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White supremacist to be executed in Texas for dragging death of black man

Reuters logo Reuters 4/24/2019 By Brendan O'Brien
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(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 hate crimes in modern times is scheduled to be executed in Texas on Wednesday.

John William "Bill" King, 44, is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) by lethal injection at the state’s death chamber in Huntsville.

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

AUSTIN, UNITED STATES:  US President Bill Clinton (R) embraces Renee Mullins (L), daughter of James Byrd, the dragging victim in a 1998 hate crime, as Clinton arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport 07 MAY 1999 in Austin, Texas. Clinton promised Mullins that he would help pass hate-crime legislation. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, UNITED STATES: US President Bill Clinton (R) embraces Renee Mullins (L), daughter of James Byrd, the dragging victim in a 1998 hate crime, as Clinton arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport 07 MAY 1999 in Austin, Texas. Clinton promised Mullins that he would help pass hate-crime legislation. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Prosecutors said the men dragged him behind their 1982 gray 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. 

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

"WE HAVE MADE HISTORY"

"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 dishonor. Sieg Heil!" the letter continued, using a Nazi salute.

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 U.S. 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 would be the third inmate in Texas and 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 and Cynthia Osterman)

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