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Federal court denies appeal, upholds death penalty in James Byrd Jr dragging death

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John William King grins as he is led from the Jasper County Courthouse after a jury sentenced him to death February 25, 1999. (Getty)

HOUSTON – A federal court has denied an appeal made by Texas inmate John William ‘Bill’ King, convicted in the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. King’s attorneys argued to the Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals that trial lawyers did not sufficiently present King’s case. The court disagreed in the ruling handed down last week, keeping King on Texas death row.

Court records show King and two other white men, Lawrence Russell Brewer and Shawn Allen Berry, took 49-year-old Byrd, a black man who was handicapped, to an isolated road in Jasper Texas in June 1998, where they beat him, chained him by his ankles to the back of a pickup truck, and killed him as they dragged him more than three miles, leaving parts of his decapitated and dismembered body left about the roadway. Prosecutors at trial claimed Byrd was killed because he was black.

Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed by lethal injection in September 2011 for his part in the killing. Shawn Allen Berry is serving a life sentence.

The incident was one of two which prompted Congress to pass, and President Obama to sign into law in October 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Louvon Harris (L) stands alongside her sister Betty Byrd Boatner (2nd R), both sisters of James Byrd, Jr., as she embraces Judy Shepard (2nd L), mother of Matthew Shepard, as US President Barack Obama looks on after Obama spoke in honor of the enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act October 28, 2009. (Getty)

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