John William King, Racist Who Dragged James Byrd Jr. to Death, Executed in Texas
King led the trio that dragged 49-year-old father of three James Byrd Jr. to death in a brutal hate crime two decades ago.
John William King, the ringleader of a racist trio who kidnapped a black father of three and dragged him to his death two decades ago in one of the most brutal hate crimes in U.S. history, was executed in Texas on Wednesday night despite a last-minute appeal.
King was pronounced dead shortly after 7:00 p.m., reportedly 12 minutes after receiving a lethal injection. As witnesses exited the building housing the death chamber at Huntsville, about 25 demonstrators outside reportedly let out a cheer.
Clara Byrd Taylor, the sister of King's victim, James Byrd Jr., told reporters in a statement after witnessing the execution that what was done to her brother was a “modern day lynching.”
“[King] wanted to make a name for himself,” Taylor said. “James was his chosen target... and was shown no mercy.”
Taylor also said King showed “no remorse tonight” and “didn't look” at the family after 21 years on death row. She characterized King's demeanor as an “act of defiance.”
“He was proud of what he had done,” she said.
When asked what she had felt when she saw King die, Taylor said she didn't feel anything.
“Can I be honest? I felt nothing,” she said, adding that she was “happy this was over with and this challenge was over.
King did not offer final words from the death chamber but said in a written statement released after the execution, “Capital punishment: them without the capital get the punishment.”
The Supreme Court denied a stay of execution for the 44-year-old about a half hour after he was scheduled to be put to death on Wednesday evening. According to BuzzFeed News, there were noted dissents to the court's decision.
Prison officials said King said next to nothing after being transferred to Huntsville on Wednesday, declining any counseling from the chaplain and opting not to have anyone witness his lethal injection.
The execution was witnessed by relatives of James Byrd Jr. who had to endure three separate murder trials detailing the brutality of the crime. Byrd, who was 49 at the time, was walking home from a friend's anniversary party in June 1998 when three white men—King, Shawn Allen Berry, and Lawrence Russell Brewer—kidnapped him in Jasper, Texas.
The men then took Byrd to an isolated road, chained him by his ankles, and attached him to the back of a pickup truck. They then drove the pickup truck almost three miles, dismembering Byrd in the process. They left parts of Byrd's body in front of a local black cemetery, and the rest of him was found about a mile and a half up the road.
All three men have since been convicted in Byrd's death. Brewer was executed in 2011, while Berry is eligible for parole in 2038. King—who sported white supremacist tattoos on his body, including one of a black man hanging from a tree—tried to file a series of unsuccessful appeals to avoid being put to death in recent years.
Byrd's brother, Louvon Byrd, watched Brewer's execution and told The Daily Beast that he would witness King's death by lethal injection.
“...he did live 20 years longer than my brother… and I think that speaks a lot,” Louvon told The Daily Beast. “The punishment would be just to take an injection and go to sleep, and even at that I still think he’s getting off easy.”