HUNTSVILLE, Texas (WGN) -- A man who helped carry out the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. — one of the most horrific hate crimes in modern American history — was executed by injection on Wednesday evening in a Texas prison.
John William King, 44, was one of three men convicted for the murder. He is the second person to die for the crime that made news around the world and helped inspire Congress to pass federal hate crime legislation.
King was put to death at 7:08 p.m. (8:08 p.m. ET) at Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville.
Dragged for nearly 3 miles
Byrd’s acquaintances told police they’d seen Byrd, who was black, at a party the night of June 6, 1998, that he’d left around 2 a.m. and was later seen riding in the bed of a pickup with three white men in the cab.
Authorities said King, Lawrence Russell Brewer and Shawn Berry picked up Byrd and drove him to a secluded area where they beat him and spray-painted his face before tying a logging chain around his ankles and dragging him behind a pickup truck for almost 3 miles.
Brewer died by lethal injection in 2011. Berry was sentenced to life in prison and is eligible for parole in 2038.
Some of Byrd’s relatives had objected to King’s death sentence.
His sister, Betty Boatner, told CNN in 2011, after Brewer’s execution, that she “forgave him 13 years ago.” His son, Ross, joined protests decrying Brewer’s execution, saying, “You can’t fight murder with murder.” Ross’ sister, Renee Mullins, said after Brewer’s execution that she preferred a life sentence for her dad’s killer.
While most murders are brutal, the viciousness of Byrd’s killing shocked the world. NBA star Dennis Rodman came forward to pay for Byrd’s funeral. Filmmakers produced multiple documentaries. Artists including Geto Boys, Drive-By Truckers and Will Smith referenced the violent saga in their songs. Maryland poet laureate Lucille Clifton penned an ode to Byrd.