King faces execution today for Jasper dragging death

We will post updates here for this developing story.

John William King, is set to be executed today for the death of James Byrd Jr. of Jasper in 1998. Texas’ hate crime legislation is named in honor of Byrd.

Execution set for Wednesday in 1998 Jasper hate crime

John William King, one of the three men convicted of the horrific death of James Byrd Jr. of Jasper, has a date with death Wednesday. Barring any a last-minute stay, King will be strapped to a gurney in the execution chamber in the Huntsville unit and given lethal injection.

On Monday, his appeals to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Board of Pardons and Paroles were denied.

Lawrence Ruzzell Brewer was put to death in 2011 and Shawn Berry is serving a life sentence.

The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear King’s case when the current session opened in October 2018.

Jasper police found the dismembered body of James Byrd on Huff Creek Road in Jasper early Sunday morning, June 7, 1998. His torso, legs and left are were found in front of a church. The rest of his body was found 1.5 miles down the road.

At King’s trial, a forensic pathologist found that Byrd’s injuries were consistent with being dragged by a vehicle by a chain wrapped together by a chain.

Investigators followed the blood trail down the road to an area where it appeared a fight had occurred, court records show.

Police recovered a cigarette lighter engraved with “KKK” and “Possum”; three cigarette butts, a can of “Fix-a-Flat”, a CD, a pack of Marlboro cigarette, beer bottles, a button from Byrd’s shirt, Byrd’s baseball cap and a wrench with the name “Berry” etched in it.

Byrd had been at a party on the night he was killed. He left around 1:30 or 2 a.m., walking alone.

At around 2:30 a.m., an acquaintance saw Byrd pass, riding in the back of a primer-gray pickup truck. Three white men were in the cab.

On Monday morning, a Jasper officer stopped a primer-gray pickup. The driver was Shawn Berry.

In the bed of the truck found tools matching those left at the grassy area. Dried blood splatter was found under the truck and on a tire. DNA testing proved the blood was Byrd’s. 

DNA testing of cigarette butts showed one was King’s.

Other evidence indicated the cigarette lighter belonged to King. Possum was a nickname he had in prison.

The state produced evidence showing that King developed an intense hatred of black people while in prison. He had been released a year before Byrd’s death.

King was the leader of a white-supremacist gang, the Confederate Knights of America.

He had numerous tattoos that featured images popular with white supremacy groups including the Ku Klux Klan.

HE had written letters to friends in prison indicating he planned to make a name for himself and was planning something big for July 4.

A gang expert testified that the location of Byrd’s body, near the church, was intended to spark terror among the black community in Jasper.

In a letter to the Dallas Morning News, King claimed he was innocent. He said Shawn Berry was responsible for Byrd’s death.

King said Berry had dropped off he and Brewer prior to the murder.

The state refuted that by testimony from friends of the trio as well as Byrd’s blood on one of King’s shoes.

During the mandatory appeal, King claimed ineffective assistance of counsel. He said the attorney did not offer evidence that could have provided him an alibi.

The appeals court rejected each of the points of error raised by King’s defense team.

Shawn Allen Berry is serving a life sentence in protective custody at TDCJ’s Ramsey unit. He will have a parole review in 2038. Following the punishment phase of Berry’s trial in 1999, jurors said they did not believe Berry was a continuing threat. 

While it’s likely that this ordeal is likely to come to an end for King on Wednesday, the trauma will continue for Byrd’s family, the Jasper community and East Texas will remain.