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John William KING





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: White supremacist - Hate crime
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 7, 1998
Date of arrest: 2 days after
Date of birth: 1974
Victim profile: James Byrd, Jr., 49 (black man)
Method of murder: Chained by his ankles to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to death
Location: Jasper, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on February 25, 1999

photo gallery


John William King is a white supremacist who was convicted of murdering James Byrd, Jr., in a 1998 hate crime.

He was accused of dragging Byrd behind a truck until the African-American man died. The testimony phase of his trial started in Jasper, Texas on February 16, 1999. He was found guilty of kidnapping and murder on February 23 and was sentenced to death on February 25.

King had previously been gang-raped in prison by black prisoners and, although he had no previous record of racism, had allegedly joined a white-supremacist prison gang for self-protection. Salon magazine commented on the case:

"Victims of prison rape often turn their anger against innocents when they are set free. ... Shortly after arriving in prison, King — then 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds (64 kg) — was attacked by black prisoners and raped ... He emerged from the dungeon transformed."


James Byrd, Jr. (May 2, 1949 - June 7, 1998) was an African-American murdered in 1998 by Shawn Allen Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John William King, in Jasper, Texas.

The Murder

On June 7, 1998, Byrd, 49, accepted a ride from three drunk men named Shawn Allen Berry, Lawrence Russel Brewer, and John William King. He had already known one of them. Instead of taking him home, the three men beat Byrd behind a convenience store, tied him to their pickup truck with a chain tied around his waist, stripped the man naked, and dragged him about three miles. It is not known whether he was alive during the dragging.

Although Lawrence Russell Brewer claimed that Byrd's throat had been slashed before he was dragged, forensic evidence suggests that Byrd had been attempting to keep his head up, and an autopsy suggested that Byrd was alive for much of the dragging and died after his right arm and head were severed when his body hit a culvert. His body had caught a sewage drain on the side of the road resulting in Byrd's decapitation.

King, Berry, and Brewer dumped their victim's mutilated remains in the town's black cemetery, and then went to a barbecue. A wrench with "Berry" was found within the area along with a lighter that had "Possum" written on it, which was King's prison nickname.

The next morning, Byrd's limbs were scattered across a very little used road. The police found 75 places littered with Byrd's remains. State law enforcement officials and Jasper’s District Attorney Guy James Gray determined that since King and Brewer were well-known white supremacists, the murder was a hate crime, and decided to bring in the FBI less than 24 hours after the discovery of Byrd’s remains.

One of Byrd's murderers, John King, had a tattoo depicting a black man hanging from a tree, and other tattoos such as Nazi symbols, the words "Aryan Pride," and the patch for the Confederate Knights of America, a gang of white supremacist inmates.

In a jailhouse letter to Brewer which was intercepted by jail officials, King expressed pride in the crime and said he realized he might have to die for committing it. "Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history. Death before dishonor. Sieg Heil!", King wrote.

Brewer and King were sentenced to death. Berry received life in prison.

Numerous aspects of the Byrd murder echo lynching traditions, including mutilation or decapitation, and revelry, such as a barbecue or a picnic, during or after.

The Perpetrators

John King - accused of beating Byrd with a bat and then dragging him behind a truck until he died. King had previously claimed to have been gang-raped in prison by black prisoners and, although he had no previous record of racism, had joined a white-supremacist prison gang, allegedly for self-protection. The testimony phase of his trial started in Jasper, Texas on February 16, 1999. He was found guilty of kidnapping and murder on February 23 and was sentenced to death on February 25.

Lawrence Russell Brewer - another white supremacist convicted of murdering Byrd. Prior to the Byrd murder, Brewer had served a prison sentence for drug possession and burglary, and he was paroled in 1991. After violating the parole in 1994, he was sent back to prison. According to his court testimony, he joined a white supremacist gang with King in order to safeguard himself from other prisoners. A state psychiatrist testified that Brewer did not appear repentant for his crimes. In the end, Brewer was also sentenced to death.

Shawn Allen Berry - The driver of the truck, Berry was the most difficult to convict of the three defendants because there was a lack of evidence to suggest that he himself was a racist. He had also claimed that his two companions were entirely responsible for the crime. Brewer testified that it was Berry who cut Byrd's throat before he was tied to the truck, but the jury decided that there was little evidence to indicate this. As a result, Berry was spared the death penalty and given a life sentence in prison.

Reactions to the murder

Byrd's murder was strongly condemned by Jesse Jackson and the Martin Luther King Center as an act of vicious racism and focused national attention on the prevalence of white supremacist prison gangs. Two of the three defendants, who were later tried and convicted for the murder, had allegedly joined such gangs while imprisoned in Texas.

The victim's family created the James Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing after his death. In 2003, a movie about the crime, called Jasper, Texas, was produced and shown on Showtime. The same year, a documentary called Two Towns of Jasper, made by filmmakers Marco Williams and Whitney Dow, premiered on PBS's P.O.V. series.

