JASPER, TX (KTRE) - A man convicted in the dragging death of an East Texas man was executed Wednesday night.
John William King’s execution was set for 6 p.m. in Huntsville. King, 44, was on death row since his conviction for his role in the death of James Byrd, Jr., 49.
King received lethal injection Wednesday evening for the 1998 slaying.
Byrd was walking home from an anniversary dinner in June 1998 when he was picked up by three white men and driven to an isolated rural road in Jasper County. There he was beaten, spray painted, chained by his ankles to the back of a truck and dragged for three miles.
Newton County Sheriff Billy Rowles was the sheriff of Jasper County at the time of Byrd’s death. Rowles said Wednesday he believes King’s execution will bring more closure to Byrd’s family.
“They deserve that. Obviously they’ll never get their brother back but hopefully they’ll have a little bit of est after this that it’s over,” Rowles said. “The justice system did work. Took a while but it has worked. I know the family is ready for this to be over with also.”
The brutal murder made national headlines and the case changed federal hate crime laws.
“You know (now) there’s a federal statues and then there’s a state statue also hate crime statues and it all came about as a result of this crime,” Rowles said.
In 2009, the Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd Jr. hate crime act became law making it a federal crime to assault someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It’s something that we obviously have to have nowadays. What’s really pathetic is it took someone like Mr. Byrd to have the focus on passing legislation for someone that has been violated,” Rowles said.
Byrd’s pastor Kenneth Lyons said memories of those involved in the horrific crime are fading away but hate crime law in Texas will remain in place to help protect others.
“The main memory of his dragging still live with us. That’s something that would never go away from human society,” Lyons said.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear King’s final appeal in October. Earlier this month the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied his request to delay his execution.
Lawrence Brewer was also convicted in Byrd’s death and was executed in 2011. Shawn Berry is serving a life sentence for his role in the murder.