A Modern Lynching | James Byrd Jr.
Episode 12

A Modern Lynching | James Byrd Jr.

In 1998, James Byrd Jr. was murdered by a group of white supremacists in Jasper County, Texas. This week, Rasha and Yvette explain how this case was a wake up call to many, exposing the the stark reality of racism in modern America.

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In The Episode

Trevor Young 00:03

You're listening to Facing Evil, a production of iHeartRadio in Tenderfoot TV. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the individuals participating in the show, and do not represent those of iHeartRadio or Tenderfoot TV. This podcast contains subject matter which may not be suitable for everyone. Listener discretion is advised.

Rasha Pecoraro 00:27

Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Facing Evil from Tenderfoot TV and iHeartRadio. We are your hosts. I'm Rasha Pecoraro.

Yvette Gentile 00:35

And I'm Yvette Gentile. And here as always, we're with our producer, Mr. Trevor Young.

Trevor Young 00:40

Hi, there. Hope you're surviving the heat everyone.

Yvette Gentile 00:44


Rasha Pecoraro 00:44


Trevor Young 00:47

Yeah, it's bad, but it's just right after Labor Day. And I wanted to throw out one thing that I did this past weekend. And I don't know if you guys have ever been to anything like this, but I went to a nerd con called Dragon Con. It's in Atlanta every year. Have you heard of it?

Rasha Pecoraro 01:04

I wanted to ask you about this. I'm so happy that you brought it up because I saw it in your stories. And I'm like, What is Dragon Con? Please tell me all the things. 

Trevor Young 01:12

Yeah. So it's a con like Comic-Con, or, you know, anything like that. But it is very different. It's more of like a party. So instead of having like a big expo hall with all these, you know, companies and Marvel and whoever, like showing whatever their new shows and movies are, which is kind of like what Comic-Con usually is. Instead, it's just like for the fans entirely. So people dress up. It's like thousands and thousands of people and it really consumes the entirety of downtown Atlanta for like five days during Labor Day weekend.

Yvette Gentile 01:44


Rasha Pecoraro 01:44

Did you dress up?

Trevor Young 01:46

Yeah, I had a few outfits. It's, it's weird, it's like, you can go in normal clothes. But I feel like you're missing out on, missing out on a big part of the fun if you do that. 

Rasha Pecoraro 01:56


Yvette Gentile 01:56

So what did you go as?

Trevor Young 01:58

I only did two outfits that I kind of recycled throughout the weekend. One of them was a character from the new movie Everything Everywhere All at Once, which is he's like a chef and he's like, controlled by a raccoon on his head. It's like a spoof of Ratatouille. 

Rasha Pecoraro 02:12

Oh, right. Right, right. 

Trevor Young 02:13

And then Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, which is really easy. You just like wear a suit, slick your hair back and put on a poncho.

Rasha Pecoraro 02:20

Pictures or it didn't happen, Trevor, we need to see.

Trevor Young 02:25

Well, next year you guys are going to Dragon Con. And maybe we can do a live episode from Dragon Con.

Yvette Gentile 02:30

Oh my God that would that would be epic. Can't wait, Trevor. So Trevor, with that, will you please take us through today's case?

News Clip 02:42

In Texas in the trial of one of the men charged with dragging to death a black man, simply because of his race. The testimony today was devastating. The suspect's racial hatred was so deep and threatening and well known to his friends.

Archival 02:55

When I found out that my dad was brutally killed by three white supremacists, I was in denial I was numb.

News Clip 03:04

First William Hoover, who served time in prison with King testified that King discussed abducting a black man and killing him to win membership in a racist game.

Trevor Young 03:13

James Byrd Jr. was a 49-year-old black man from Texas, who was killed by three white supremacists in 1998. In the early morning hours of June 7, James was walking home from his parents' house in rural Jasper County after attending a bridal shower for his niece. He was offered a ride by three white men in a pickup truck, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer, and John King. The three men did not take Byrd home. Instead, they drove him to a logging road just outside of town, where they beat and tortured James to death. Then they left his lifeless body in front of a church. The murder of James Byrd Jr. shocked the nation. Many had believed that such brutal racial attacks like this were part of its Jim Crow era past and the case sparked new conversations about lynchings and helped pave the way for updated hate crimes legislation. And so what happened to James Byrd Jr.? How did his death serve as a wake up call for the country? And what lessons about racism and violence can we learn today from this difficult story?