Basketball star Dennis Rodman offered to pay for Byrd's funeral. Although Byrd's family declined this offer, they accepted a $25,000 donation by Rodman to a fund started to support Byrd's family.

While at the CBS-owned WARW radio station in Washington, D.C., Doug Tracht (AKA The Greaseman) made a derogatory comment about James Byrd. after playing Lauryn Hill's song "Doo Wop (That Thing)". The February 1999 incident proved catastrophic to his radio career, igniting protests from black and white listeners alike. Tracht was quickly fired from WARW and lost his position as a volunteer deputy sheriff in Falls Church, Virginia.

A campaign issue

Some advocacy groups, such as the NAACP National Voter Fund, made an issue of this case during George W. Bush's presidential campaign in 2000. They accused him of implicit racism, since as governor, he opposed special hate crime legislation and, citing a prior commitment, Bush declined to appear at Byrd's funeral.

Because two of the three murderers were sentenced to death and the third to a life term in prison (all charged with and convicted of capital murder, the highest felony level in Texas), Governor Bush maintained that "we don't need tougher laws."

After Governor Rick Perry inherited the rest of George W. Bush's unexpired term, the 77th Texas Legislature passed the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act on May 11, 2001.


  • King, Joyce. Hate Crime: The Story of a Dragging in Jasper, Texas. Pantheon, 2002.



Death sentence for King in Byrd killing upheld

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

Oct. 19, 2000

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday upheld the death sentence of white supremacist John William King, one of three men convicted of capital murder in the dragging death of James Byrd Jr.

In its unanimous opinion, the nine-member court rejected all eight of King's challenges to his conviction.

King was convicted for his role in the 1998 abduction of Byrd, a black man, who was chained by his ankles to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to death near the East Texas town of Jasper.

King's lawyers had argued there was insufficient evidence to prove that Byrd had been abducted. Prosecutors had to prove the commission of a second felony to seek a death sentence.

"But the act of chaining Byrd to the truck and dragging him for a mile and a half was, by itself, kidnapping under the law," the court ruled. "Dragging a chained man from a truck also constitutes the use of deadly force to restrain that person and prevent his liberation."

The court also said that King's guilt was further supported by DNA evidence, "the extensive evidence of (King's) hatred for African-Americans," and King's letters to the media and a co-defendant. Those letters, the court said, could have been construed by the jury as an admission of his role in Byrd's murder.

Lawrence Russell Brewer Jr. of Sulphur Springs and Shawn Berry of Jasper also were convicted of capital murder in Byrd's death. Brewer also was sentenced to die while Berry was sentenced to life in prison.


Racist killer sentenced to death in Texas murder

Biography of John William King highlights brutalization of American society

By Jerry White

26 February 1999

The gruesome details surrounding the racist murder of James Byrd Jr. have evoked widespread anger and an understandable popular revulsion towards John William King, the young white man convicted earlier this week for the dragging death of the 49-year-old black man last June in Jasper, Texas.

On Tuesday the jury, made up of 11 whites and one black, convicted King, 24, after deliberating little more than two hours. Two days later the same jury sentenced him to death.

The fact that a largely white Southern jury would swiftly convict a racist killer is a measure of the change in social attitudes in America. Thirty years ago those who lynched a black man in the South had little fear of being convicted, or even facing trial. This change in thinking among layers of the population is due largely to the great social struggles against segregation and for civil rights, from the 1950s on, which have taken deep root among working people.

This was reflected in the attitude of the jury, which elected its lone black member as foreman, and of King's father, a retired sawmill worker, who apologized to the Byrd family again after the conviction. Byrd's relatives welcomed his gesture and acknowledged that King had not raised his son as a racist.

The question gripping both families, and the black and white residents of Jasper, many of whom have demonstratively expressed their opposition to racism, was how did this happen? The efforts of the prosecutors, law enforcement officers and news commentators to portray King as simply a bad individual, the embodiment of evil, does not provide a serious answer to this question. Furthermore, to suggest that this matter will be resolved by executing King means to sweep under the rug the more profound and, indeed, disturbing questions raised by this crime.

There is no doubt that King and his accomplices need to be jailed, perhaps for the rest of their lives. More fundamental, however, is the need to examine the social, ideological and political conditions that gave rise to King's white supremacist views and this crime.

The convicted killer's father, who suffers from emphysema and lost two fingers in a sawmill, told the Dallas Morning News, "The way he was raised, I don't see how he could have that kind of hate in him." The elder King said with his encouragement his son had grown up with black friends, and that he, Ronald King, has good friends and two goddaughters who are black. As the father heard witnesses testify last week about his son's participation in racist prison gangs and his role in the dragging death of Byrd, Ronald King said, "That ain't the boy I knew."

It is worthwhile to examine John William King's transformation, if only in brief. Born in Mississippi, the poorest state in the US, he was adopted when he was three months old. Shortly afterwards Ronald King and his wife moved their son and two daughters to east Texas, an impoverished rural area. They settled in Jasper, a racially mixed town of 8,000 dependent on timber, light manufacturing and bass fishing.

