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Texas executes man in 1998 dragging death [Updated]

September 21, 2011 |  4:32 pm

Texas execution

One of three people convicted in the 1998 dragging death of a black man in Jasper, Texas, was  executed Wednesday night for his part in the slaying, the Associated Press has reported.

[Updated 4:41 p.m.: Earlier reports said the execution was scheduled.]

The racially motivated killing of James Byrd Jr. stunned the nation, sparking protests, inspiring the movie "Jasper, Texas," and leading to state and federal hate-crime legislation.

One of Byrd's sisters planned to be in Huntsville, Texas, for the execution; another planned to hold a prayer vigil in Jasper, according to the Beaumont Enterprise.

The night he was killed, Byrd had accepted a ride home from a white man he knew, Shawn Berry, then 24, and two of Berry's friends -- John King, then 23, and Lawrence Brewer, then 31. King and Brewer were later identified as white supremacists.

Brewer, now 44, was the one scheduled for execution.

Instead of taking Byrd home, the men drove him down a remote county road, beat him unconscious, urinated on his body, chained him by his ankles to the truck and dragged him for three miles. When the truck made a hard turn at a bend in the road, Byrd's head struck a cement culvert and he was decapitated. The three men then dumped his remains in front of an African American cemetery and went to a barbecue.

The three were later tried and convicted of Byrd's murder. Brewer and King received the death penalty, while Berry was sentenced to life in prison. King is appealing his sentence, but Brewer had no appeals pending late Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general's office told The Times.

In a July interview with Beaumont's KFDM-TV, the first Brewer has granted since he was convicted in 1999, he admitted driving the truck but said he was not responsible for killing Byrd.

"I know in my heart I participated in assaulting him, but I had nothing to do with the killing as far as dragging him or driving the truck or anything," Brewer said.

Brewer told KFDM that he was willing to die.

"I'm for the death penalty. I feel that if you take a life you should pay for it by taking your own life if you're actually guilty of taking a life," Brewer said.

He also said that for him, the death penalty will be a relief.

"This is a good out for me," he said. "I don't want a life sentence, period, with or without parole. I wouldn't be happy with that."

Photos: James Byrd Jr., left, in a 1997 family photo. Lawrence Brewer, right, one of three men convicted of Byrd's death. Credit: Associated Press
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