April 24 (UPI) -- One of three men convicted in the racially motivated dragging death of a black man in Texas two decades ago died by lethal injection Wednesday night.
John William King was the second person executed for the death of James Byrd Jr., for an attack considered by many one of the most infamous hate crimes in U.S. history. Accomplice Lawrence Brewer was put to death in 2011 and the other, Shawn Berry, is serving a life sentence.
The three men were convicted in separate trials of targeting Byrd in Jasper, Texas, on June 7, 1998. They dragged him from a truck by a chain for 3 miles on a rural road after beating him in a wooded area. Byrd's body was left in front of an African-American church, where worshipers found him the next morning.
King, 44, was convicted of capital murder in 1999.
The crime spurred federal hate crime legislation and state laws nationwide that sought harsher penalties for crimes motivated by race, religion, age, gender, disability, national origin or sexual orientation.
King said he's innocent of the crime, saying Berry dropped off he and Brewer before Byrd was killed. His attorney petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, arguing that his original defense attorneys did not sufficiently defend him or present evidence of innocence.
"He wants to find a way not to die, but he didn't give James that chance," Byrd's sister, Louvon Harris, told the Texas Tribune. "He's still getting off easy because your body's not going to be flying behind a pickup truck being pulled apart."
Jasper residents said the small east Texas town has never recovered from the stain of the crime.
"Doctors wouldn't come; businesses wouldn't come," the Rev. Ron Foshage of St. Michael's Catholic Church told the Beaumont Enterprise. "People moved out. It's been very difficult because we live with this stigma."