Texas executes white supremacist in black man’s dragging death

Betty Boatner, a sister of James Byrd Jr., talks to the crowd during a prayer vigil at James Byrd Memorial Park in Jasper, Texas, on April 24 ,2019. (Ryan Welch/The Beaumont Enterprise via AP)
Updated 25 April 2019

Texas executes white supremacist in black man’s dragging death

  • John William King and his cohorts were found guilty of chaining James Byrd Jr. to the back of a truck and dragged for nearly 3 km
  • Prosecutors said Byrd, 49, was targeted because he was black. He was alive for at least 3 km until his body was ripped to pieces

HUNTSVILLE, Texas: An avowed racist who orchestrated one of the most gruesome hate crimes in US history was executed Wednesday in Texas for the dragging death of a black man.
John William King, who was white, received lethal injection for the slaying nearly 21 years ago of James Byrd Jr., who was chained to the back of a truck and dragged for nearly 3 miles (5 kilometers) along a secluded road in the piney woods outside Jasper, Texas. The 49-year-old Byrd was alive for at least 2 miles (3 kilometers) before his body was ripped to pieces in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998.
Prosecutors said Byrd was targeted because he was black. King was openly racist and had offensive tattoos on his body, including one of a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree, according to authorities.
King, 44, was put to death at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. He was the fourth inmate executed this year in the US and the third in Texas, the nation’s busiest capital punishment state.
The killing of Byrd was a hate crime that put a national spotlight on Jasper, a town of about 7,600 residents near the Texas-Louisiana border that was branded with a racist stigma it has tried to shake off ever since. Local officials say the reputation is undeserved.
King’s appellate lawyers had tried to stop his execution, arguing King’s constitutional rights were violated because his trial attorneys didn’t present his claims of innocence and conceded his guilt.
The US Supreme Court rejected King’s last-minute appeal.
“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 sometime prior to his death and was not present at the scene of his murder. Mr. King repeatedly expressed to defense counsel that he wanted to present his innocence claim at trial,” A. Richard Ellis, one of King’s attorneys, wrote in his petition to the Supreme Court.
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also turned down King’s request for either a commutation of his sentence or a 120-day reprieve.
Over the years, King had also suggested the brutal slaying was not a hate crime, but a drug deal gone bad involving his co-defendants.
King, who grew up in Jasper and was known as “Bill,” was the second man executed for Byrd’s killing. Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in 2011. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.
King declined an interview request from The Associated Press in the weeks leading up to his execution.
In a 2001 interview with the AP, King said he was an “avowed racist” but wasn’t “a hate-monger murderer.”
Louvon Byrd Harris, one of Byrd’s sisters, said King’s execution sent a “message to the world that when you do something horrible like that, that you have to pay the high penalty.”
Compared to “all the suffering” her brother suffered before his death, Harris said King and Brewer got “an easy way out.”
Billy Rowles, who led the investigation into Byrd’s death when he was sheriff in Jasper County, said after King was taken to death row in 1999, he offered to detail the crime as soon as his co-defendants were convicted. When Rowles returned, all King would say was, “I wasn’t there.”
“He played us like a fiddle, getting us to go over there and thinking we’re going to get the rest of the story,” said Rowles, who now is sheriff of Newton County.
A week before Brewer was executed in 2011, Rowles said he visited Brewer, who confirmed “the whole thing was Bill King’s idea.”
Mylinda Byrd Washington, another of Byrd’s sisters, said she and her family will work through the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing to ensure her brother’s death continues to combat hate everywhere.
“I hope people remember him not as a hate crime statistic. This was a real person. A family man, a father, a brother and a son,” she said.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.