When King was 15 his mother died and the father raised three children on his income from a plywood mill. At the age of 17 King was arrested for burglary and dropped out of Jasper High School. Soon afterwards he was in trouble again when he and another 17-year-old drop-out (Shawn Berry, who has also been charged in the murder of James Byrd Jr.) were caught stealing beer and pool cues from a local vending machine company.

The two young men were first sent to a correctional boot camp, one of the more recent innovations of the US juvenile justice system where youth are subjected to military-style discipline. After King was released he drifted, mostly without a job, and a few months later was back in court over a conflict with his probation officer. This time the judge revoked King's probation and sentenced him to an eight-year prison sentence. In 1995 the 20-year-old King found himself in the Beto I Unit, a 3,200-inmate penitentiary in Tennessee County, Texas.

In America the very idea that youthful offenders can or should be rehabilitated has come to be derided. Instead judges impose ever-harsher sentences, and once inside the "correctional system" these young people are subjected to dehumanizing punishment by sadistic authorities. The US incarcerates the highest percentage of its population of any country in the industrialized world.

America's overflowing prisons are a breeding ground for the white supremacist elements with whom King began to associate. As one former inmate from a Huntsville, Texas prison said, "The problem is the huge influx of young convicts with unimaginably long sentences, who are angry and afraid and all too willing to band together in groups with racial or geographical bonds. They cloak their despair in rage, and they act out that rage on anyone not of their group."

Prison guards and officials encourage a brutal struggle for survival between white, black and Hispanic prisoners and do little to stop even the most murderous confrontations. At the same time, as the correctional system has focused on warehousing prisoners instead of rehabilitation, funding has been slashed for higher learning and other programs in prisons. But as another inmate commented, "The human mind needs to be occupied to overcome ignorance."

In prison King met Lawrence Brewer, the third suspect in the murder of Byrd. They both became associated with a small circle of inmates using the name of the North Carolina-based Ku Klux Klan faction, the Confederate Knights of America. They were involved in a racial conflict between white and Hispanic prisoners in 1995. Soon King was sending out letters proclaiming racist views and his allegiance to the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang founded in California's San Quentin prison in the 1960s, which is affiliated to the paramilitary Aryan Nations.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, many white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups provide prisoners free or heavily discounted copies of their publications, and other readers of these racist magazines are encouraged to write to these "prisoners of war." Many of these publications espouse the racist theology of the Christian Identity movement, a church which maintains that Anglo-Saxons, not Jews, are the biblical "chosen people," that non-whites are "mud people" on the level of animals and that Jews are the "children of Satan."

A fellow inmate testified that King, who adorned his body with racist tattoos in prison, had vowed to kidnap and kill a black man when he got free as part of a gang initiation rite, known behind bars as a "blood tie." Prosecutors say King wanted to attract attention and recruits to a racist group he planned to start in Jasper.

It takes a great deal to condition a human being to be able to chain a man to the back of a truck, drag him behind the vehicle for miles, then leave his dismembered and decapitated body outside a black cemetery. The systematic dehumanization King experienced in prison, along with the racial poison to which he was introduced, were essential psychological components in the motivation of this heinous crime. But they were not the only factors.

Prison life is, perhaps, only the most concentrated form of the brutal society that exists in America. Human compassion and empathy are denounced as weakness and every aspect of life is dominated by a struggle of the individual against all others.

In the workplace, thousands of are thrown out of their jobs for the good of wealthy stockholders. Political authorities utilize the most violent methods to deal with intractable social problems. In Texas, a death row population overwhelmingly comprised of the poor, minorities and the mentally impaired is systematically executed. In New York City policemen fire 41 bullets into the body of a frightened, unarmed African immigrant. And, finally, the nightly news brings the latest reports of US "air strikes" in a distant country.

Perhaps the most explosive ingredients in this mixture are the worsening social and economic conditions affecting large sections of the population. Despite the repeated claims by the Clinton White House and the news media of America's booming economy, tens of millions in towns like Jasper are enduring a desperate situation.

King, Brewer and Berry--like many young workers, black and white--drifted from one low-paying job to another with no future. They became the raw material for racist organizations which blame these economic problems on blacks and Hispanics.

Such political tendencies are deliberately cultivated by sections of the American ruling class. Indeed, having abandoned any efforts at reform, both big business parties have increasingly turned to law-and-order demagogy and attacks on welfare recipients and immigrants, which encourage the revival and spread of race prejudice.

This holds true particularly for the Republican Party, which has actively courted right-wing militia groups and has close ties with racist organizations such as the Council of Conservative Citizens. In the state of Mississippi, John William King's birthplace, one third of the state legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, are affiliated with this racist organization, as well as the state's most powerful politician, Trent Lott, the Majority Leader of the US Senate.

