Jury gets case in dragging death murder trial
|CNN's Susan Candiotti reports on Monday's disturbing testimony
February 23, 1999
Web posted at: 12:18 p.m. EST (1718 GMT)
JASPER, Texas (CNN) -- Closing arguments were completed and jury deliberations began on Tuesday in the murder trial of John William King, one of three white men accused of chaining a black man to a pickup truck and dragging him along a bumpy country road until he was decapitated.
The jury of seven men and five women -- including 11 whites and one African-American man -- began considering the case after hearing closing arguments from prosecution and defense attorneys.
King, 24, could face the death penalty if found guilty in the slaying of James Byrd Jr., 49, who was dragged for nearly three miles last June.
If the jury convicts King of capital murder, it would have to decide his sentence -- execution by lethal injection or life in prison.
A pathologist testified that Byrd was alive during the dragging, until he was slammed into a culvert
Testimony in the trial ended on Monday after 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.
Spray paint marks the spot where officials found the victim's decapitated head
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."
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."
Correspondent Susan Candiotti and Reuters contributed to this report.
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The Dallas Morning News: The Jasper Trial
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