrd’s death: Lawrence Russell Brewer died by lethal injection in 2011. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison after cooperating with the investigation.
But Byrd’s own relatives have spoken out against executing their loved one’s killers, according to earlier CNN reports:
Byrd’s sister, Betty Boatner, told CNN in 2011, after Brewer’s execution, that she “forgave him 13 years ago.” His son, Ross, joined protests decrying Brewer’s execution, saying, “You can’t fight murder with murder.” Ross’ sister, Renee Mullins, said after Brewer’s execution that she preferred a life sentence for her dad’s killer.
“I don’t feel justice was served,” she told CNN. “Lawrence Brewer was just given an option to take some drugs in his arm and go to sleep. My father wasn’t given that option. He was brutally tortured for 3 miles, until he was dismembered.”
King, a white supremacist whose history of racism is well-documented, has maintained his innocence, repeatedly appealing his guilty verdict. But cigarette butts found at the scene of Byrd’s beating contained King’s DNA; police also found lighters engraved with the words “KKK” and “Possum.”
“Possum” was King’s nickname.
There has been no dispute about King’s belief in white supremacy. From CNN:
Though the motive was never specifically outlined, race was a theme in King’s trial. Prosecutors presented evidence that King had been an “exalted cyclops” of the white supremacist Confederate Knights of America and regularly drew lynching scenes.
His tattoos included a burning cross, the double lightning bolt insignia of Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary Schutzstaffel, a robed Ku Klux Klansman, a swastika, the words “Aryan Pride” and a black man hanging from a tree.
Gang experts testified King was recruiting others to his cause — an all-out race war — and that leaving Byrd’s body in front of the church, rather than obscuring it, “demonstrated that the crime was meant to spread terror.”
A note presented at King’s trial intended for Brewer, who was in the jail at the time, showed he had no remorse about his role in Byrd’s brutal murder.
“Seriously, though, Bro, regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history and shall die proudly remembered if need be,” King wrote.
He signed off: “Much Aryan love...Possum.”
King’s execution is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 pm ET at Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. According to the Associated Press, King will be the third person executed in the state of Texas this year.