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Texas executes man in race-motivated dragging death

Lawrence Russell Brewer, of Sulpher Springs, Texas,shown in a picture released by the authorities Ju..
Lawrence Russell Brewer, of Sulpher Springs, Texas,shown in a picture released by the authorities Ju..

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN (Reuters) - Texas executed a white supremacist on Wednesday convicted of helping to kill a black man by dragging him behind a truck in what some call the most notorious race crime of the post-Civil Rights era.

Lawrence Russell Brewer, 44, was convicted of capital murder along with two other men also found guilty of taking part in the kidnapping and slaying of James Byrd Jr. in 1998.

Brewer was given a lethal injection of drugs and pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m. local time in Huntsville, Texas, according to Michelle Lyons of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He had no last words.

Brewer, together with the two other men, offered Byrd a ride home, attacked him on a country road, chained his ankles to the back of a pickup, and then dragged him behind the truck for several miles in the vicinity of Jasper, Texas, according to a report by the Texas Attorney General's Office.

The east Texas killing touched off a national movement to strengthen punishments for crimes motivated by hate.

Of the two other men convicted in the killing, white supremacist John King is on death row awaiting an execution date. Shawn Berry is serving a life sentence.

"One down, one to go," Billy Roles, who was Jasper County Sheriff at the time and led the investigation into Byrd's death, told Reuters.

Brewer was the 11th person executed in Texas and the 34th in the United States in 2011. He visited with friends and family for four hours prior to the execution.

For his last meal, Brewer requested a number of items, including chicken-fried steak and Bluebell ice cream, and then declined them all, saying he wasn't hungry, officials said.

Byrd's wife and three children, who were not present for the execution, have argued against the death penalty for his killers, but other members of his family have said they thought it was the right sentence.

VICTIM'S SON OPPOSED EXECUTION

Byrd's two sisters and a niece, in a press conference in Huntsville, called the execution "the next step to total justice for James," Lyons said.

"Hopefully, today we have been reminded that racial hatred and prejudice can lead to tragic consequences for both the victim and his family, as well as the perpetrator and his family," said Clara Taylor, Byrd's sister. "Our sincere condolences to the family of Lawrence Brewer."

The victim's only son, Ross Byrd, said late on Tuesday that he wished the state would show the mercy toward the condemned man that the killers never showed his father, who died while his son was in military training.

"Life in prison would have been fine," Ross Byrd, 32, told Reuters. "I know he can't hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn't what we want."

While Brewer blamed Berry for the killing, prosecutors said it happened because King and Brewer wanted to start a white supremacist group in Jasper, according to the Attorney General's report.

Texas state Senator Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who helped pass the state's James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act in 2001, said the death sentence in Brewer's case "will close a chapter in this tragic story."

"I cannot say for certain that it is a requirement in order for justice to be served," Ellis told Reuters, "but as Mr. Brewer was a ringleader in the most brutal hate crime in the post-Civil Rights era, it is certainly a very appropriate sentence."

Texas has the country's most active death row, executing more than four times as many people as any other state since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio. Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)

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