Texas set to execute man in race-motivated dragging death

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 21, 2011 11:03 AM
Texas set to execute man in race-motivated dragging death

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN (Reuters) - Texas is set to execute on Wednesday a white supremacist convicted of helping to kill a black man by dragging him behind a truck, in what some call the most notorious race crime of the post-Civil Rights era.

Lawrence Russell Brewer, 44, was convicted of capital murder along with two other men in the kidnapping and slaying of James Byrd Jr. in 1998.

Brewer, together with John King and Shawn Berry, offered Byrd Jr. a ride home, attacked him on a country road, chained his ankles to the back of Berry's pickup, and then dragged him behind the truck for several miles in the vicinity of Jasper, Texas, according to a report by the Texas Attorney General's Office.

The east Texas killing touched off a national movement to strengthen punishments for crimes motivated by hate.

Brewer is set to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. local time Wednesday in Huntsville, Texas.

He would be the 11th person executed in Texas this year. In Georgia, Troy Davis is also scheduled to be executed. If both executions go ahead, they would be the 34th and 35th in the country in 2011.

King, another white supremacist who was friends with Brewer in prison, is on death row awaiting an execution date. Berry is serving a life sentence.

The victim's only son, Ross Byrd, said late Tuesday that he wishes the state would show the mercy toward the condemned man that the killers never showed Byrd Jr., who died while his son was in military training.

"Life in prison would have been fine," Ross Byrd, 32, told Reuters. "I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want."

While Brewer blamed Berry for the killing, prosecutors said it happened because King and Brewer wanted to start a white supremacist group in Jasper, according to the AG's report.

Byrd Jr.'s three children and wife have argued against use of the death penalty against his killers, but other members of his family have said they thought it was the right sentence.

Texas state Senator Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who helped pass the state's James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act in 2001, said the death sentence in Brewer's case "will close a chapter in this tragic story."

"I cannot say for certain that it is a requirement in order for justice to be served," Ellis told Reuters, "but as Mr. Brewer was a ringleader in the most brutal hate crime in the post-Civil Rights era, it is certainly a very appropriate sentence."

Texas has the country's most active death row, executing more than four times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)