Trent Lott may not speak to the John William Kings of this world. The Southern aristocracy generally keeps its distance from those it regards as "white trash." But he speaks to the CCC (the "respectable" version of the KKK), and the CCC stokes up the Kings and turns their social anger in the most reactionary direction. These are the real connections, never discussed in the mass media, between the horrible events in Jasper and the social antagonisms in America.


Trial opens in racist dragging death in Jasper, Texas

By James Brookfield

18 February 1999

The trial of John King for the brutal killing of James Byrd Jr. opened on Tuesday in Jasper, Texas. King, 24, is the first of three expected to stand trial for the murder of Byrd, 49, killed in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998. King, along with Shawn Berry, 23, and Lawrence Brewer, 31, are alleged to have severely beaten Byrd, before chaining him to a pickup truck and dragging him to his dismemberment and death.

King, Berry and Brewer, all white, established ties to racist organizations during previous prison terms. Byrd was black.

The prosecutor, District Attorney Guy James Gray, made his opening statement Tuesday, arguing that physical evidence and King's racist writings would demonstrate his responsibility for the murder. King pled not guilty to the charges while his attorney, Haden "Sonny" Cribbs, declined to make an opening statement.

In the weeks leading up to the trial, King has written to Texas newspapers claiming that Berry acted alone in killing Byrd and that neither he nor Brewer were present. In his confession to the police last June, Berry maintained that all three were present, but that Brewer and King attacked Byrd and chained him to Berry's pickup truck.

On Tuesday prosecutors entered into evidence a lighter found at the woodlands clearing where Byrd was chained to the truck. It was engraved with "KKK" and King's prison nickname. Prosecutors also submitted 22 pages of documents, handwritten by King, intended to serve as bylaws for a racist group he had hoped to start, the "Confederate Knights of America Texas Rebel Soldiers." (The Confederate Knights of America is a North Carolina affiliate of the Ku Klux Klan.)

Byrd's family left the courtroom in tears as photographs of his remains and fragments of his tattered clothes were shown to jurors. Equally horrifying was the fact that Byrd was initially conscious while being dragged and tried to prop his head up from the pavement by leaning on his elbows. His head was severed after one mile while his torso was dragged for an additional two miles before being dumped in front of a black cemetery.

The prosecution stated that it would submit DNA evidence further linking King to the crime scene. Saliva tests done on cigarettes found in the clearing reportedly point to all three charged in the murder. Byrd's blood was also allegedly found on King's shoes.

The jury includes eleven whites and one black. Although the town of Jasper is half black, the surrounding county from which the jury pool was drawn is only 18 percent black.

King's adoptive father Ronald, who wrote an apology to Byrd's family after the murder, expressed his dismay and grief over the crime in a November interview with the Dallas Morning News. He told the paper that his son was not raised to be a racist, and that he had grown up around children who were black, including two of Ronald's goddaughters.

John King, the defendant, dropped out of high school in 1992 and was arrested twice for burglary. The second incident led to an eight-year prison sentence that began in July 1995. In prison he shared a cell with Brewer, eight years older and jailed for burglary, cocaine possession and parole violations. Brewer and Berry would later move in with King in the spring of 1998, following King's parole in July 1997 and Brewer's in September of the same year.

In prison King took up with inmates involved in the "Confederate Knights." There he acquired a number of his tattoos, which reportedly include Nazi symbols and a picture of a black man being hung. According to a report published in the Morning News, while in jail he also discussed a plan to drag someone to death.


The murder of James Byrd, Jr.

Racial violence and the social forces in America that fuel it

By Martin McLaughlin

13 June 1998

The sadistic murder of a middle-aged black man in Texas last week is an indication of the savagery which lies just beneath the surface of American life. James Byrd, Jr., 49, was beaten unconscious, chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for miles over rural roads outside the town of Jasper.

Three white men, John William King, 23, Shawn Berry 23, and Lawrence Brewer Jr., 31, have been arrested. Berry has already given a confession that implicates the other two as the principal assailants. Both King and Brewer had links to white supremacist groups while serving terms in state prison. In the course of the killing King reportedly made a reference to the "Turner Diaries," a fascistic novel which was in the possession of Timothy McVeigh when he was arrested for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The official commentaries on this atrocity--from the media, the Democratic and Republican politicians and the civil rights establishment--have not gone beyond the horror of the killing and its racist motives to begin a more searching examination of its social roots.

The black mayor of Jasper said race relations in the town were good: "Here you have a hospital administrator who is black, the executive director of the East Texas Council of Government is black, the president of the chamber of commerce is black, the past president of the school board is black and the mayor and two councilmen are black.''

Precisely! The mayor's statement quite unintentionally highlights how limited in many respects and how fragile is the social progress made since the days of Jim Crow. A handful of middle class blacks may hold privileged positions, and legal segregation may be banned, but it is still the case that a black man is in danger of being beaten and murdered because of the color of his skin.

Today the killers are arrested and jailed, rather than being patted on the back by the local authorities, but that will not bring back James Byrd Jr., or prevent the next such attack.

