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US executes white supremacist for lynching black man in Texas in 1998

John William King was put to death last night.

An undated photo of John William King
An undated photo of John William King
Image: AP/PA Images

A WHITE SUPREMACIST convicted of a notorious racist murder has been executed in the US state of Texas.

44 year-old John William King was killed by lethal injection at 7:08pm local at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.

King was one of three white men convicted of carrying out the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr, one of the most gruesome racist killings in recent US history.

Two of Byrd’s sisters and a niece witnessed King’s execution, the fourth so far this year in the United States.

“Today, we witnessed the peaceful and dignified execution of John King for the savage, brutal murder of James on June 7 1998, really a modern-day lynching,” Carla Byrd Taylor – one of the victim’s sisters – said in a statement she read after the execution.

“King showed no remorse then and no remorse tonight. His execution is a just punishment for his actions,” said Taylor.

He is the second person to be killed for the killing, following Lawrence Brewer, who was executed in 2011.

The third man involved, Shawn Berry, co-operated with investigators and was given life in prison.

Dragged along road

Berry testified during his trial that he and the two others were out drinking beer and cruising in a pickup truck when they picked up Byrd, who was hitchhiking, and drove him to a remote country road.

The men severely beat the 49-year-old Byrd, before chaining him by his ankles to the back of the truck.

A pathologist testified during King’s trial that Byrd survived being dragged along the road for more than three kilometers, before he was decapitated when his body hit a concrete drain pipe.

Byrd’s dismembered body was later found outside a black church in the small town of Jasper, Texas, near the state’s border with Louisiana.

The killing horrified the US public and evoked memories of the era of racist lynchings of African Americans in the south of the country.

Ten years after King’s conviction, US president Barack Obama signed a law aimed at preventing hate crimes which was named after Byrd and Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was murdered the same year.

Ignored plea

A request for a stay of execution was filed with the Supreme Court late on Tuesday night, but was ultimately denied.

King’s lawyer claimed that his client maintained his innocence, and that King’s lawyer in his 1999 trial ignored his request to plead not guilty.

“From the time of indictment through his trial, Mr King maintained his absolute innocence, claiming that he had left his co-defendants and Mr Byrd some time prior to his death and was not present at the scene of the victim’s murder,” Ellis said.

“Despite Mr King’s explicit and repeated requests, his counsel conceded his guilt to murder at trial.”

Repeated efforts to have King’s conviction overturned had failed, with the Supreme Court refusing to examine the case in 2018.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously refused to grant him a reprieve.

During the sentencing phase of King’s trial, his lawyers argued that prison violence had compelled him to link up with a white prison gang.

“He wasn’t a racist when he went in, he was when he came out,” said his lawyer.

With reporting from - © AFP 2019

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