Texas Executes John William King For 1998 Dragging Death of James Byrd Jr.

The avowed white supremacist was among three men convicted of dragging James Byrd Jr., a black man, to his death in a horrific hate crime.

The state of Texas on Wednesday executed a white supremacist convicted of leading the grisly killing of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was targeted in one of the most gruesome hate crimes in recent U.S. history.

John William King, 44, was executed by lethal injection shortly after 7 p.m. local time at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. King was among three men found guilty in the brutal killing of Byrd, a 49-year-old father of three. 

On the night of June 6, 1998, Byrd was offered a ride home in the back of a pickup truck after leaving a party late at night. He was then beaten and chained to the tail of the truck and dragged three miles to his death in the small town of Jasper, Texas, according to The Dallas Morning News. Officials estimate he was alive for the first two miles.

The Supreme Court denied King’s request for a stay Wednesday evening, allowing the execution to go forward. King, who was convicted in 1999, maintained that he was innocent, claiming he was dropped off at home before the killing occurred. 

The Dallas Morning News reported that evidence presented during the trial showed that King and his convicted accomplices, Shawn Berry and Lawrence Russell Brewer, were drinking and driving in Berry’s truck before stopping to offer Byrd a ride home. Instead, they took him to the end of a logging trail where the crime began, prosecutors said.

Brewer was put to death in 2011, and Berry will be eligible for parole in 2038, The New York Times reported, though he has been sentenced to life in prison. 

According to the Texas Tribune, court documents indicated King had ties to a white supremacist prison gang and was inked with numerous racist tattoos, including images of a swastika, Ku Klux Klan signs and a drawing of a lynching.

In 2009, former President Barack Obama signed into law a landmark piece of civil rights legislation establishing that assault based on gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is a federal hate crime. It expanded a 1968 law pertaining to attacks targeting victims for their national origin, race or religion.

The measure, titled the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was named after Byrd and Shepard, a gay college student who was tortured and killed in 1998.