Second dragging-death suspect gets death penalty
September 23, 1999
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.
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.
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
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