Standing as one of the most-heinous hate crimes ever, the lynching-style murder of James Byrd Jr. at the hands of three White men in Texas served as a painful reminder that racism was very much alive in America, even on the cusp of the 21st century.
On June 7, 1998, the 49-year-old Byrd would find himself on a Texas road near the town of Jasper at night, when a trio of men, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer (pictured), and John King, offered him a ride. It was later reported that Byrd and Berry knew each other. The friendly gesture turned deadly, though, when the men savagely beat Byrd and chained his ankles to the back of the pickup truck Berry was driving, dragging him three miles over asphalt and road and causing severe injuries. Byrd was said to be conscious during most of the harrowing ordeal, finally dying by way of a decapitation after his body hit a culvert in the road.
The men were quickly arrested, with Jasper finding itself uncomfortably under the glare of scrutiny and shocked stares. Police charged the trio with capital murder, as each of the men was tried in separate cases. King, considered the ringleader, and Brewer were part of a White supremacy group; they reportedly met in prison when they joined the gang years prior.
Both men were sentenced to death row with Brewer being killed by lethal injection last September. On the eve of his death, Brewer said he felt no remorse and would do it all over again. King currently sits on Texas’ death row list, while Berry, who is serving life in prison, was spared capital punishment after prosecutors determined by some manner of miracle that he was not a racist.
Watch James Byrd Jr.’s sad end here: