John William King, 44, will be the second person executed in the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. Wednesday.
King was the ringleader of racists who dragged Byrd Jr. to death 20 years ago in East Texas, a killing that shocked the nation. According to authorities, Lawrence Russell Brewer and Shawn Berry assisted King in the hate crime. The three men kidnapped Byrd who was walking home from a friend’s anniversary party on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Jasper, Texas. The three white men 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. Byrd was dismembered and his remains were left at a funeral parlor and church.
Most of Byrd’s body was found June 7, 1998, a Sunday, in front of a church outside Jasper, Texas and his other remains were found a mile and a half away. Byrd was 49 at the time of his death and the father of three children.
Brewer died by lethal injection in 2011 and Berry was sentenced to life in prison. King has maintained his innocence and filed appeals. He will be executed barring any last minute intervention. Louvon Byrd will witness the lethal injection of her brother’s killer.
“He’s trying to save his life by all means necessary,” she told The Daily Beast. “But he did live 20 years longer than my brother… and I think that speaks a lot. The punishment would be just to take an injection and go to sleep, and even at that I still think he’s getting off easy.”
Louvon added that Byrd’s family had to relieve the horrific murder through the various trials. She explained that it was hard for them to listen to how he was decapitated and bound. They do so in the pursuit of justice.
“But we had to do it, because for justice you have to go beyond what you’re feeling, because it’s nothing close to what James went through that night,” she said.
Byrd’s death, in conjunction with the brutal murder of Matthew Sheppard, prompted Congress to create a new federal criminal law which criminalized hate crimes. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 would make such crimes punishable on the federal level. Louvon said that her family wanted Byrd to be remembered for more than just how he died. She said her brother was a people person who loved to play the trumpet.
“He missed out on a lot… Most people identify him as a crime, but I like when people identify him as a person,” Louvon said. “James loved people, and he’d like to make a difference.”
“Since he loved music so much, he always would say: ‘You laugh now, but one day I’m going to put Jasper on the map. Just wait and see,’” she recalled. “At the time he was thinking it would be because of his music—but never in his life was he thinking it would be because of his death.”