Racism and politics

Race hatred did not spring fully-grown from the hearts and minds of King, Brewer and Berry. It is a product of the broader social environment. East Texas was a center of Ku Klux Klan activity during the heyday of lynching, from 1889 to 1918. These traditions live on, especially in the activities and attitudes of the local police.

There have been a series of police killings and jailhouse deaths of black men in recent years in nearby areas of east Texas. In Hemphill, Texas, in neighboring Sabine County, on the Texas-Louisiana border, a young father of six, Loyal Garner, was arrested on a phony drunk driving charge, taken to the county jail and beaten to death in 1987. Another young black man, arrested for the theft of a fountain pen, died in a jail cell in 1988 after a police beating. In Vidor, near Beaumont, Texas, Ku Klux Klan members staged armed patrols in 1994 in an effort to prevent the integration of a local housing project.

Added to this is the open encouragement given to the activities of extreme-right groups by leading elements in the Republican Party. Many of the freshmen Republicans elected in 1994 had significant backing from militia groups and echoed their views. After the Oklahoma City bombing, they pressed for congressional hearings, not into the fascist milieu which produced Timothy McVeigh, but into the Ruby Ridge incident, the Waco massacre, and other cause célèbres of the militia groups.

One such congressman, Steve Stockman, represents the congressional district just south of Jasper County. He sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno on behalf of the militia groups only six weeks before the Oklahoma City bombing. On the day of the bombing he received a fax from a fascist radio commentator in Michigan updating him on the investigation of the blast.

It is noteworthy that Texas Governor George W. Bush, after a perfunctory condemnation of the murder of Byrd, declined an invitation to come to Jasper personally to show his outrage over the racial killing. The son of the former president does not want to weaken his standing with the Christian Coalition and other ultra-right groups, which he banks on to propel him to the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.

The social roots

What are the social conditions which made this tragedy possible?

Jasper County is part of rural east Texas, one of the poorest and most backward regions of the United States. US census figures give the following profile:

The county's population of 31,148 is 80 percent white, 18 percent black, 2 percent other. The number of college graduates, 1,649, is exceeded by the number of people who dropped out of school in the ninth grade or earlier, 2,816. Barely half the adult population are high school graduates.

The unemployment rate is well above the state and national average. Most of those who work are employed in low-wage jobs in retail sales, light manufacturing, lumber and construction.

The median household income is $20,451, considerably below the US average, while the poverty rate is 20 percent. One out of every ten households is on welfare, and one out of three have no wage or salary income at all. In a largely rural area, 10 percent of households have no car and five percent have no phone.

These figures suggest the social context in which the murder of James Byrd took place. The conditions in Jasper County are the worst for younger sections of the working class, especially those who are high school dropouts, sinking into a life of petty crime, drunkenness or drug addiction.

The mounting social tensions in America are the product of poverty, the decay of basic services like education and health care, and the increasing polarization of society between a fabulously wealthy elite and the vast majority who must struggle to make ends meet. In the absence of a politically conscious workers movement, with political life and public discourse entirely monopolized by the privileged 10 percent at the top, these tensions do not as yet find any progressive outlet.

Instead of being directed into a political struggle against the economic system which is responsible for growing social misery, the anger over deteriorating conditions festers and is subject to be diverted into reactionary channels. It finds expression in the outbreaks of individual violence which now take place almost on a weekly basis in America--workplace rampages, school shootings, murder-suicides. This increasing brutalization of American society is the background to the murder of James Byrd.


Trio charged in Jasper slaying

By Richard Stewart - Houston Chronicle East Texas Bureau

April 7, 1999

In one of the most vicious racial crimes in modern Texas history, three young men with a fetish for white supremacy were charged Tuesday with murdering a black man by chaining him to a pickup and dragging him for almost three miles on a winding road through the East Texas woods.

Along the way, 49-year-old James Byrd Jr.'s head and right arm were ripped from his mangled body.

The suspects are small-time criminals who live in the area, had no history of violence but who may have recently become enamoured with the Aryan Nation and the Ku Klux Klan.

"We're going to start the Turner Diaries early," one of the suspects ominously declared, according to an affidavit released by the FBI, which has joined local authorities in the investigation.

It was an ominous reference to a document that serves as a kind of bible for white supremacists.

"This episode is a horrendous example of the rage that is out there," said Joe Roy, head of the intelligence project of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

"More often than not, it's based on dehumanization of blacks, whites, Asians, gays. There's a daily dose of hatred. They're dehumanized: `This isn't a human being we're dragging behind a vehicle, it's a thing, a target.'

"It's a window of what's going on in this country."

He said there were 5,396 racial hate crimes reported by the U.S. Justice Department in 1996.

The crime has stunned this prosperous timber town and county seat of 8,000. While local lawmen and a small army of FBI agents and some local residents express shock, others complain that racial unrest is seething just below the quiet surface.