Rasha Pecoraro 04:24

So as a reminder, we briefly heard about the case of James Byrd Jr. on the Matthew Shepard episode. So both cases involved a brutal killing, which were considered hate crimes. They both happened in the same year, and they were both included on a key piece of legislation.

Yvette Gentile 04:45

But unlike Matthew, this case has a key difference. We all knew that prejudice against gay people was a thing back in the 90s. And that violence was a very real possibility for queer people. But we didn't think that lynchings were still happening. But sadly, we learned that lynchings are not a relic of the past in this country.

Rasha Pecoraro 05:09

Yeah, unfortunately, no. And, just quickly, when I think of a lynching, right, I think of a racially motivated murder. You know, I immediately picture those horrible, you know, photos of, you know, the KKK, or these horrible white perpetrators, who, like basically celebrated these lynchings? Right?

Yvette Gentile 05:34

It just makes you sick to your stomach, like in the pit of your stomach.

Trevor Young 05:38

Yeah, and I think, I mean, honestly, this case kind of does end up looking like that. And it is one of many that still happens in today's modern era. I mean, between 1882 and 1968, the NAACP said that there were 4743 reported lynchings in the United States. And that's just reported. So there were almost certainly even more than that. Yeah. In broad daylight, right. 

Yvette Gentile 06:03

Yeah. So I mean, definitely not over. I mean, Trevor, when I, when I hear that, I think right away about Ahmaud Arbery, the young man who was killed in 2020. And he was just, you know, jogging through a white affluent neighborhood. And this happened, you know, in Savannah, Georgia. In broad daylight 2020. Here we are again. Yeah, I mean, I know they classified Ahmaud Arbery stuff as a lynching. They still do happen, even as recently as 2020. And I'm sure lots of things we don't hear about even happening this year. So yeah, that's why we're here talking about it. 

Rasha Pecoraro 06:42

Yeah, exactly. So let's talk about James Byrd Jr. He was a 49-year-old black man who was born and raised in Jasper County, Texas. He came from a religious family. His mother was a Sunday School teacher and his father was a deacon. He graduated from high school in 1967. And his school was the last segregated graduating class in the entire high school. So you know, he he grew up under the Jim Crow laws in Texas. I can only imagine what that was like for him. And for so many others.

Yvette Gentile 07:18

You know, coming from a small town like, you know, Jasper, Texas, where the population was only 8247. I mean, it's a small community.

Rasha Pecoraro 07:30

Yeah, absolutely. Well, anyway, he ended up getting married. And he had three children with his wife. And he worked as a vacuum salesman. And, like many Americans at the time, he struggled with alcoholism. In the 1990s, he even spent a brief period in jail for petty theft. And during his time in jail, he and his wife got divorced. He was released in 1996. And at this point, he was basically in the process of rebuilding his life.

Trevor Young 08:02

Right. So at this point, he's back in Jasper County, and he's in AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. And according to one report, quote, "his friends and family describes him as a friendly father and grandfather who was charismatic, musically talented, and generally well liked".

Rasha Pecoraro 08:19

So this is where he's at on June 7, 1998. He's rebuilding his life. So on this particular night, it was really late, between two and three in the morning, and he was walking home from his parents house, and he had been attending a family bridal shower. So that's when he was offered a ride home by three white strangers in a pickup truck.

Yvette Gentile 08:43

Yeah, that's right. And he had, like you said, he had just come from this party. And I was watching the documentary and like, he was singing and dancing and like, just having, like, such a great time, you know, and decided to leave and, and, you know, walk home, you know, because again, they're in a small town. But a witness named Steve Scott was driving home around that same time, and he said that he saw Byrd walking along Martin Luther King Drive. And a few minutes later, he saw James again. This time, he was riding in the bed of a pickup truck with three white men in the cab. So maybe he knew these guys?

Rasha Pecoraro 09:21

Maybe. But Steve Scott didn't realize the significance of what he was seeing at the time. But Steve was the last person ever to see James Byrd Jr. alive.

Trevor Young 09:33

And we'll pick it up right after we take a quick break.

Rasha Pecoraro 09:40

So James Byrd Jr. was familiar with one of the three white men that offered him a ride home that night. And so now that makes a little bit more sense in my mind as to why he jumped in the back of this particular pickup truck. So the man that he knew was 23-year-old Shawn Berry who happened to own the truck. With Berry were John King, who was also 23, and 31-year-old Lawrence Brewer. And we do know, though, that the three men did not drive James home that night.

