News North America

Monday 20 May 2019

White supremacist executed over gruesome killing of black man

John William King orchestrated one of the most gruesome hate crimes in U.S. history
(Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)
John William King orchestrated one of the most gruesome hate crimes in U.S. history (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)
Betty Boatner, a sister of James Byrd Jr., talks to the crowd during a prayer vigil at James Byrd Memorial Park in Jasper, Texas on Wednesday (Ryan Welch/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)

Juan A Lozano and Michael Graczyk

An avowed racist who orchestrated one of the most gruesome hate crimes in US history has been executed in Texas for the dragging death of a black man.

John William King received lethal injection for the slaying nearly 21 years ago of James Byrd Jr, who was chained to the back of a truck and dragged for nearly three miles along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper, Texas.

The 49-year-old Mr Byrd was alive for at least two miles before his body was ripped to pieces in the early morning of June 7, 1998.

Prosecutors said Mr Byrd was targeted because he was black.

Betty Boatner, a sister of James Byrd Jr., talks to the crowd during a prayer vigil at James Byrd Memorial Park in Jasper, Texas on Wednesday
(Ryan Welch/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)
Betty Boatner, a sister of James Byrd Jr., talks to the crowd during a prayer vigil at James Byrd Memorial Park in Jasper, Texas on Wednesday (Ryan Welch/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)

King, who was white, was openly racist and had offensive tattoos on his body, including one of a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree, according to authorities.

The 44-year-old was put to death at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, on Thursday.

He was the fourth inmate executed this year in the US and the third in Texas, the nation's busiest capital punishment state.

King kept his eyes closed as witnesses arrived in the death chamber and never turned his head toward relatives of his victim.

Asked by Warden Bill Lewis if he had a final statement, King replied: "No."

Within seconds, the lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital began taking effect.

He took a few barely audible breaths and had no other movement. He was pronounced dead at 7.08pm local time, 12 minutes after the drug began.

In a statement released after his execution, King said: "Capital punishment: them without the capital get the punishment."

Mr Byrd's sister, Clara Taylor, who watched King die, said he "showed no remorse then and showed no remorse tonight".

"The execution for his crime was just punishment," she said. "I felt nothing - no sense of relief, no sense of happy this is over with."

As witnesses emerged from the prison, about two dozen people standing down the street began to cheer.

The killing of Mr Byrd was a hate crime that put a national spotlight on Jasper, a town of about 7,600 residents near the Texas-Louisiana border that was branded with a racist stigma it has tried to shake off ever since. Local officials say the reputation is undeserved.

King's appellate lawyers had tried to stop his execution, arguing his constitutional rights were violated because his trial lawyers did not present his claims of innocence and conceded his guilt.

The US Supreme Court rejected King's last-minute appeal.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also turned down King's request for either a commutation of his sentence or a 120-day reprieve.

Over the years, King had also suggested the brutal slaying was not a hate crime, but a drug deal gone bad involving his co-defendants.

King, who grew up in Jasper and was known as Bill, was the second man executed for Byrd's killing.

Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in 2011. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News