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Life or death? Texas jury hears evidence

Byrd's sister Stella Brumley says it was difficult for the family to attend the trial and hear details of the crime.
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Two of Byrd's sisters tell CNN their reactions to the verdict
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CNN's Susan Candiotti recaps the trial
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Get details on the case
Race relations
Death penalty
Texas man guilty in dragging death

Dragging-death killer guilty; jury deciding punishment

February 24, 1999
Web posted at: 11:52 a.m. EST (1652 GMT)

In this story:

'Relieved' and 'saddened' by verdict


JASPER, Texas (CNN) -- The same Texas jury that convicted John William King of capital murder in the dragging death of a black man is hearing more evidence Wednesday before deciding whether the white supremacist should die or serve a life sentence.

Before the court session began, two of the victim's sisters told CNN they want King to get the death penalty for his role in killing James Byrd Jr.

"I feel he should get the highest punishment that the court system can dish out to him," Stella Brumley said.

"We both agree this type of crime justifies this punishment," added Louvon Harris, Byrd's youngest sister.

On Tuesday, after the jury returned its guilty verdict, prosecutors began the penalty phase of the trial by calling King's parole officers as witnesses. They testified about his negative attitude and his refusal to abide by the rules after his release from prison, where he served a sentence for burglary.

"We tried everything we had available," said William Sparks Jr., director of probation for the Jasper County court system. "It was a failure."

Psychiatric testimony is expected Wednesday, and the jury could get the life-or-death question on Thursday.

King's lawyer, Haden "Sonny" Cribbs, on Tuesday would not discuss defense strategy except to say, "We're trying to save this boy's life." He said getting the jury to reject the death penalty will be "like climbing Mount Everest."

The jury of 11 whites and one black man -- a prison guard who went to middle school with the defendant -- must choose between death by lethal injection or life without parole.

The panel spent less than three hours deliberating Tuesday before finding King guilty of kidnapping and murdering Byrd, who was chained behind a pickup last June 7 and dragged along a road until he was torn to pieces.

King family spokesman David Luther reads a statement from King's father

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'Relieved' and 'saddened' by verdict

Two other defendants -- Shawn Berry, 24, and Lawrence Brewer, 31 -- await trial and, like King, could get the death penalty.

"It's one down and two to go," said Ross Byrd, the victim's son, after Tuesday's verdict was announced.

King, at 24 a strong racist hardened by two years in prison, showed no emotion. But his father, Ronald King, wept in his wheelchair, and members of the Byrd family also cried.

"I am relieved," Brumley said Tuesday. "That's all we wanted, was justice."

"We win and yet we still lose, because we don't have him back," Byrd's sister Mary Verrett said outside the courthouse. "The world will know that James Byrd Jr. has lived on this Earth ... but he never wanted it to be this way."

King's father said in a statement that he was "saddened" by the verdict, but shared the Byrd family's sorrow over their loss and prayed "that no family should ever experience prejudice of any sort ever again."

He called on Jasper "to continue to show the world by its example that during these difficult times good will overcome evil."

Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

'One down and two to go': Texas man guilty in dragging death
February 23, 1999
Closing arguments today in Texas dragging-death trial
February 22, 1999
DNA expert may testify in Texas dragging-death trial
February 19, 1999
Jury shown human billboard of hate in Texas dragging case
February 17, 1999
Texas sheriff 'knew somebody was murdered because he was black'
February 16, 1999
Jury selection begins in dragging death murder trial
January 26, 1999

The Dallas Morning News: The Jasper Trial
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