Trevor Young 10:12

Right. I mean, as we said, at the beginning of the episode, they drove him out to a logging road just outside of town. And there, they beat him. They defecated and urinated on him. And then they chained him to the truck by his ankles using a heavy logging chain. And that's when they started to drive. And they drove for nearly three miles down Huff Creek Road, dragging James behind his truck without stopping. So after about a mile and a half, his body hit a culvert. And that is what eventually killed him. The three men took James's remains, and then they left him right in front of a predominantly black church.

Yvette Gentile 10:57

This is just so sickening. It's like I don't even have the words. To think that this man was alive while being dragged behind this truck for a mile and a half.

Trevor Young 11:11

Yeah, I mean, we know that he didn't die until he hit that culvert. So, you know, for as long as it took. He was being essentially like, tortured, being dragged along the ground for that long.

Yvette Gentile 11:21

Yeah. And you know, there was, there was a documentary that I was watching with his, his oldest daughter, Renee, and she's like, you know, my dad was so strong. She was saying, because, you know, he was, he was literally trying to hold his elbows, you know, up from the ground, like he was, he was trying, you know, to save himself. Yeah, but he couldn't. It's just horrible.

Rasha Pecoraro 11:45

I mean, I, I've known about what happened to James, but even just hearing you say that word for word, Trevor, it, it like, you know, it puts a pit in your stomach, right? Like, you just you feel just so sick. And you know, one ironic fact that you did mention, Trevor, is that they did leave, you know, James's remains, you know, at a predominantly black church. And that church was Huff Creek Memorial Chapel. And this church was actually the last remaining anchor sight of the Huff Creek community, which was what was called, or what was known, as a freedom community for black people after the Civil War. And so the residents of this community were all former slaves, and they built their own homes, their own businesses, their own schools, and their own churches. And they did that all using the very limited resources that they had. And freedom communities existed all over the south. And they were places for black people to exist and thrive safely. And they were usually located in relatively unsafe places during those decades of terror, places like Jasper County, Texas. And by 1998, there was essentially just this one church that was left and that was the only remnant of that legacy. And that's where his body was left.

Trevor Young 13:13

Do y'all think that was on purpose? Do you think they did this as a kind of slight?

Yvette Gentile 13:17

You know, there's a, there's a part of me that absolutely thinks, you know, that was on purpose. You know, you could say it was a sad irony, but I, I believe someone in that truck knew what they were doing.

Trevor Young 13:33

Yeah, I mean, if nothing else, it says a lot about the politics of, you know, Jasper County, and the kind of history that has taken place there. Right, you have like two sides of an issue that have been going on for decades, that are that are both very much alive.

Rasha Pecoraro 13:50

There's a rich racist history in Jasper County, Texas, at least that's what it seems like.

Trevor Young 13:55

Yeah. And then also resilience towards that racism. Both the racism and the resilience are both there and full effect by this time. So moving on, they they left James Byrd's remains. And then the three men, Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer, and John King left to go to a barbecue. And James Byrd's body was later found that morning by a driver who was passing by. So authorities then started to search the area and they found a bunch of items strewn about the area belonging both to James and to his murderers. They find a lighter with the word "Possum" inscribed on it, and apparently that was King's prison nickname. They also find a wrench that has Berry's name on it, and Berry was the truck driver. So then at the end of the logging road, they find an apparent scene of a fight or a beating, it was like some sort of kind of indent in the grass or something like that, where you can tell some sort of scuffle had happened. The grass was like matted down. And in that kind of matted area, they find a cigarette lighter engraved with the words "Possum" and also KKK, as well as another tool with Berry's name on it. And then they find three cigarette butts, beer bottles, a whole bunch of things from that truck. And then a button from James Byrd's shirt and his baseball cap. So I mean, if you're a police officer, this is a pretty obvious scene, right?

Yvette Gentile 15:25

Yeah. Yeah, this is, this is a slam dunk, because these guys were not very good at covering up their tracks. But it makes me wonder if they were even trying. And that's what I was saying earlier. Right. It's like, it seems like they definitely, or at least one of them knew what they were doing, you know, to James Byrd. So I know that during this time, people in the area are starting to hear about the crime. And this man, Steve Scott walks in, and you talked about Steve Scott earlier, Rasha. 

