One of three white supremacists convicted in the lynching and dragging death of James Byrd Jr. is set to be executed on Wednesday, more than two decades after committing the grisly hate crime that shocked a nation.
On June 7, 1998, John William King, then 23, along with Shawn Berry, 23, and Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, spotted Byrd, 49, walking alone on a dark rural road in Jasper, Texas, and offered him a ride home from a party. According to the Beaumont Enterprise, Byrd and King, whose execution is scheduled for this week, reportedly knew one another from prison
Instead of taking him home, the three men chained Byrd to a truck’s bumper by his ankles and dragged him three miles down an asphalt road. With his skin being torn from his body, father-of-three attempted to protect his head by holding it up and tried to mitigate the unthinkable pain by moving from side to side.
Then, he hit a culvert—ripping his right arm, head, and neck from this body.
The desecration of Byrd’s body didn’t stop there. The men dumped what was left of Byrd’s naked, headless body in front of a black church to be discovered on Sunday morning. Newsweek reported that police were able to trace Byrd’s remains to the road he was mercilessly dragged down.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Tommy Brown described Byrd’s last moments in grave detail, telling a shocked courtroom that he was covered in “massive brush burn abrasions,” his testicles and left cheek were torn from his body, his leg muscle was left exposed, and that he had gravel in his scrotal sac.
He went on to reveal that Byrd had no injuries to his brain and skull and determined that Byrd was conscious as the asphalt literally ripped him apart.
In 1999, King—whose white supremacist tattoos were presented to the court—and Brewer received the death penalty following separate trials. Brewer was executed via lethal injection in September 2001; Berry was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1999.
The same year as the controversial trial, Byrd’s relatives founded the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing, which aims “to promote racial healing and cultural diversity through education.” In 2009, President Barack Obama announced the passing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act, which expanded existing hate crime laws and provided additional funding to prosecute hate crimes. The law also allowed for prosecution when a crime happens due to someone’s perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
Byrd’s family told The New York Times in 2018 that they’ve forgiven his killers but said they don’t want the modern-day lynching to be forgotten.
“It’s not just about remembering the painful details of our brother’s death,” Byrd’s sister who runs the anti-hate organization, Louvon Harris, told The Times last year. “It’s about keeping his memory alive so that this never happens again.”
[Featured Image: AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File]