HUNTSVILLE, TEXAS — A 43-year-old Texas inmate was executed Wednesday evening for a race-related murder that shook a small Southeast Texas town two decades ago.
John William King received a lethal injection for the June 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper in what some call one of the most gruesome hate crimes in U.S. history.
As witnesses filed into the viewing rooms adjacent to the death chamber, King laid with his eyes shut. He did not give a final verbal statement, but did provide a written statement prior to being put to death at 7:08 p.m.
“Capital punishment: Them without the capital get the punishment,” King wrote.
King was the ringleader of the murder 21 years ago that saw three white men — King, Shawn Berry and Lawrence Brewer — pick up Byrd, a black male, alongside a rural road. Instead of taking him home, the three men beat Byrd, 49, behind a convenience store, tied him to their pickup truck with a chain around his waist, stripped the man naked and drug him approximately three miles around the small Texas town.
“Today we witnessed the peaceful and dignified execution of John William King for the savaged, brutal murder of James — really a modern day lynching,” Byrd’s sister Clara Taylor said. “King, who was the ringleader of the three, had a deeply ingrained hatred of blacks as evidence by his actions and his tattoos. He wanted to make a name for himself in the organization for killing a black man and James was his target.”
Court testimony states that Byrd was alive for at least two miles before his body was “ripped to pieces.” Prosecutors said he was targeted because he was black. King, Berry and Brewer dumped their victim's “mutilated remains” in the town's black cemetery, and then went to a barbecue. A wrench with "Berry" was found within the area, along with a lighter that had "Possum" — King's prison nickname — written on it.
Testimony shows that Byrd's limbs were scattered across the secluded roads the next morning. Police found 75 places littered with Byrd's remains. King and Brewer were well-known white supremacists.
“He (Byrd) was shown no mercy, while being dragged behind a pickup truck,” Taylor added. “His body was flown side-to-side like a sack of potatoes. His execution tonight was just punishment for his actions. We are very grateful to the judicial system for their full support.”
King, 44, was the second man executed in the case, with Brewer put to death in 2011. Berry was sentenced to life in prison and is currently being incarcerated in the W.F. Ramsey Unit in Rosharon.