John William King — the racist ringleader behind the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., who was beaten and dragged to death in the small town of Jasper, Texas — is set to be executed on Wednesday night.
The 44-year-old will be the second man put to death for the slaying and the fourth inmate to die this year in the US by way of execution. He’s been described as a white supremacist and prison gang member with numerous tattoos of Ku Klux Klan symbols, a swastika and an image of a black man being hanged from a tree.
One of his three cohorts, Lawrence Brewer, was put to death for his involvement in 2011. The third, Shawn Berry, was let off with a life sentence.
The men were arrested in the summer of 1998 shortly after murdering Byrd, a well-known black man from Jasper. They had been riding around in a pickup truck — drinking and partying early one morning that June — when they spotted him walking down the road and offered him a ride.
Instead of taking Byrd home like he asked, the men drove him out into a clearing in the woods and proceeded to carry out one of the most infamous hate crimes in US history.
The trio beat him, urinated and defecated on him, chained his ankles to the back of the truck, and then dragged him for more than three miles.
King, who has been denied a request for a commutation of his sentence and a 120-day reprieve, has repeatedly claimed to be innocent. The avowed racist has alleged that Byrd’s death was the result of a drug deal gone bad, and that Berry dropped him off at his apartment before killing the disabled 49-year-old.
“From the time of indictment through his trial, Mr. King maintained his absolute innocence, claiming that he had left his co-defendants and Mr. Byrd sometime prior to his death and was not present at the scene of his murder,” wrote A. Richard Ellis, one of King’s appellate attorneys, in a petition to the Supreme Court. “Mr. King repeatedly expressed to defense counsel that he wanted to present his innocence claim at trial.”
Ellis is trying to get the nation’s highest court to stop King’s execution after failing to convince the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday.
“He wants to find a way not to die, but he didn’t give James that chance,” said Byrd’s sister, Louvon Harris, in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “He’s still getting off easy because your body’s not going to be flying behind a pickup truck being pulled apart.”
With Post wires
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