"We have no organized KKK or Aryan Brotherhood groups here in Jasper County," said Sheriff Billy Rowles, a declaration that prompted whoops and catcalls from the black residents.

At the scene, a line pointed to a broken culvert and the stark word "HEAD" written in Day-Glo orange chalk in the ditch on the side of Huff Creek Road, a twisty back road through the woods. Byrd 's torso was found more than a mile away and a line of dozens of painted circles along the way point to the path that investigators say three Jasper men took as they dragged Byrd behind their pickup truck in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The three young suspects charged in Byrd 's death may have had connections with or at least been sympathizers of white supremacy groups, he said.

A spokesman for the Texas prisons system said there was nothing to indicate the men were members of that group while incarcerated.

Rowles said he didn't think the trio planned Byrd 's grisly murder before it happened. He also said he doubts it was in retaliation of an earlier murder of a local white man by one of his black former employers.

"These guys aren't smart enough to retaliate," Rowles said of the trio.

Shawn Allen Berry and John William King, both 23 and from Jasper, and Lawrence Russell Brewer Jr., 31, of Sulphur Springs, are being held without bail in the Jasper County jail. All three have been charged with murder, but that may be expanded to capital murder, officials said, meaning prosecutors can seek the death penalty. Federal charges of violating Byrd 's civil rights may also be added.

In an affidavit used to charge the trio, an investigator said Berry told officers that he and the other two men were riding around in his pickup truck sometime after 12:45 a.m. Sunday when they saw a black man walking along a road.

Local residents said Byrd - known around town as "Toe" because his toe had been cut off in an accident - was frequently seen walking around the eastern end of the town. He lived by himself in a small apartment and received a small disability check.

Earlier that night he had been at a couple of gatherings of friends and relatives. Famous locally for his fine voice and trumpet and piano playing, he entertained at both get-togethers by singing.

Berry said he didn't know Byrd but recognized him as someone from around Jasper. He said he offered him a ride in the back of his pickup.

According to Berry, this made King upset, who cursed and called Byrd a racial epithet.

With Byrd riding in the truck bed, Berry and the other two white men drove to a local convenience store east of Jasper. At that point, King took the wheel and began heading out of town to Huff Creek Road. Then he turned he onto a dirt road, and warned he was "fixin' to scare the s--- out of this n-----."

They all got out of the truck, Berry said, and his companions began beating Byrd . The affidavit gives no explanation for why the men began beating their passenger.

"At one point, the black male appeared to be unconscious to Berry," the affidavit said.

Berry said he started to run away and then got back into the truck when King drove up to him. "Are you going to leave him out there?" Berry said he asked King.

King answered, "We're going to start the Turner Diaries early."

King turned back onto Huff Creek Road, a winding, hilly back road in the woods. Berry said Brewer looked behind the truck and said, "That (expletive's) bouncing all over the place."

Berry, who said he was unaware that the others had chained Byrd to the truck, said he looked toward the rear to see Byrd "being dragged."

Berry said he asked to be let out of the truck and King said, "You're just as guilty as we are. Besides, the same thing could happen to a n---lover."

He said King later took the chain off the victim, after driving nearly three miles.

It didn't take investigators long to catch the suspects.

At the point where Berry said Byrd was beaten, investigators said they found a cigarette lighter with the word "Possum" inscribed on it along with a triangular symbol. Possum was the nickname for King in prison, according to King's girlfriend, Kylie Greeney, who was interviewed by authorities.

They also found a torque wrench set, with the name "Berry" inscribed on it in cursive handwriting. They also found a compact disc by the heavy metal rock group Kiss.

Along the route up and down Huff Creek Road they found Byrd 's tennis shoes, shirt, wallet, keys and even his dentures. The trail of dried blood indicated Byrd had been dragged three miles, Rowles said.

His head and right arm were severed when the body rolled into a roadside ditch and slammed into a concrete culvert.

A local resident told officers that he saw Byrd between 2:30 and 2:45 that morning walking along Martin Luther King Drive in east Jasper. The resident said that he later saw Byrd riding in the back of a gray or black stepside pickup. Inside the truck were two or three white men.

By 9 p.m. Sunday, Berry was arrested for several traffic violations and his 1982 gray Ford truck was impounded.

In the truck investigators found other tools inscribed with the name "Berry." They also found blood spattered on the undercarriage on the passenger side. It also had red clay and vegetation stuck to it similar to the clay and vegetation the killers' truck had driven through.

Rowles said his officers found posters and other items at King's apartment in western Jasper that indicated that he is in sympathy with white supremacist groups. Berry and Brewer had been living in King's apartment, investigators said. All three were unemployed, Rowles said.

The apartment manager, who identified herself only as "Jane," said she rented the apartment to King and his pregnant girlfriend in March. The manager said she was evicting them because they made too much noise and because other people had also moved into the one-bedroom apartment that is supposed to be occupied by only two people.


Excerpt from John's Statement to the Dallas Morning News...

