John William King was executed in Texas for his role in a brutal hate crime and murder.
(Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP, File)
A white supremacist who orchestrated one of the most notorious hate crimes in American history offered no last words and kept his eyes closed the whole time for his execution in Texas on Wednesday.
John William King, 44, was put to death by lethal injection for his role in the murder of 49-year-old James Byrd, Jr., that is chained to the back of a truck and dragged to death along a remote road outside of Jasper, about 130 miles northeast of Houston, early on the morning of 7 June 1998. The researchers said Byrd was alive for at least two miles before his body was torn to pieces.
The crime is a national spotlight on Jasper, who was hit with a racist stigma has tried to shake off, and that local officials said was unfounded. The case was also an issue in the 2000 presidential election, with groups including the NAACP criticized then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush about his opposition to hate-crime legislation.
The king was the fourth prisoner executed this year in the U.S. and third in Texas.
He was the second man executed for Byrd’s death. Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in 2011. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.
Prosecutors said Byrd was targeted because he was black. The king was openly racist and had offensive tattoos on his body, including one of a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree, according to the researchers.
James Byrd Jr. was murdered in Texas in 1998.
King’s appellate lawyers had tried to stop his execution, with the argument that King’s constitutional rights were violated, because his trial attorneys not to present the claims of innocence, and acknowledged his debt.
The U.S. Supreme court rejected King’s last-minute appeal.
“From the time of the indictment through his trial, Mr King maintained his absolute innocence, claiming that he had his co-defendants and Mr. Byrd sometime before his death and was not present at the place of the murder. Mr King repeatedly pointed out to the defense that he wanted to make his innocence claim at trial,” A. Richard Ellis, one of the King’s lawyers wrote in his petition to the Supreme court.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also rejected King’s request for a commutation of his sentence or a 120-day stay of execution.
Over the years, the King, who grew up in Jasper and was known as “Bill,” had proposed that the brutal murder was not a hate crime but a drug deal gone bad with his co-defendants.
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In 2001, an interview with The Associated Press, King said he was “an avowed racist”, but not “a hate -: monger murderer.”
Louvon Byrd Harris, one of Byrd’s sisters, said the King to the implementation sent a “message to the world that when you do something horrible like that, that you have to pay the high penalty.”
Lawrence Russell Brewer, pictured in 1999, was conducted in 2011 for his role in Byrd’s killing.
In comparison with the “suffering” of her brother suffered before his death, Harris said the King, and Brewer was “an easy way out.”
Billy Rowles, who led the investigation into Byrd’s death, when he was sheriff in Jasper County, said after the King was taken to death row in 1999, he offered to the details of the crime as fast as his co-defendants were convicted. When Rowles returned, all King would say was, “I was not there.”
“He played like a fiddle, to us to go there and to think that we’re going to the rest of the story,” said Rowles, now the sheriff of Newton County.
A week before Brewer was executed in 2011, Rowles said he visited Brouwer, who confirmed, “the whole thing was Bill King’s idea.”
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Mylinda Byrd Washington, one of Byrd’s sisters, said that she and her family will work by the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing and fight hate everywhere.
“I hope that people remember him not as a hate crime statistic. This was a real person. A family man, a father, a brother and a son,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.