Washington: Avowed white supremacist John William King, 44, convicted of a notorious racist murder – chaining a black man to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him to his death – was executed Wednesday in the US state of Texas.
King was put to death by lethal injection at 7:08pm (local time) at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. He was one of three white men convicted of carrying out the 1998 murder of James Byrd (Jr), one of the most gruesome racist killings in recent US history. The other two, Lawrence Brewer was executed in 2011 while Shawn Berry – who cooperated with investigators – was given life in prison.
Berry testified during his trial that he and the two others were out drinking beer and cruising in a 1982 Ford pickup truck when they picked up Byrd, who was hitchhiking, and drove him to a remote country road. The men severely beat the 49-year-old Byrd before chaining him by his ankles to the back of the truck. Byrd was alive for some two miles (3.2 kilometers) while being dragged along the road, a pathologist testified during King’s trial. He was decapitated when his body hit a concrete drain pipe, the pathologist said.
Byrd’s dismembered body was found outside a black church in the small town of Jasper, Texas, near the border with Louisiana. The killing horrified the US public and kindled memories of the era of racist lynchings of African Americans in the South.
Ten years after King’s conviction, IS President Barack Obama signed a law aimed at preventing hate crimes which was named after Byrd and Matthew Shepard, a young gay man murdered the same year.
In a request for a stay of execution filed with the Supreme Court late Tuesday — which was ultimately denied — King’s lawyer, A. Richard Ellis, claimed that King’s attorney during his 1999 trial ignored his request to plead not guilty.
Repeated efforts to have King’s conviction overturned had failed, with the Supreme Court refusing to examine the case in 2018. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously refused to grant him a reprieve Monday.
The 1999 death sentence for King was the first in Texas since the 1970s handed to a white man for killing a black man. Two of Byrd’s sisters and a niece witnessed King’s execution, the fourth so far this year in the United States.