(Information provided by John William King and his supporters)

" The word objective refers to the attitude of the observer, who should remain unemotional, unbiased and unprejudiced when evaluating the truth or falsity of what reported to be facts. The validity of a fact must not be judged in advance (prejudged); as was Shawn Berry's statement released, in an affidavit of probable cause, to the public. Whereas, in light of substantial evidence implicating his involvement, Berry has admitted he lied and recanted his initial statement. . .

Given a description as to the whereabouts of the dirt trail, where an alleged beating of the deceased occurred, it's essential to acknowledge the fact that Shawn Berry co-inherited a small tract of land adjacent to the tram road; which he visited quite frequently.

Therefore, the fact that my cigarette lighter, with "Possum"inscribed upon it, was found near the scene of the crime, along with other items, i.e., several hand tools with BERRY inscribed on them, a compact disc belonging to Shawn Berry's brother, Louis, and my girlfriend's watch, as well as items of the deceased, are all verified facts; implementing [sic] that these items could have fallen from Shawn Berry's truck during a potential struggle with the deceased while on the tram road.

However, unacknowledged facts remain; that I, along with Russell Brewer and Louis Berry, had been borrowing Shawn Berry's truck to commute to and from an out of town land clearing job each day.  My girlfriends [sic] watch was kept in Shawn Berry's truck for us to keep track of the time. Louis Berry had brought along several of his CD's for our listening pleasure during our hourly drive each morning and evening, which he had a tendency to leave in his brother's truck.

Furthermore, the aforementioned cigarette lighter had been misplaced a week or so prior to these fraudulent charges that have been brought against Russell Brewer and me. This so forth, does not prove the presence of my girlfriend, Louis Berry, Russell Brewer, nor myself at the scene of the crime; verifiably, only the owners of the property in question...

Scientists, authorities, investigative reporters and a credulous public need a word of caution about incidents of poor observations. In such incidents as Mr. Brewer's and my involvement in this case, authorities and the media are making accusations based on visual judgement [sic] and criminal histories of slight deviations from what is considered normal.

Procedures are often  flawed because the  results could be easily influenced by the observer's desire to gain recognition or to contribute to a national honor. That should not be interpreted that no facts can be trusted.  Mistakes are easy to make. The main point is to prudently cautious about accepting facts as true. We must be ready to listen to people who think our facts are wrong, and make an effort to check the facts we so often take for granted...

The authorities, and general public alike, evaluated the purported facts of Mr. Brewer's and my involvement, in this inhumane act, with a subjective view based on emotional appeal, orchestrated by a biased media. It's been prematurely concluded that this was some sort of hate crime, with me implicated as the initiator, despite unsubstantial evidence. Thus overlooking facts that imply otherwise...

Decide just what you believe. In a review of verified facts, a diverse motive for murder will be objectively established; thus insinuating Russell Brewer's and my innocence. A more meaningful way of looking at the situation would be to make references to Shawn Berry's irate temper, abusive behavior, and steroid use.

For example - On several occasions, Louis Berry, my girlfriend - Kylie Greeney, Alan Cunningham, and myself among others have witnessed Shawn Berry physically assault Ms. Christie Marcontell whenever she defied his wishes. Incidents include: Shawn Berry has threatened Christie Marcontell with a knife, then proceeded to cut any of her clothes to shreds, which he deemed inappropriate for her to wear in public.

On different occasions, Shawn Berry has been viewed, with knife in hand, threaten to slice the tires on Marcontell's vehicles if she tried to flee his violent tirades. Once, even cutting the protective covering (or car-bra) from the front of  Marcontell's car when she tried to drive away as he approached her. Though Christie Marcontell never filed charges on Shawn Berry; she did, however, file several complaints of assault against him, with both the Newton and Jasper Police Departments.

Furthermore, though charges for the possession and use of an illegal substance have never been filed either, friends and family have bear [sic] witness to Shawn Berry inject a substance, he claimed to be H.G.H. (Human Growth Hormones), or steroids, into his body; with hopes of enhancing his size and strength...

Along with the steroid use and complaints of assault, Shawn Berry is also known to have an alcohol problem and has been charged with two separate counts of Driving While Intoxicated. The outcome of the first DWI left Berry with a totaled Chevy pickup, a head wound which  required staples and two severely injured passengers.

The second DWI induced the revocation of his driver's license, and though his license was never reinstated, Shawn Berry continued to drink and drive on the roadways. Fortunately for Mr. Berry his probation officer was not compelled to revoke his probation; despite unaccounted
violations. . .

Those of us, who knew Shawn Berry as a friend, knew him as a ludicrous alcoholic and volatile  individual, who frequently engaged in wanton behavior outside of his relationship to Ms. Christie Marcontell.Shawn Berry was someone I valued as a close and personal friend, despite our occasional  differences. Garrison Keillor said it best when saying, "Sometimes you have to look reality in the eye and deny it"...

