Savage Klan killing stuns America

Evil on the road: black man torn limb from limb by white racists who gave him a lift

FEW CORNERS of the United States feel as forlorn as the flat and featureless borderlands of Texas and Louisiana. A journey through the dense forests reveals scattered towns where Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's offer the only distractions. And at this time of year, as the oppressive heat sets in, the roads are dotted with road-kill, mostly squashed armadillos.

The remains strewn along a stretch of rural road outside the town of Jasper last Sunday morning, however, were not of some animal. They were the mangled body parts of 49-year-old James Byrd Jr.

Late on Tuesday, three white residents of Jasper were charged with his murder. The case is grisly almost beyond imagination. It risks inflaming racial tensions that simmer in the American South more than three decades after desegregation - and it has sickened the entire nation.

Along a two-mile stretch of road, seven miles east of Jasper, police officers have sprayed red circles on the tarmac - 75 in all. These are the exact spots where parts of Mr Byrd were found; a pair of dentures here, an arm there. Elsewhere his neck and, not too far away, his battered head.

As the three suspects were charged on Tuesday, the Jasper police offered a version of what they believe happened to Mr Byrd. It was a picture filled out by one of the accused, Shawn Berry, 23, who spilled details in police interviews, claiming he had played only a minor, reluctant role.

The other suspects, Law-rence Brewer, 31, and John King, 23, have tattoos that suggest affiliation to white supremacist groups. "The evidence shows it will be racially motivated," Jasper's sheriff, Billy Rowles, said of the alleged murder. All three men have served time in prison, as had Mr Byrd. Mr Byrd and Mr Berry shared a probation officer and knew each other.

Mr Byrd, a musician, was walking home on Sunday evening after attending a bridal shower for a niece in his parents' home. Mr Berry, who was riding in a pick-up truck with two friends, spotted him and suggested they give him a lift. He told police Mr King was unhappy about having a black passenger. After a visit to a shop, ,Mr King took the wheel.

When Mr King began to drive out of town to the east, Mr Berry apparently asked what he was doing. The answer, Mr Berry told police, was chilling. He was "fixin' to scare the shit out of this nigger". One of them allegedly added: "We're going to start the Turner Diaries early," in a reference to a novel about white hate, popular among the white supremacist groups.

In a remote wooded area, Mr King allegedly pulled over and dragged Mr Byrd from the passenger seat. He and Mr Brewer are then said to have knocked him to the ground and kicked him until he was unconscious.

Mr Berry said it was only after they drove off again that he realised what the pair had done next. Mr Brewer turned around and noted: "That fucker is bouncing all over the place".

Mr Byrd had been attached to the back bumper by a long chain round one of his ankles. As the vehicle gathered speed, his body came apart. His last journey, police said in affidavit, lasted for about two miles.

The police found more than just human remains on the road. Crucial evidence includes a spanner that has been traced to one of the suspects, and a cigarette lighter bearing a Ku Klux Klan symbol.

Nowhere is the shock deeper than in Jasper, a timber town of 7,500 people that is about 45 per cent black. Fear of racial violence stalks this region. At a press conference, Sheriff Rowles played down the influence of hate groups in his town. "We have no Aryan Nation or KKK in Jasper County," he declared, a statement that received derision from black people in the audience.

Kevin Kipp was among white residents to voice dismay. "I'm ashamed people could act like that around here," he said. "I grew up here and I can't even remember anything close to this". But blacks in Jasper are less surprised. Whispers have spread that the killing of Mr Byrd was a warning. "It's rumoured that they are going to get two more blacks," Joe Shankle said. "I think they are sending a message to the black community."

One version doing the rounds has it that a note was found near the victim's body that read: "One down, two to go". Lessie Adams, another black resident, noted: "Racism is like death in Texas. You are always going to have it."

Richard Bishop, pastor of Church on the Rock in Jasper, added: "Everybody is afraid this will trigger off violence between blacks and whites. We're integrated by law, but segregated by heart. It took something like this to bring that sad fact out."

The president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the former congressman Kweise Mfume, was leading calls for the Attorney- General, Janet Reno, to turn the murder charges into a federal crime.

There was dismay that under Texas law police were unable to charge the three with capital murder, which would carry the possibility of execution. If federal charges are brought, based on a violation of Mr Byrd's constitutional rights, capital murder charges might be possible.

The case will spotlight the myriad hate groups still thought to be flourishing across the United States. Charles Lee, the grand-dragon of the East Texas KKK chapter, refused to say whether the hate group had members in Jasper County.

Mr Byrd, meanwhile, was being mourned by his relatives. Renee Mullins, one of his three children, said that her father was trying to go straight after a prison term for theft. "He had flaws," she said. "He got his life together, got him an apartment."

Stella Brumley, one of Mr Byrd's sisters, saw him for the last time at the bridal shower on Sunday afternoon. She reminded him about a big Father's Day gathering that the family was planning. She said he had promised to be there in his best suit. "I'll see y'all. I love y'all", he had said. He then left for his fateful encounter with the pick-up.

The route that Mr Byrd took holds one of the most poignant ironies of his sorry end. It was Martin Luther King Boulevard. The road where he ended up had no name. It ran alongside a cemetery.

Suggested Topics
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?