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Attorneys argue punishment for second defendant in Texas dragging death case

The accused and the crime

Lawrence Brewer, 32, is the second of three white defendants to go on trial for the 1998 death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. The first, John King, 24, was convicted last February and sentenced to death. The third, Shawn Berry, 24, will go on trial later.

All three men are accused of kidnapping the 49-year-old victim, beating him unconscious, chaining him to the bumper of Berry's pickup and dragging him 3 1/2 miles to his death along a country road outside of Jasper.

Prosecutors say the three men killed Byrd to promote their fledgling white supremacist organization and initiate Berry into the group.

The jury

The Brazos County jury -- 12 members and two alternates -- includes seven white men, two Hispanic men and five white women, ranging in age from 29 to 69.

Why Bryan, Texas?

The trial was moved to Brazos County, 150 miles west of Jasper, at the request of prosecutors. They didn't want the defense to use pretrial publicity in Jasper as an issue for appeal.

Hate crimes

September 20, 1999
Web posted at: 10:27 p.m. EDT (0227 GMT)

In this story:

Anxious over 4-hour deliberation

'Pattern of deceit'

Brewer's testimony


BRYAN, Texas (CNN) -- A jury will hear more testimony Tuesday to decide the punishment for alleged white supremacist Lawrence Brewer, convicted of capital murder for killing a black man who was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck last year.

Brewer, 32, could be sentenced to life in prison or death by lethal injection.

"I want the ultimate penalty," said Mary Verrett, sister of victim James Byrd Jr.

"I don't like the death penalty," said Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray, "but that's what he deserves."

Brewer's defense attorney, Doug Barlow, had no comment.

Gray said he didn't anticipate the case returning to the jury for a decision on a sentence until Wednesday.

"In Texas, the system is you answer three questions, and the big one here is: Will he be a danger in the future?" the prosecutor said. "I really don't see any answer to that but -- yes."

Anxious over 4-hour deliberation

Brewer had no visible reaction when the verdict was read Monday. He was the second of three defendants to stand trial for the June 7, 1998, murder of Byrd, 49, near Jasper, Texas.

The victim's family said they had been a little anxious because this second jury had deliberated longer than the first.

"I can't begin to describe how good we feel," said Verrett. "The second weight has been lifted off our shoulders."

Brewer's prison pal, John William King, was convicted of the killing in February and sentenced to die by lethal injection, while a third man, Shawn Berry, awaits an October trial.

The capital murder conviction required jurors to agree there was another felony -- in this case, abduction -- involved in Byrd's death, and that Brewer helped.

Testifying on his own behalf last week, Brewer said he knew nothing about a kidnapping, never intended for Byrd to die and was convinced Byrd died before the dragging, when Berry slashed his throat with a knife.

"They had facts to show that this person enjoyed what he did to my brother," said Verrett after the verdict. "He (Byrd) was tortured and he was killed, and they got much satisfaction out of that. So needless to say, the Byrd family -- we too -- are satisfied right now."

'Pattern of deceit'

"Clearly there is a pattern of deceit," prosecutor Gray said in his closing statement before the case went to the jury on Monday. "He (Brewer) crafted his story to try to imply James Byrd was dead before they started dragging him."

"He just admitted enough to comply with the facts ... staying just short of the death penalty," Gray said.

Defense attorney Barlow told jurors not to "be guided by dramatics and stretches of the imagination."

"If you think Russell was up here trying to concoct a story, don't you think he would have concocted a story that would have made him much less culpable?" Barlow asked.

Gray described Brewer as "kind of a nobody," a liar and racist who couldn't hold a job when not in prison, but when behind bars "he's a big shot ... he has status in the pen."

Brewer's testimony

Brewer told jurors he was inside the cab of a pickup truck, smoking a cigarette after a night of drinking, unaware that Byrd was being chained to the rear of the truck.

Sometimes sobbing, Brewer testified Friday that he was in the truck with his co-defendants when Byrd was dragged for more than three miles along a bumpy country road, shredding and dismembering his body.

But, he said, Berry first slashed Byrd's throat, then chained him to the back of the truck. Brewer said he even urged his two companions to release Byrd.

"I didn't mean to cause his death," Brewer said. "I had no intentions of killing nobody."

A pathologist testified there was no evidence of a knife wound on Byrd's remains, and authorities found no knife. Byrd was alive until his head was torn off when it slammed into a culvert, the pathologist said.

Berry, Brewer said, was trying to buy muscle-building steroids from Byrd when King started fighting with Byrd because he did not like blacks.

Brewer admitted kicking Byrd and inadvertently spraying his face with black paint, but only because he was trying to break up the fight with King.

Brewer also admitted that he had been the "Exalted Cyclops" of a white racist gang that he and King joined when they served time for parole violations in a Texas prison in the mid-1990s. But he said he joined the group, the Confederate Knights of America, for protection from prison violence.

"I was trying to fit in so I could make it out of there alive," said Brewer, a high school dropout from Sulphur Springs, Texas, who has spent most of his adult life behind bars for crimes, including burglary and cocaine possession.

If Brewer is sentenced to death, he'll become only the second white person now on Texas' death row for killing a black man since the state resumed executions in the mid-1970s.

He was convicted by six white men, five white women and one Hispanic man.

"There was never a worry that an all white jury wouldn't do the correct thing on the case," said Gray. "It just doesn't matter who the victim is -- murder is murder."

Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.

Opening statements today for second dragging death defendant
September 13, 1999
Attorneys pick final jury panel for second trial in Texas dragging death
September 10, 1999
Dragging death suspect to seek change in venue
April 19, 1999
Judge rejects appeal in dragging-death case
April 13, 1999
Dragging death victim's daughter backs Texas hate crime bill
March 5, 1999

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