Several statements and the theories against Shawn Berry, Russell Brewer, and myself  (John W. King), for a prospective motive in this horrid crime have been presented to the public. Against the wishes of my attorney, I shall share with you objective facts and my account of what happened during the  early morning hours of June 7, 1998...

After a couple of hours of drinking beer  and riding up and down rural roads adjacent to highway 255, off highway 63, looking for a female's home who were expecting Shawn Berry and Russell Brewer. Berry, though frivolous anger and fun at first, begun to run over area residents [sic] mailboxes and stop signs with his truck, due to negligence in locating the girls [sic] residence.

Becoming irate with our continued failure to locate the female's house, Shawn Berry's behavior quickly  became ballistic as he sped through area residents[sic] yards in a circular manner and made a racket with his trucks' tailpipes, managing to sling our ice chest from the back of his truck several times.

During his little conniption [sic] fit, Shawn Berry then stopped just ahead of a mailbox on highway 255, took a chain from the back of his truck, wrapped it around the post of the mailbox, and proceeded to uproot and drag the mailbox east on highway 255. Stopping yards short of the highway 63 North intersection, where he then removed this  chain, replaced it, and continued to drive to a local convenient store (Rayburn Superette) to try and call the female who was expecting him and Brewer.

Fortunately, no one answered at the girl's house, and after repeated request [sic] from me as well as complaints from Russell Brewer of a throbbing toe he injured during a recovery of our ice chest, Shawn Berry then agreed to take us to my apartment. . .

Shawn Allen Berry, driving with a suspended license and intoxicated, while taking Russell Brewer and me home those early morning hours, decided to stop by a mutual friend of ours' home, located on McQueen Street: to inquire as to what the residents and his brother, Louis Berry, were doing.

On our way there, we passed a black man walking east on Martin Luther King Drive, whom Shawn Berry recognized and identified as simply "Bird": [sic] a man he befriended while incarcerated in the  Jasper County Jail, and Berry stated: supplied him with steroids.

Shawn Berry then proceeded to stop his truck approximately ten yards ahead of this individual walking in our direction, exit his vehicle and approach the man.  After several minutes of conversation, Shawn Berry returned to the truck and said his  friend was going to join us, because Berry  and Byrd had business to discuss later; and thus, Byrd climbed into the back of Shawn Berry's truck and seated himself directly behind the cab.

While continuing  on to our friend's residence, where supposedly Louis Berry was to be, we noticed there were neither lights on nor signs of activity in the trailer as we approached. We decided to proceed on to my apartment; but contrary to Russell Brewer's and my request, Shawn Berry drove to, and stopped at, another local  convenient store (B.J.'s Grocery), just east of the Jasper city limits. Shawn Berry then asked Russell Brewer if he could borrow fifty to sixty dollars, because he needed a little extra cash to replenish his "juice" (steroid) supply.

After Brewer gave Shawn Berry the remainder of what money he had, to return to Sulphur Springs, Texas on, [sic] Berry asked if Russell Brewer and I would ride in the back of his truck and let his friend, Byrd, sit up front so they could discuss the purchase and payment of more steroids for Shawn Berry.

Russell Brewer and I obliged on the condition, Berry take us to my apartment without further delay, which, after a brief  exchange of positions he did. . .

Once we arrived at my apartment, Shawn Berry informed Russell Brewer and me that he was leaving, so that he could take Byrd to get the steroids and then home. He asked if Brewer or I would bring a small cooler of beer down for him and his friend, along with a bottle of bourbon Berry had bought a few days prior.

Russell Brewer and I went up to my apartment, and began to fill a small cooler  with approximately 6-8 beers; realizing I left my wallet and cigarettes in Shawn Berry's truck, I opted to bring the cooler back down to Berry. After retrieving my wallet, but unable to locate my cigarettes, I then returned upstairs to my apartment, into my bedroom, and proceeded  to call an ex-girlfriend before  retiring to bed in the predawn hours of June 7, 1998. . .

That of which may have occurred afterwards, I cannot justifiably say; but considering such facts as, Shawn Berry's known steroid use, Violent temper and abusive behavior, combined with his alcoholism and association with a known convicted drug offender (James Byrd), who Shawn Berry admittedly stated, supplied him with illegal substance a conclusive verifiable motive for murder could be substantiated in an objective way.

Thus alleviating an unsubstantiated subjective motive of racial hate and supremacy; which investigators would like to conjure up to ensure a credulous case against Russell Brewer and me, therefore gaining recognition as contributors to the National Honor of a solution to America's racial problems...

One of the basic problems that arise when using subjective observations is that there are many kinds of illusions that distort our judgements [sic]. Furthermore, Russell Brewer and myself are being stereotyped and persecuted due to our differences in appearance, criminal histories, and the  pride we openly express for our race.

Unfortunately, when people have one-sided opinions, or strongly favor one point of view, authorities and the media try to mold opinions by suppressing facts that tend to show their opinions to be wrong. They forget that we live in a real world in which "facts" approximate an ideal of precision to varying degrees..."



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