June 7, 1998
James Byrd, Jr. is beaten then dragged behind a pick up truck for 3 miles
Byrd was picked up by 3 men, one of whom, Shawn Berry, he was acquainted with. Instead of bringing Byrd home, the men drove him to a remote location where they beat and urinated on him. He was then chained to the back of a truck and dragged for 3 miles, his body gradually torn apart along the way.
One of the murderers, Russell Brewer, claimed Byrd’s throat was slashed before he was dragged, though investigators found evidence suggesting Byrd had tried to hold his head up while being dragged, and was alive for the majority of the dragging. Additionally, Byrd’s skull and brain were intact leading to the conclusion that he was conscious during the ordeal. Byrd was likely alive and conscious up to the point his body was slammed into a metal culvert which severed his head and right arm.
The murderers, Berry, Brewer, and John King, then took part of Byrd’s mutilated body and dumped them in front of a church. Byrd’s severed limbs were found the next morning. Police found a total of 81 locations containing pieces of Byrd’s remains.
The motive behind the attack was believed to be racially driven; Brewer and King were known white supremacists and Byrd was a black man. The three men were charged with a hate crime based on this suspected motive.
Shawn Berry claimed he was not responsible for the murder, though Russell Brewer alleged Berry had cut Byrd’s throat. Juror’s disagreed with Brewer’s allegations and Berry was spared the death penalty. He will be eligible for parole in 2038 and is held in protective custody in prison, spending 23 hours a day in an 8′ by 6′ cell. He is allowed 1 hour a day for exercise.
Russell Brewer was executed September 21, 2011 and expressed no remorse for the murder, going so far as to say the day before his execution, “as far as any regrets, no, I have no regrets. No, I’d do it all over again, to tell you the truth.”
John King received the death penalty as well and currently waits on death row.
(Photo: Jasper County Assistant District Attorney Pat Hardy holds the chains used to drag James Byrd, Jr. Photo by Butch Ireland)