Man found guilty of Jasper killing

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The Independent Online
A WHITE supremacist was found guilty last night of capital murder in the racist killing of James Byrd, 49, a black man who died after being attached by a chain to the back of a pick-up truck and dragged down a country lane.

A jury of 11 whites and one black delivered its verdict after deliberating for two-and-a-half hours at a courthouse in Jasper, the rural community in eastern Texas where the crime was committed last June. The convicted man, John William King, 24, was one of three white men alleged to have been in the truck.

The case appalled America because of its sheer brutality.

The same jury is expected to pronounce today on whether King should suffer life imprisonment or be sent to the death chamber. The other two accused men will come to trial shortly. The reading of the verdict drew an emotional wave of applause in the packed courtroom until spectators were ordered to be silent by Judge Joe Bob Golden.

Guy James Gray, the county prosecutor, welcomed the verdict. "This sends the same message that any jury would have sent," he said. "You can't put up with this stuff, you can't tolerate it."

In closing arguments earlier yesterday, Mr Gray told the jury that King and his two alleged accomplices were like "three robed riders coming straight out of hell" on the night of 7 June 1998, when they picked up Mr Byrd as he walked to his rural home after a party.

According to the prosecution, the three men attached Mr Byrd to their truck with a logging chain before dragging him for over three miles. One witness told the court that Mr Byrd would have been conscious for a large portion of his final journey.

The moment of death came, the prosecution asserted, when the truck took a left-hand swerve. Mr Byrd apparently struck a concrete culvert that caused his head and one arm to become separated from his body.

"After they dragged this poor man and tore his body to pieces, they dropped him right in front of a church and cemetery to show their defiance of God," Mr Gray told the jury, "to show their defiance of Christianity, to show their defiance of everything that most people in this county stand for."

The prosecution had presented evidence that King, a former convict, had been attempting to establish a white supremacist group in Jasper. It surmised that the dragging of Mr Byrd may have been some kind of initiation ceremony for membership of the group.

Defence lawyers said that King had suffered some form of psychological trauma during an earlier prison term and had become a racist because of it.

The other two men, Law-rence Russell Brewer, 31, and Shawn Berry, 24, also face trial on charges of capital murder and could also each face the death penalty.

Mr Byrd's sister, Mary Verrett, said outside court: "We win, and yet we still lose because we don't have him back." Mr Byrd's daughter, Renee Mullins, dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she called the verdict "a breath of fresh air".