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Texas Executes White Supremacist in Black Man's Dragging Death

This April 12, 2019, photo shows the gravesite of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. Byrd was killed on June 7, 1998, in what is considered one of the most gruesome hate crime murders in recent Texas history. Byrd's gravesite had been surrounded by a fence but was desecrated twice.

John William King, who was convicted of one of the grisliest crimes in modern American history, has been executed in Texas.

King, 44, was executed by lethal injection Wednesday night at the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. The avowed racist was the second person to be executed for the dragging death of a black man, James Byrd Jr., in Jasper, Texas, in 1998.

Officials said King kept his eyes closed and replied, "No," to the warden when asked whether he had any last words. But he did release a written statement that said, "Capital Punishment: Them without the capital get the punishment."

This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King.
This undated photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows John William King.

Shocking crime

King was only 24 when he orchestrated Byrd's murder, which shocked the nation.

In the predawn hours of June 7, 1998, three white men, King, Lawrence Brewer and Shawn Berry, offered Byrd a ride. Instead, they drove him to a secluded area where they beat him and spray-painted his face before tying a logging chain around his ankles, attaching it to the back of the truck and dragging him down a secluded road in the woods for about 5 kilometers.

Officials said Byrd was alive for at least the first 3 kilometers before his body was torn apart. His naked body was left near a black church just outside Jasper. The rest of his body was found about 2 kilometers away, court records show.

He had been decapitated and dismembered during the drive.

While no motive was presented during the trials, prosecutors have repeatedly pointed to racism as the reason for the crime.

All three men, King, Brewer and Berry, were convicted of capital murder. King and Brewer were sentenced to death and Berry received a sentence of life in prison.

Brewer was executed in 2011.

In the years since the dragging, Byrd's family has established the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing. His sister, Louvon Byrd Harris, 61, said her family still hopes to build a multicultural center and museum in Jasper to promote diversity and education.

Hate crime legislation

Considered one of the most gruesome crimes in U.S. history, it shocked not only local residents, but the nation. It also brought about hate crime legislation in Texas and the U.S. Congress.

One such law was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. Shepard was a gay student in Wyoming who was beaten, tortured and left for dead in October 1998. He died of his wounds six days after he was attacked.

According to the Justice Department, the law has been used to indict 88 defendants in 42 hate crimes cases, with 64 convictions, as of last summer.