White supremacist executed for dragging death of black man

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April 24 (Reuters) – A white supremacist convicted of killing James Byrd Jr. in 1998 by dragging the 49-year-old black man behind a truck in one of the most notorious U.S. hate crimes of modern times was executed in Texas on Wednesday.

John William “Bill” King, 44, was put to death by lethal injection and pronounced dead at 7:08 p.m. (0008 GMT Thursday) at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a statement.

The department said King wrote a last statement that read: “Capital Punishment: Them without the capital get the punishment.”

King, along with Shawn Berry and Lawrence Brewer, was accused of kidnapping Byrd while he hitchhiked in Jasper, Texas, on June 7, 1998.

This April 12, 2019, photo shows a bench donated by a foundation started by the family of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. The bench is located in front of the county courthouse in Jasper, Texas, where two of the three men convicted for Byrd’s death, considered one of the most gruesome hate crime murders in recent Texas history, were tried. John William King, the convicted ringleader of Byrd’s death, is set to be executed on Wednesday, April. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

In this Friday, April 12, 2019, photo Gary Gatlin, the interim mayor of Jasper, Texas, discusses the legacy of James Byrd Jr.’s death and its impact on Jasper. Byrd was killed on June 7, 1998, after he was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for nearly three miles along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper. John William King, the convicted ringleader of Byrd’s death, is set to be executed on Wednesday, April. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

In this Friday, April 12, 2019, photo Jasper city council member Rashad Lewis stands in front of a restaurant in Jasper, Texas, after discussing the legacy of James Byrd Jr.’s death and its impact on Jasper. Byrd was killed on June 7, 1998, after he was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for nearly three miles along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper. John William King, the convicted ringleader of Byrd’s death, is set to be executed on Wednesday, April. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

This Friday, April 12, 2019, photo shows a park named after James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. Byrd was killed on June 7, 1998, after he was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for nearly three miles along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper in what is considered one of the most gruesome hate crime murders in recent Texas history. John William King, the convicted ringleader of Byrd’s death, is set to be executed on Wednesday, April. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Juan Lozano)

Louvon Harris, left, covers her face as Clara Taylor, right, both sisters of James Byrd Jr., looks back while answering a question after witnessing the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, in Huntsville, Texas. Brewer, 44, one of two purported white supremacists condemned for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr., was executed Wednesday. Brewer was convicted for his participation in chaining Byrd to the back of a pickup truck, dragging the black man along a rural East Texas road and dumping what was left of his shredded body outside a black church cemetery in 1998. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Kelly Epstein, right, looks at Ricky Jason’s poster outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit before the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, in Huntsville, Texas. Brewer, 44, one of two purported white supremacists condemned for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr., was executed Wednesday. Brewer was convicted for his participation in chaining Byrd to the back of a pickup truck, dragging the black man along a rural East Texas road and dumping what was left of his shredded body outside a black church cemetery in 1998. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Clara Taylor, right, pauses before answering a question as Louvon Harris, left, both sisters of James Byrd Jr., listens after witnessing the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, in Huntsville, Texas. Brewer, 44, one of two purported white supremacists condemned for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr., was executed Wednesday. Brewer was convicted for his participation in chaining Byrd to the back of a pickup truck, dragging the black man along a rural East Texas road and dumping what was left of his shredded body outside a black church cemetery in 1998. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Clara Taylor, center, looks up to the sky as she answers a question as her her daughter, Tiffany, right, and sister Louvon Harris, left, listen after all three witnessed the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, in Huntsville, Texas. Harris and Taylor are the sisters of James Byrd Jr. Brewer, 44, one of two purported white supremacists condemned for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr., was executed Wednesday. Brewer was convicted for his participation in chaining Byrd to the back of a pickup truck, dragging the black man along a rural East Texas road and dumping what was left of his shredded body outside a black church cemetery in 1998. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

FILE – In a Wednesday, April 28, 1999 file photo, Lawrence Russell Brewer is led from the Jasper County courthouse following a change of venue hearing in his capital murder trial for the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. , in Jasper, Texas. Brewer, 44, one of two purported white supremacists condemned for Byrd’s death, is set for execution Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 for participating in chaining Byrd to the back of a pickup truck, dragging the black man along the road and dumping what was left of his shredded body outside a black church and cemetery. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

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Prosecutors said the men dragged him behind their 1982 Ford pickup truck for 3 miles (5 km) before dumping his body in front of an African-American church. A “KKK” engraved lighter was among the evidence police found at the scene, court documents showed.

Brewer, also a white supremacist, was executed in 2011. Berry was sentenced to life in prison for the crime.

King always maintained his innocence, saying that he left the two other men before Byrd was killed.

The gruesome killing spurred the passing of the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, strengthening punishments for hate crimes in Texas. The murder, along with that of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten and left to die tied to a fence, was also the genesis of the federal hate crimes prevention act passed in 2009.

Byrd’s sister Carla Taylor read from a family statement after she, another of his sisters and his niece witnessed the execution.

King’s “execution tonight was just punishment for his actions,” she said, noting that Byrd had three children and four grandchildren. “James’ legacy continues to be of peace and nonviolence.”

King was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1999. He was a member of a white supremacist gang and spoke of starting a race war while in prison for a previous crime. He also talked about initiating new members by having them kidnap and murder black people, court documents showed.

King was the third inmate in Texas and the fourth in the United States to be executed in 2019, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. (Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)

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