HOUSTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — A federal appeals court has approved additional review of a claim from a condemned killer that he’s innocent of the notorious 1998 slaying of a black man chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged along a nearly 3-mile stretch of bumpy asphalt on Huff Creek Road in Jasper, Texas.
Attorneys for John William King argued to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that King’s trial lawyer was deficient in presenting a case for innocence. They contend only a few pieces of circumstantial evidence that could be innocently explained tied King to the scene of a fight that resulted in 49-year-old James Byrd Jr. being chained to the truck and fatally dragged.
Testimony showed that King, along with Lawrence Russell Brewer and Shawn Berry, offered the then 49-year-old Byrd a ride in Berry’s pickup truck on June 7, 1998. Byrd wound up bound by his ankles with a heavy 24 1/2-foot logging chain attached to the bumper, bouncing from side to side as he desperately tried to limit his injuries by lifting himself. At a sharp left curve in the road, he whipsawed to the right and struck a concrete culvert.
A pathologist testified Byrd had been alive until there, where he was decapitated. Later at the crime scene an investigator wrote on the road in spray paint: “Head.”
All three men were convicted of James Byrd’s murder. Brewer was given a death sentence and was executed in 2011. Berry received a sentence of life in prison. King, now 42, was sentenced to death in 1999.
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