John William King, Texas

April 24, 2019

John William King has been executed by the state of Texas on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. He was pronounced dead at 7:08 pm CDT, inside the Walls Unit execution chamber at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. John was 44 years of age. John is convicted of the brutal murder of 49-year-old James Byrd, Jr., on June 7, 1998, in Jasper, Texas. John spent the last 19 years of his life on Texas’ death row.

John was born in Atlanta, Georgia. He had previously served time in Texas for burglary and was on parole at the time of the murder. Prior to his arrest, he worked as a carpenter and a laborer.

 

On June 6, 1998, James Byrd, Jr., was attending a party. He was unable to find a ride home from the party and began walking home, about a mile away. A man who had known James for several years, Steven Scott, testified that he observed James riding in the back of an “old-model, step-side pickup truck tainted primer-gray.” Steven also noted that there were three white people in the truck. James was an African-American.

 

On June 7, 1998, police responded to a call and discovered the body of an African-American male lying in the road. The head, neck, and right arm were missing and discovered approximately a mile and a half up the road. The remains of the victims pants and underwear were around his ankles.

 

Police also discovered a smeared blood trail that went approximately a mile and half down the road to a dirt logging road. On the logging road, police found a wallet that contained identification for James Byrd, Jr. Along the blood trail, police also found James’ dentures, keys, shirt, undershirt, and watch. The blood trail ended at an area where a fight appeared to have taken place. At this site, police discovered several other items, including a cigarette lighter engraved with the words “Possum” and “KKK,” a button from James’ shirt, James’ baseball cap, and nut driver wrench inscribed with the name “Berry.”

 

That evening, police stopped a man named Shawn Berry for an unrelated traffic violation. Behind the front seat was a set of tools matching the one found at the fight scene. Berry was arrested and the truck was confiscated. Further testing revealed blood splatters underneath the truck and on the tires. Tire tracks found at the scene also matched tires Berry possessed.

 

Police and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Berry’s apartment, which he shared with Lawrence Brewer and John King. DNA and other forensic evidence was discovered on items in the apartment, belonging to all three men. Further investigation uncovered the logging chain that matched a rust imprint in the bed of the truck.

 

During the trial, it was proven that King was affiliated with Confederate Knights of America (a white supremacist prison gang) and the Ku Klux Klan. Friends of King testified to his racial actions, such as leaving a party if an African-American arrived. Additionally, King had several racist tattoos, including a swastika and a black man hanging from a tree by a noose.

 

Also during the trial, King claimed that he was innocent of the crime for which he was charged. Many of his appeals since his conviction has focused on his attorneys allegedly failing to present his case of actual innocence.

 

King and Brewer were convicted of torture and murder and sentenced to death, while Berry was given a life sentence. Brewer was executed on September 21, 2011.

 

Please pray for peace and healing for the family of James Byrd, Jr. Please pray for strength for the family of John King.

 

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