By Frederick H. Lowe
John William King, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who initiated the brutal murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, is scheduled to be executed Wednesday 21 years after Byrd’s body parts were found scattered in front of a black church and in areas nearby to scare parishioners.
The execution date was set for King after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans denied the former carpenter and laborer’s appeal for a new trial based on his argument that he was represented by ineffective counsel.
On June 7, 1998, James Byrd, 49, hitched a ride to Jasper with King and his cohorts, Lawrence Brewer and Shawn Allen Berry.
They were riding in a pickup truck and Byrd, an ex-convict, accepted the ride because he knew the men from prison. He hopped in the truck’s bed. King was the leader of a white supremacist gang in prison and wore KKK tattoos.
King pulled over in his truck, and the three men got out and beat Byrd and then chained him by his ankles to the back of the 1982 Ford pickup truck.
They dragged Byrd three miles along a rural concrete road; his right arm, head and neck were severed when the truck hit a culvert.
Law enforcement officials and others found Byrd’s severed head in front of a black church that was not named. The head has been left so that it would be seen by churchgoers on Sunday morning. Police later found 75 of Byrd’s body parts a half mile or more away from the church.
The three dumped Byrd’s torso along the side of the road. The state of Texas executed Brewer by lethal injection in 2011 and Berry will remain in prison for the rest of his life.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who is always depicted in the press as a wacky clown, and whose sensitivity, intelligence and compassion are ignored, paid for Byrd’s funeral. He also gave Byrd’s family $25,000. Following Rodman’s lead, fight promoter Don King gave Byrd’s three children $100,000 for their future educational expenses.
Byrd’s brutal murder also sparked passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in October 2009.
In 1999, a jury convicted King of kidnapping and murder.
He will be executed at the Texas Department of Corrections in Huntsville.