- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

DALLAS — The reputed leader of one of the worst race hate crimes in recent history — on death row for more than seven years — says he wasn’t even present when James Byrd Jr. was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas, in 1998.

John William King says the dragging death of the 49-year-old black man was the result of a drug deal gone bad.

He names Shawn Berry, owner of the truck, and his brother, Louis Berry, who was not charged, as the real murderers. Though convicted of murder, Shawn Berry was spared death and given a life sentence, which means he could be eligible for parole in 40 years.

The King motion was filed before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in mid-June, claiming his innocence and saying his trial should have been moved because of racial turmoil in the small eastern Texas town of 7,700, where the crime occurred.

King was convicted and given the death penalty Feb. 25, 1999. He did not testify nor did he cooperate with his court-appointed lawyers.

The lengthy brief, along with 1,200 pages of exhibits, filed by California lawyer Richard Ellis in Austin, asks either that the court grant a new trial or that King’s death-penalty verdict be changed to life in prison.

Evidence from the crime scene that the prosecution used in the case included a pair of shoes retrieved from King’s apartment that purportedly had blood on them that matched the victim.

Though King now says Shawn Berry dropped off him at home while Mr. Byrd agreed to sell Berry steroids at another site, testimony at the trials placed all three together on the lonely highway just outside of Jasper the night of June 7.

King, Mr. Ellis said, was told by his lawyers that it would hurt him to testify. He tried on several occasions to fire his lawyers, to no avail. The trial court refused to allow a switch, saying it would delay the trial considerably.

King’s original two lawyers did not return telephone calls to The Times.

His actions, however, haven’t drawn much sympathy for his case.

Letters he had written to others in prison almost bragged about the crime. And as he was led out of the Jasper courthouse after the guilty verdict, one reporter asked him whether he had anything to say to the Byrd family.

Sneering, King spat out a vulgar racial retort.

Later, he released a short comment.

“Though I remain adamant about my innocence, it’s been obvious from the beginning that this community would get what they desire,” he wrote.

Though he refused to be interviewed for this article, King says he has found God and started his own Web site.

“I am neither good nor evil, angel or demon,” he wrote a few months ago. “I am but a man.”

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