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Second dragging-death suspect gets death penalty

Brewer, far right, after the death sentence is read by the judge  

The accused and the crime
Lawrence Brewer, 32, was 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 -- included 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 23, 1999
Web posted at: 2:11 p.m. EDT (1811 GMT)

In this story:

Mother pleads for son's life

Prosecutor: Brewer a racist psychopath


BRYAN, Texas (CNN) -- Convicted killer Lawrence Russell Brewer was sentenced Thursday to death by lethal injection for his role in the dragging death of a black man, a crime that prosecutors called one of the most vicious hate crimes in U.S. history.

Shortly before sentencing the 32-year-old Brewer for the June 7, 1998 murder of James Byrd, Jr., jurors told the judge they were deadlocked on a key issue.

The jurors told State District Judge Monte Lawlis they could not come to terms on whether there were mitigating factors that would warrant showing Brewer mercy.

Brewer's defense attorneys asked Lawlis to declare the jury deadlocked and give Brewer a sentence of life in prison, which would mean serving a minimum of 40 years before parole eligibility. Lawlis refused, sending the jurors back for more deliberations.

Outside the courthouse, after the verdict was read, Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray said although he did not personally favor the death penalty, he felt it was necessary in Brewer's case.

"I don't like the death penalty. I'm not a death penalty fan. But, this is a situation where if you don't give the death penalty to this man, he will kill and hurt again," said Gray. "So, your option is you let this man kill someone else or you take his life."

Doug Barlow, one of Brewer's attorneys, said his client was doing as well as could be expected.

"Russell has resigned himself to this," said Barlow. "I just left him upstairs and he said, 'I'll be all right.'"

The jury of 11 whites and one Hispanic deliberated about 12 hours Wednesday before recessing until Thursday morning.

In contrast, it took jurors just four hours Monday to find Brewer guilty of capital murder in the death of Byrd, who was chained to the back of a pickup and dragged to his death.

Texas law required the jury to unanimously answer three questions before they could choose the death penalty.

They had to be convinced Brewer meant to kill Byrd, that Brewer is a future danger to society and that nothing in his background merited giving him mercy.

Mother pleads for son's life

In his closing argument, defense attorney Lane Walker asked jurors to spare the white supremacist, saying Brewer had no history of violence while jailed at various times during his life.

"If you look at this man's life, if you put his life in a capsule, I can tell you that based on the evidence, his is not a future danger to society."

Brewer's mother begged the jury to spare her son's life.

"I don't believe it was in his heart to do it. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," she told the panel.

Prosecutor: Brewer a racist psychopath

Gray, who called Brewer a racist psychopath, said Brewer is still a threat. A prosecution psychiatrist testified that Brewer is a psychopath who poses a "substantial risk" to society.

Brewer is the second of three defendants to be tried for last year's killing.

During his trial, Brewer took the witness stand and contended that he was a bystander, not a killer.

He tearfully admitted being present when Byrd was dragged to his death but, he said, "I didn't mean to cause his death. I had no intentions of killing anybody."

Brewer, a former jailhouse Ku Klux Klan leader, claimed co-defendant John William King, who was sentenced to death in February for Byrd's slaying, initiated the killing by fighting with Byrd.

Brewer said the third defendant, Shawn Berry, slashed Byrd's throat and then chained him to Berry's pickup. Berry is to be tried next month.

Brewer admitted kicking Byrd and spraying Byrd's face with black paint. But he said it was a reflex action taken to try to break up the fight between Byrd and King.

Correspondent Charles Zewe contributed to this report.

Attorneys argue punishment for second defendant in Texas dragging death case
September 20, 1999
Texas dragging death trial nears end
September 19, 1999
Attorneys argue punishment for second defendant in Texas dragging death case
September 20, 1999
Opening statements today for second dragging death defendant
September 13, 1999

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