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Closing arguments today in Texas dragging-death trial

Prosecutors said King's tattoo-coated body was a walking exhibit of racial hatred
CNN's Susan Candiotti reports on the day's disturbing testimony
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Jury may take case Tuesday

In this story:

Tour of victim's final minutes of life

Defendant's father leaves courtroom

Defendant's own writings


February 22, 1999
Web posted at: 6:29 p.m. EST (2329 GMT)

JASPER, Texas (CNN) -- Closing arguments are set to begin Tuesday in the trial of the first of three white men accused of dragging a black man to his death in a small east Texas town.

Judge Joe Bob Golden said he expected the case to go to the jury of 11 whites and one African-American early that same afternoon.

The defense rested its case Monday, just a few hours after the prosecution wrapped up its five days of testimony in the murder trial.

John William King, 24, could face the death penalty if found guilty in the slaying of James Byrd Jr., 49, who was stripped, chained to a pickup truck and dragged until he was decapitated.

A pathologist testified that Byrd was alive during the dragging, until he was slammed into a culvert  

On Monday, King's lawyers called only three witnesses, whose testimony lasted under an hour. King did not testify.

The lead defense witness was tattoo artist Johnny "Big Mo" Mosley, a fellow inmate when King was serving a prison stretch for burglary.

Mosley, serving 10-15 years for burglary and sexual assault, said King wanted the racist tattoos that blanket his body so he could intimidate other inmates and avoid being sexually assaulted.

The other witnesses called Monday were Gilbert Cunningham, King's roommate for the eight months preceding the killing, and roofing contractor Dennis Symmack, King's boss.

Both men said they never heard King threaten anybody, though they acknowledged under cross-examination that he harbored privately held racist views.

"Bill was a quiet man, not a talker," Symmack said, though while driving to work together King would frequently express "an intense dislike of blacks," he said.

He also said King claimed "blacks are different from whites and are taking over everything -- taking over welfare."

Symmack described King as a good worker, but said he eventually was fired after he insulted the supervisor during a dispute.

Tour of victim's final minutes of life

Earlier Monday, the prosecution finished their case.

One of the last prosecution witnesses called, a forensic pathologist, presented some of the most chilling evidence in the trial.

Dr. Thomas J. Brown testified that Byrd was alive, suffering horribly and vainly trying to save himself as he was pulled behind a pickup truck by a chain attached to his ankles.

"It was my opinion (that) Mr. Byrd was alive up to the point he hit the culvert," Brown said. "He was alive when the head, shoulder and right arm were separated."

Spray paint marks the spot where officials found the victim's decapitated head  

The culvert, a roadside ditch, was about halfway through the 3-mile path of the dragging.

The testimony of Brown at the capital murder trial of King is important, because prosecutors, in order to seek a death penalty against King, must show Byrd's murder also occurred in conjunction with another crime. In this case, it would be kidnapping.

"That proves our kidnapping," Jasper County Assistant District Attorney Pat Hardy told reporters outside the courtroom Monday. "We owed this to the public, to the country and to the world to put on everything we had, and that's what we've done."

Family members leave courtroom

The victim's mother, Stella, and King's father, Ronald, left the courtroom before Brown began his testimony Monday.

Other family members wiped away tears as the pathologist spoke.

The prosecution also showed a videotape, shot from the window of a moving vehicle, showing red, spray-paint circles in the road where parts of Byrd's body, dentures and other belongings were recovered.

The videotape began on the dirt logging trail where authorities say Byrd was severely beaten by his three abductors and ended at a cemetery where his body was dumped .

In his graphic testimony, Brown said the different colors of blood -- reddish-brown before death and yellow-brown after death -- show when wounds occurred.

King sat expressionless during the pathologist's testimony, his chin resting on his left hand.

Jurors were given individual booklets with photos of Byrd's mangled body to help them follow Brown's descriptions. One juror briefly put her hand over her mouth as she looked at the photos.

Defendant's own writings


In other testimony on Monday, a police detective said King, an ex-convict, wrote racist graffiti on the door of his jail cell. He said King also inscribed on the door: "Shawn Berry is a snitch-ass traitor."

Berry, who also faces a murder trial in the Byrd killing, gave an affidavit when he was arrested that led to the arrests of King and the third defendant, Lawrence Brewer.

And King, in a jailhouse letter to Brewer, also expressed pride in the crime and said he realized he might have to die for it.

"Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history," King said in a letter intercepted by jail officials. "Death before dishonor. Sieg Heil!" the letter continued.

King's ex-girlfriend, Brandy Viator, said she received at least 50 letters from King during his last prison stretch.

In one, she testified, "He said he was going to make himself well-known doing something. But he didn't say what."

Correspondent Susan Candiotti and Reuters contributed to this report.

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The Dallas Morning News: The Jasper Trial
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