Leader of the Confederate Knights of America Gets Death Sentence


HOUSTON -- One of three men convicted for their involvement in the infamous East Texas dragging death slaying 13 years ago has received an execution date.

A state district judge signed an order Tuesday setting Sept. 21 as the date 44-year-old Lawrence Russell Brewer gets lethal injection in Huntsville for killing James Byrd, said Laroni Gray with the Jasper County district attorney's office.

Brewer was among three white men convicted of chaining the 49-year-old black man to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him to death on a country road near Jasper, about 115 miles northeast Houston.

Brewer and John William King were convicted and sentenced to die for the June 1998 racial hate crime that shocked the nation for its brutality. King's case remains in the courts on appeal. The third man, Shawn Berry, received life in prison.

Brewer's most recent appeal was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.

In December 2007, Brewer's lawyers unsuccessfully argued to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals he improperly was ordered to submit to a psychiatric examination before any psychiatric evidence was presented at his trial. His attorneys said his rights then were violated when prosecutors offered psychiatric testimony to a jury before Brewer presented any of his own.

His lawyers also argued evidence at his trial may have been constitutionally insufficient to support a kidnapping and murder charge. The kidnapping element made it capital murder, making Brewer eligible for the death penalty.

Brewer, King and Berry were portrayed by prosecutors as white supremacists who offered Byrd a ride in Berry's pickup in the early morning of June 7, 1998. Instead, Byrd was chained by his ankles to the bumper of the truck, then was dragged for three miles, his body dismembered as it bounced along a rutted dirt path and then the bumpy and winding asphalt road outside Jasper. His torso was dumped at the end of the road near a cemetery and was found the next day as authorities tracked the horrific trail of body parts.

King was tried first, in Jasper. Brewer's trial was moved to Bryan, about 150 miles to the west. A pathologist testified at Brewer's trial that Byrd was alive during the ordeal until his head was severed when it slammed into a culvert as the truck rounded a curve in the road.

Brewer testified he got into the truck after fighting with Byrd and didn't realize Berry had chained their victim to the bumper. He also insisted he knew nothing about a kidnapping, never intended to hurt Byrd and was convinced Byrd died when he said Berry slashed Byrd's throat with a knife.

Prosecutors told jurors Brewer was a leader, or "Exalted Cyclops," in a supremacist prison gang known as the Confederate Knights of America. Brewer first went to prison with a burglary conviction and was paroled in 1988. A year later, he was returned with a new conviction and 15-year sentence for cocaine possession but was paroled after serving only two years. In 1994, he was sent back to prison as a parole violator, then released in September 1997 on mandatory supervision.

Byrd was killed nine months later.

(Copyright ©2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
Uploaded 05/31/2011
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