Rasha Pecoraro 15:58

Right, the witness.

Yvette Gentile 15:59

The witness. Exactly. And, again, my thought goes back to somebody in that truck deliberately knew what they were doing. 

Rasha Pecoraro 16:10

They weren't trying to cover it up very much. 

Yvette Gentile 16:12

No, they were not trying to cover it. Yeah. 

Rasha Pecoraro 16:15

Yeah. And around that same time, police also happened to stop Shawn Berry for a traffic violation. So inside Shawn's truck, they find a crucial piece of evidence - a set of tools matching the wrench that was found at the end of the logging road. So they arrest Berry and confiscate the truck, and then they find more. They find blood spatters underneath the truck and on one of its tires matching James Byrd's DNA. And then in the truck bed, they find blood on a spare tire, which is also a match. And then finally, in the truck bed itself there's a rust stain forming in the pattern of a chain.

Yvette Gentile 16:55

Right. So there's all this evidence mounting here. And these guys are also really outspoken white supremacists. 

Rasha Pecoraro 17:03

They don't hide it. 

Yvette Gentile 17:04

They're not hiding it. It's like, it's like when the, you know, a gang member does a hit and this is the biggest gang, the KKK. Somebody in out of the three of them is trying to make a statement. 

Rasha Pecoraro 17:05


Trevor Young 17:19

Yeah. So this goes back to your theory about that, you know, one or all of them knew what they were doing when they killed James Byrd Jr. So after they arrest them, they kind of start to learn all of these things about them, which prove that they very much intended to do this, and had very racist leanings that would motivate them to do so. So two of these guys, Lawrence Brewer, John King, according to documents, John King, who was 23, refused to go into a black person's home and would even leave a party if a black individual arrived at said party. And in prison, he was known as, quote, "the Exalted Cyclops of the Confederate Knights of America". I mean, the bells going off. So obviously, that's a white supremacist gang. And then Brewer is also associated with a another white supremacy group in prison. Both of them have their bodies covered in racist tattoos, incorporating both KKK and Nazi imagery. And so, understandably, the FBI quickly deems that James Byrd Jr.'s death is a hate crime.

Yvette Gentile 18:28

Yes, absolutely. Right. Absolutely. No doubt, this is a hate crime. But I also want to point out something in their court photos where, you know, they're all cleaned up. They look perfectly normal, right? They're trying to appear perfectly normal, like ordinary guys, which makes me think of how people who commit acts of racism, I mean, from small acts to atrocious ones like this one, you know, and this was horrible beyond beyond horrible. They don't necessarily look like TV villains.

Rasha Pecoraro 19:02

Right. But what does evil look like? Right? Like, what does that look like? Like, I'm sure they were wearing suits that were covering up all of their racist tattoos.

Yvette Gentile 19:10

Yeah, everything. 

Rasha Pecoraro 19:11

Yeah. What do you think, Trevor?

Trevor Young 19:13

I mean, obviously, they can hide it if they need to, for a court appearance, and whatever else, but I mean, I guess the point maybe to be made there is that, you know, really, racism can be found anywhere. And even in places you don't expect it.

Rasha Pecoraro 19:28

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So shifting gears a little bit. So these three guys were all roommates. So they were roommates who, as you pointed out, Yvette, apparently could not cover up a crime to save their lives, or they were doing it on purpose. We don't really know.

Yvette Gentile 19:46

Or they didn't want to.

Rasha Pecoraro 19:46

Or they didn't want to, and police end up searching their apartment and still they find even more evidence. So I mean, this is going to be a surprise to no one, but they found racist drawings and writings made by King. And more crucially, they find their clothing and their shoes that they were wearing the night that this all happened. And DNA analysis reveals that the jeans and boots worn by Berry that night were stained with blood matching James Byrd Jr.'s DNA. And then there's another very large piece of evidence. A friend of the three men told police that the men hung out behind his trailer a lot. And when they searched that area behind the trailer, they found the 24-foot logging chain that matched the rust imprint in Shawn Berry's truck bed.

Yvette Gentile 20:37

Jeez. God, you know, I think about this in 1998 and I was thinking about where I was living and I was in Oregon. And you know, my dad was living in Oregon as well. And just the fact that this was happening in 1998 was beyond anything that we could even comprehend. You know, this was through and through torture.

