BEAUMONT (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – One of three white men convicted in the 1998 East Texas dragging death of a black man is arguing in an appeal that the killing was a “backwoods drug deal gone bad” and not racially motivated.
The Beaumont Enterprise reports that attorneys for John William King appeared Thursday before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
King was sentenced to death in 1999 for chaining the ankles of 49-year-old James Byrd Jr. to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him behind the vehicle on a bumpy rural road in Jasper.
Attorney A. Richard Ellis says King’s trial lawyers didn’t present evidence that would have proven his innocence. That evidence included a cigarette lighter engraved with a Klan symbol and King’s prison name, “Possum,” along with cigarette butts found at the crime scene and King’s sandals stained with Byrd’s blood.
The Texas attorney general’s office called King’s claims “meritless.”
The court didn’t immediately rule.
Lawrence Brewer, King’s co-defendant, was executed in 2011. Shawn Berry, who drove the truck to which Byrd was attached, is serving a life sentence.
Evidence and trial testimony showed the three men offered Byrd a ride in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998, and they all drove about 10 miles into the woods before stopping along an isolated logging road. A fight broke out and Byrd was tied to the truck bumper with a 24 1/2-foot logging chain. Three miles later, what was left of his shredded remains was dumped between a black church and cemetery where the pavement ended on the remote road.
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