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Editorial: Long past time for final justice for James Byrd Jr.

Jan. 11, 2018 at 12:04 a.m.

Criminals often express deep remorse after they are caught. This is especially true when they are facing the possibility of a death sentence.

Not so in the case of John William King Jr., who has been on Texas death row for almost 20 years after being convicted in the horrific dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper.

King was one of three men convicted in the murder, in which Byrd was tied to the back of a truck and dragged at least a mile over East Texas back roads until his arm and head were severed from his body.

Much evidence was found that showed the crime was racially motivated, thus allowing investigators to enhance the murder as a hate crime for the three defendants, all avowed white supremacists.

Now, after considering this for two decades and having had other appeals denied, King is taking a different course. In recent court filings, he says the murder was not a hate crime at all and that even if it was, he wasn't a part of it.

The death resulted from a drug deal gone bad, King says now, and he was only connected to the crime by a few strands of circumstantial evidence that are not enough to prove his guilt.

It is difficult to think for a moment intelligent judges would fall for any of this nonsense but 20 years' time can sometimes fuzzy the facts.

That's what King would want to happen, because the reality is harsh and indisputable.

Besides the testimony of the other two defendants that King was there, his lighter, engraved with "Possum," King's prison name, was found at the crime scene.

And then there is this: While in prison King tried to write a letter to his buddy and fellow murderer Lawrence Russell Brewer. Unfortunately for King, prison officials found the letter which said, in part, "Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history," King wrote. "Death before dishonor."

Among Brewer's final words before being executed was that he would do it all again.

This was no drug deal gone bad. King deserves the fate that awaits him.

There are additional victims in this story, of course, and they are not just Byrd's relatives. All those who live in Jasper must live under this oppressive cloud until final justice has been served.

Racial misunderstanding and strife plagued Jasper for many years but after Byrd's murder residents have made a genuine effort to heal the divisions.

King has been duly convicted by a jury of his peers. He has gone through the appeals process and been turned down. He needs to be turned down one more time and then his punishment, at long last, should be carried out.



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