Trevor Young 21:04

I do think the one maybe silver lining to this taking place in a slightly more modern context, like 1998, is that even though you wouldn't expect something like this to happen in this time, one thing that's different is that you're a lot more likely to see consequences. Right. So these people are very quickly identified, they're captured, they are sent to prison, right? Like they face consequences pretty fast. Whereas, you know, in Jim Crow era...

Rasha Pecoraro 21:33

That might not have happened.

Trevor Young 21:34

Yeah, I mean, you would have had probably a very racist, all white jury police force that would have done whatever it took to see these guys to either get off or maybe even avoid getting arrested for it.

Yvette Gentile 21:45

Very true. Very true, Trevor, they got on this right away.

Rasha Pecoraro 21:49

Yeah. And that was the silver lining. And so you know, the three men are indicted together on capital murder charges. But as the trial begins, crucial cracks begin to form between the three roommates, cracks that would impact the rest of their lives.

Trevor Young 22:07

Yeah, it gets a little bit dramatic. And we'll talk about that right after we take another quick break.

Yvette Gentile 22:17

Okay, so the trial for the lynching of James Byrd Jr. begins February 1999. And one of the first questions asked, I have to ask you this, Trevor, is, "why?". Can you take us through this one? I mean, we know that they're white supremacists, but what moved them to commit this heinous, heinous act.

Trevor Young 22:42

I mean, look, I am never going to like try and empathize or get in the mind of a, you know, violent murderers, racists. But we do know, like, what they were planning based off of their writings and things that they had told other people. So those writings that they found in John King's apartment were very important. According to the prosecution, they included plans for a new hate group that he was trying to form and recruit for. So the murder was supposedly his big sort of dramatic act that he would use to attract media attention and bring in new members who would want to join his group, you know.

Rasha Pecoraro 23:21

Ew, so gross. So this jury had something else to consider. So Shawn Berry, the roommate of these two white supremacists and the man who owned the pickup truck that dragged James Byrd Jr., he had made a statement to police. And here's what he said - that John King had not wanted to pick up James Byrd because he was black. But then King changed his mind. So Berry said that King was the one who drove the truck to that isolated area, and that Brewer and King, not him, were the ones who got out and began beating Byrd, eventually chaining him to the back of the truck.

Yvette Gentile 23:59

So he puts it all on the other two, right?

Rasha Pecoraro 24:02

Right. As a bystander, okay.

Yvette Gentile 24:05

Yeah, right. What a, what a great friend. But this just reminds me, and we can go back to the Matthew Shepard case, how one of his two killers, which was Russell Henderson, basically said it was the other guy. So it's the same thing happening all over again.

Trevor Young 24:20

Yeah, so somebody else throwing them under the bus.

Yvette Gentile 24:23

Right? But they're all responsible.

Trevor Young 24:25

Yeah, I mean, that's uh, apparently in this case, you know, Shawn Berry is supposedly the only one who's not like a avowed white supremacist, right. Most people don't see him that way. He doesn't have any sort of weird letters or plans or manifestos to like, start a white supremacist group like the other guys do. So it's possible somehow he just ended up along for the ride the night this night. And, you know, the other two took the lead in the violence, you know, and just kind of going back to Matthew Shepard. I mean, that was kind of a thing for real that night that Aaron McKinney was the one calling the shots. And I think maybe that is actually a thing that happens in these kind of group dynamics where there's this sort of, you know, group violence that takes place where one or two people are the ones who are really the driving aggressors, if you will. 

Yvette Gentile 25:17


Trevor Young 25:17

So I don't think it's impossible. But it definitely starts to create rifts in this group as a result, right.

Rasha Pecoraro 25:24

Right. Yeah. And to me, though, like, I mean, I think we can all three agree that it doesn't make him any less guilty, because he let it happen, right? But yes, you're right. Like he wasn't the, you know, white supremacist that we know of, but he didn't stop it. Like, yeah, he might have made this statement. But, he didn't do anything to stop it.

Yvette Gentile 25:47


Trevor Young 25:47

Well, so also keep in mind, it was his truck. Right. So.

Rasha Pecoraro 25:50

Right, that bears his responsibility and his liability. 

Yvette Gentile 25:53


Trevor Young 25:54

And, I mean, generally, that would suggest that he was the one driving, you know, even if he says he wasn't.

Rasha Pecoraro 25:58


Yvette Gentile 25:59

But he also knew James, too.

