A white supremacist who helped orchestrate the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. — one of the most heinous hate crimes in modern U.S. history — was executed by lethal injection Wednesday at a Texas prison.
John William King, 44, was pronounced dead shortly after 7 p.m. at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville, a corrections spokesman said. His execution comes some 20 years after King and two other white men were convicted in Byrd’s grisly murder.
Authorities said the trio beat Byrd, 49, chained him to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him for miles down a logging road in the East Texas city of Jasper in the early hours of June 7, 1998. Prosecutors believe Byrd, who was African-American, was targeted because of his race.
“The fact that a human being — a living, breathing human being — was jumped, beat, chain-wrapped around his legs and drug behind their truck for close to three miles, that is so far over my head that anyone could do something like that, let alone three of them, could do something like that,” Billy Rowles, who led the investigation into Byrd’s death when he was the Jasper County Sheriff, told NBC Dallas.
The killers then left Byrd’s mangled body in the middle of the road “so everybody could see,” he said.
On Wednesday, King became the second man to be put to death in the case after co-defendant Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed back in 2011. The third assailant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.
When asked if he had any final words, King, 44, closed his eyes and replied, “No,” Jeremy Desel with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice told CNN. However, King did give a written statement that read,” Capital Punishment: them without the capital get the punishment.”
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and State Board of Pardons and Paroles both denied requests from the defense to delay or commute King’s execution earlier this week, NBC News reported. He’s the third person to be put to death in Texas this year, and the fourth in the U.S.
Byrd’s sister, Clara Byrd Taylor, was present for the execution and said she felt nothing as she watched her brother’s killer die.
“There was no sense of relief,” Taylor, 71, said, but called King’s death a “just punishment.”
News of Byrd’s killing sent shock waves across Jasper, and gained both national and international attention. Even with two of his killers now dead, local advocates said there still may not be closure for those in the local community.
“They might say, ‘OK, this person has been executed, we could move on,'” Baylor University professor Mia Moody-Ramirez, told USA TODAY. “But people won’t ever forget.”
Byrd’s heinous killing has helped spur hate crime legislation in Texas.