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3 whites indicted in dragging death of black man in Texas

Brewer, top, Berry and King
Brewer, top, Berry and King  
July 6, 1998
Web posted at: 11:07 p.m. EDT (0307 GMT)

Trial not likely until 1999

JASPER, Texas (CNN) -- Three white men were indicted Monday on capital murder charges in the death of a black man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death on a rural East Texas road in early June.

One indictment issued by a Jasper County grand jury accuses John William King, 23, of Jasper and Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, of Sulphur Springs of capital murder. A second indictment by the grand jury names Shawn Allen Berry, 23, of Jasper.

King and Brewer are expected to be tried together, but officials said that Berry's charge may be reduced in a plea agreement. Berry has been a key witness in the investigation.

If convicted, the men could face the death penalty in the June 7 slaying of James Byrd Jr.

The suspects are being held without bond in what authorities call a racially motivated crime. All three suspects have prison records, and authorities have said that at least two have the tattoos of white racist prison gangs. Racist literature also was seized from their homes.

Jasper District Attorney Guy James Gray said the trial for King and Brewer could take place this fall, but it is more likely to begin during the first months of 1999.

Berry to plead innocent


Beaumont lawyer Joseph C. "Lum" Hawthorn notified the court Monday that he has been retained to defend Berry. Hawthorn said he expected Berry to plead innocent.

Investigators believe that Byrd, 49, accepted a ride from the suspects as he walked home from a niece's bridal shower. But police believe that instead of taking him home, the men drove Byrd to a wooded area, beat him, chained him behind Berry's truck and sped down a bumpy road just east of town.

Byrd's severed head, neck and right arm were discovered about a mile from where his shredded torso was dumped. A trail of blood, body parts and personal effects stretched for two miles, police said.

According to one court affidavit, Berry told authorities that Brewer sprayed Byrd's face with black paint before he was killed.

In addition to any state charges, federal authorities are considering federal hate crime charges against the trio, which also could make them eligible for the death penalty.

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