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Black Man Fatally Dragged In a Possible Racial Killing

Black Man Fatally Dragged In a Possible Racial Killing


By CAROL MARIE CROPPER

A black man was dragged to his death on Sunday from the back of a pickup truck in a rural section of Texas known for racist and Klan activity, and today three white men were charged with the murder.

The broken body of James Byrd Jr., 49, was discovered on Sunday morning by residents of an area just outside the East Texas town of Jasper, population 8,000. As he walked home from his parents' house on Saturday night, Mr. Byrd was apparently picked up by the men sometime after midnight and taken to woods, where he was beaten, then chained to the truck and dragged for two miles.


Guy James Gray, the Jasper County District Attorney, called the killing ''probably the most brutal I've ever seen'' in 20 years as a prosecutor. Mr. Byrd's torso was found at the edge of a paved road, his head and an arm in a ditch about a mile away, according to an affidavit.

The police charged Shawn A. Berry, 23, Lawrence R. Brewer, 31, and John W. King, 23, with murder. The District Attorney said Mr. Brewer and Mr. King had racist tattoos and were Ku Klux Klan supporters, leading investigators to believe the killing was racially motivated.

The three were apparently roommates in a Jasper apartment.

R. C. Horn, Mayor of Jasper, said the victim came from a ''beautiful family.'' Mr. Byrd's sisters said he had been on disability and did not have a car but often accepted rides from acquaintances or walked around Jasper, where the number of blacks almost equals that of whites.

Mayor Horn said there had been no unusual racial problems in the town, built on the timber industry. ''Jasper is a city that has a strong bind together, both black and white,'' said Mr. Horn, who is black.

But Gary Bledsoe, president of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the eastern part of Texas, which includes Jasper, has been considered a problem area and a hotbed of Klan activity for years. He pointed to problems in 1993 integrating a housing project in nearby Vidor, for decades an all-white town, where an avowed white supremacist threatened the first black residents, and teen-agers dressed in sheets confronted black newcomers.

Mr. Bledsoe called for adding kidnapping charges, making the killing a capital crime. He said that he planned to go to Jasper to help the authorities with the investigation and that the N.A.A.C.P. wanted to help organize a community response, like a march or rally.

Mayor Horn said local church leaders were planning a prayer meeting at the courthouse square for Monday night.

According to the police affidavit, items left in the woods and along the dirt logging road where Mr. Byrd was first dragged led officials to the three men charged. One item was a cigarette lighter inscribed with a Klan symbol that the police said they believed belonged to one of the men.

Mr. Berry told the police he had been riding around with the other two men when he saw Mr. Byrd walking and offered him a ride, according to the affidavit. Mr. Byrd and Mr. Berry might have known each other because they had the same parole officer, The Associated Press reported. Mr. Byrd served six years in prison for theft and violating parole. All three suspects have criminal records for offenses including burglary and drug possession and served jail time together.

After Mr. Byrd was picked up, Mr. King became upset and began cursing, Mr. Berry is quoted as saying in the affidavit. The men stopped at a convenience store and then Mr. King drove to the dirt road, saying he was about to scare Mr. Byrd. The other two began to beat the victim, Mr. Berry told the police.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation may charge the three with violating the victim's civil rights, said Al Tribble, an F.B.I. special agent in Houston. The national N.A.A.C.P. is also watching the case, said Jean Hitchcock, acting chief operating officer for the organization, adding, ''We call upon all Americans to stand up and be counted and to condemn this for the heinous crime that it is.''



Organizations mentioned in this article:
Ku Klux Klan

Related Terms:
Murders and Attempted Murders; Blacks


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