Monday, October 10, 2011

Condemned killer executed for horrendous dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. (Video)

Texas, a state that treats executions like a hobby, decided September 22 that Texas death row inmates will no longer be granted the privilege to order  lavish feasts before meeting their maker. There will no more extravagant last meals that some inmates request for the sheer hell of it.  Not all of them eat what they order. Perhaps standing shoulder to shoulder with death has a way of diminishing an inmates appetite. So far, no other states are following Texas’ example. Not to worry. The month is still young.

Texas conducted an execution September 21, the same night Troy Davis was executed in Alabama. The condemned was a White supremacist Lawrence Russell Brewer. He was one of three White males who dragged James Byrd, Jr. behind a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas. He died a horrific death. Brewer's execution did not draw protesters or media interest.

James Byrd, Jr.
The murder of James Byrd, Jr.

James Byrd, Jr. was born in Beaumont, Texas in 1949 to Stella and James Byrd, Sr. He was  the third of eight sisters and brothers. Byrd's father was a deacon at the Greater New Bethel Baptist Church, where his mother taught Sunday School. Byrd liked singing hymns and playing piano. He graduated from Jasper High School that was segregated in 1967. After high school Byrd got married, fathering three children.

On June 7, 1998, Byrd, age 49, was hitch-hiking in Jasper, Texas when he accepted a ride from Shawn Berry (age 24), Lawrence Brewer (age 31) and John King (age 23). Berry was driving the gray Ford pickup. Instead of taking Byrd home, the trio took him to a remote county road,  where they  beat him and then chained him to the back of the pickup by his ankles. He was dragged three miles.

Brewer later claimed that Byrd's throat was cut by Berry before he was dragged to his death. Forensic evidence suggested that Byrd attempted to hold up his head, keeping it on the pavement. Byrd was conscious during much of the dragging. He died after his right arm and head were severed at some point during the dragging. His body hit the edge of a culvert, resulting in his decapitation. 

Berry, Brewer and King dumped James Byrd's  decapitated, mutilated remains in front of a Black church. His head and arm were found a mile from his dumped body. The dragging had continued after the decapitation. After killing Byrd the trio went to eat barbecue. Along the area where Byrd was dragged, authorities found a wrench with "Berry" written on it. They found a lighter inscribed with "Possum", which was King's prison nickname. The three of them were quickly arrested. Brewer and King were well known White supremacists. King several tattoos, including a Black man getting lynched from a cross.

The police found 75 to 81 pieces of Byrd's flesh and bones on the blood smeared road. Jasper's District Attorney Pat Hardy said of the three White males, "they came straight out of hell. Instead of a rope, they used a chain, and instead of horses, they had a pick up truck." Police determined that Brewer and King were well-known white supremacists, giving them reason to label the horrendous murder a hate crime. The FBI was called less than 24 hours after discovering Byrd's scattered remains.

For their brutal act of violence, King and Brewer were sentenced to death. Berry is serving a life in prison. King was on death row for 12 years, appealing his sentence. A park in Jasper has been named after Byrd.

YouTube video 

Gov. George Bush of Texas, said after King was sentenced, "The brutal beating, dragging murder of James Byrd was a horrible, despicable crime and those responsible deserve the ultimate punishment. The jury sent a clear message that Texas will not tolerate hate and violence." (The Texas Observer) 

On May 11, 2001 Texas governor Rick Perry signed the James Byrd Hate Crime Act into law. The law strengthened penalties for any crime motivated by a victim's race, religion, sex, disability, age, sexual preference or national origin.  In 2009 President Obama signed the Mathew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.
Brewer’s last meal request was two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbeque, three fajitas, a meat lover's pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Brewer did not touch the meal. But had he decided to eat, he would have to consume the  large meal  30 minutes, the standard rule in Texas.
Lawrence Brewer
This last request by Brewer did not go unnoticed. It set one Texas politician’s hair on fire. The wasteful  extravagance was too much for him. Senator John Whitmire (D-Tx), chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, fast forwarded a letter Thursday, Sept. 22, to Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, asking that the last meal deal be discontinued. He used Brewer's wastefulness as an example to make his case.

Livingston responded right away, writing: “Effective immediately, this practice has been terminated. Prior to execution, death row offenders will now receive the same meal served to other offenders.”

Whoever said that “one monkey don’t stop the show” got it wrong. This time in Texas a condemned monkey did stop their inclination to harm and kill.

According to the Houston Chronicle (Sept. 22):  “Brewer, 44, made no final statement before the lethal drugs were started at 6:11 p.m. He was declared dead 10 minutes later. Brewer, visibly pale, looked toward the witness room occupied by his parents and brother. He did not make eye contact with Byrd's two sisters and niece, who occupied an adjoining witness room.

'Tears began to form in his eyes as he breathed heavily and died. Clara Taylor and Louvon Harris, the victim's sisters, stood silently as the execution took place,”wrote the Chronicle.

Over 200 people crammed inside the small to attend James Byrd's funeral, that included Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume. Another 600 people stood outside the small church, unable get inside. Basketball star Dennis Rodman paid for Byrd's funeral, and boxing promoter Don King donated $100,000 to the family.

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