US: Convicted ringleader in Texas dragging death to be executed

John William King was convicted of killing James Byrd Jr in 1998 by dragging the Texas black man behind a truck for 5km.

  • This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King [Handout/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/AP Photo]
This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King 

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 hate crimes in modern times is scheduled to be executed in Texas on Wednesday.

John William “Bill” King, 44, is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville at 6pm local time (23:00GMT).

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

Prosecutors said the men dragged him behind their 1982 gray Ford pickup truck for three 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.

Hate crimes

The gruesome killing spurred the passing of the James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Act, strengthening punishments for hate crimes in Texas.

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The murder, along with the killing 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.

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.

Ricky Jason wears a photograph of James Byrd Jr outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit before the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer [File: David J Phillip/AP Photo]

He also talked about initiating new members by having them kidnap and murder black people, court documents showed.

“Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history,” King wrote in a letter to Brewer obtained by jail officials after they were convicted of killing Byrd, CNN reported.

“Death before dishonour. Sieg Heil!” the letter continued, using a Nazi salute.

‘You can’t fight murder with murder’

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

His lawyers filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court after a Texas appeals court denied a request to halt the execution on Monday.

Berry and Brewer were also convicted of murder.

Berry was sentenced to life in prison while Brewer, also a white supremacist, was sentenced to death.

Some of Byrd’s family members have said they would have rather seen the men spend the rest of their lives in prison.

“You can’t fight murder with murder,” his son Ross Byrd told Reuters the night before Brewer’s execution in 2011.

King will be the third inmate in Texas and the United States to be executed in 2019, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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