Rasha Pecoraro 26:01

 That's probably why James felt comfortable getting in that truck.

Yvette Gentile 26:04

Helllo. That's what I'm saying. You know, why would he get into a truck on a dark road walking home if he didn't know the people?

Rasha Pecoraro 26:12

With three white men. In Jasper, Texas.

Yvette Gentile 26:15

Yeah. It's not like he's unaware of racial prejudice where he's living, right?

Trevor Young 26:20

Yeah, Berry is a weird character in the story. Because he, I mean, he knew what they were gonna do. And he went along with it anyways, so, I don't know, it seems like he put James Byrd Jr. in harm's way, either neglectfully or intentionally. And at the end of the day, I mean, I doubt anybody here has a ton of sympathy for him or where he ends up? 

Rasha Pecoraro 26:42

No, I'm sorry, I do not.

Yvette Gentile 26:43

I was watching this documentary. And it's called "The Life & Tragic Death of James Byrd". And it was on Amazon Prime. And one of the women, you know, from that community in Jasper was being interviewed. She knew the family very well. And she said that, you know, James, you know, was likable, he didn't have anybody that hated him. And she felt like if it would have been anybody black, like walking in the streets that night, that it possibly could have happened. She said, it could have happened to me, you know, and that was, that was interesting. So when we go back to, you know, white supremacists, you know, I think that there is that possibility that they were just, you know, or the other guy was just out to pick up a black person and do this to them. And James Byrd happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Rasha Pecoraro 27:36


Trevor Young 27:37

Yeah. So let's talk about the trial. So the jury heard from a forensic pathologist with some kind of chilling testimony. And if you're listening, we're about to get into some gruesome details of the murder itself. So if you are sensitive to that sort of thing, I'd recommend you skip ahead about 30 to 45 seconds. So Dr. Thomas J. Brown testified that James Byrd Jr. was indeed alive while being dragged behind the pickup truck. And that he was, quote, "suffering horribly and vainly trying to save himself as he was dragged along by the chain attached to his ankles". And so parts of his body were also so severely mutilated from the dragging, that they were ground to the bone. And James apparently felt every second of it because he was still alive. So Dr. Brown told the court that quote, "It is my opinion that Mr. Byrd was alive up until the point that he hit the culvert. He was alive when the head, shoulder, and right arm were separated". So of course, that happened when he hit the culvert, which is basically just like a roadside ditch, about halfway through that three mile ordeal. And then he was essentially kind of bisected at that point.

Yvette Gentile 28:52

You know, and I, like I said earlier, I mean, he was fighting for his life, until he couldn't anymore.

Rasha Pecoraro 29:00

I mean, before we dove into this case, you know, of course, you know, we learned a little bit about it, when we did the Matthew Shepard episode, but all I had ever heard like in news or media or anything was that, you know, James Byrd Jr. was dragged behind a truck and decapitated and it's like, it's so much worse than that. And to think that someone or some people could do that, just because of the color of his skin makes me sick to my stomach and that's, you know, that's why we're here. We're trying to shine a light on that darkness. But who it's it's a lot to stomach.

Yvette Gentile 29:42

A whole lot to stomach.

Rasha Pecoraro 29:46

Meanwhile, John King is unrepentant. And police detectives say that he had spent his time in jail writing racist graffiti, and he even wrote on his door the words and this is a quote, "Shawn Berry is a snitch ass traitor" end quote. He also writes a note to Brewer in prison that ends up getting intercepted. And in this note, he says he's proud of the crime, although he realized he quote, "might have to die for it", end quote.

Yvette Gentile 30:20

He never truly confessed though, right?

Trevor Young 30:23

No, this was not a confession. And he didn't testify at the 1999 trial. Although in a letter to the press, he put a bunch of things on Shawn Berry, claiming that Berry picked up Byrd to buy steroids from him. And that Berry then dropped King and Brewer off at their apartment and then left again with Byrd just the two of them. In this letter, he claims that he and Brewer are being stereotyped for quote, "the pride we openly express for our race", end quote. So yeah, he pleads not guilty in the trial, although that note is bizarre, both the one about Shawn Berry, not making any sense. Nothing in the alibis of all three men would suggest that any of that information is true. And then the note suggesting that he's going to have to die for the crime that he did is somehow not considered a confession, but I don't know, it's some interesting stuff going on. Still, though, the three of them are charged with murder and King and Brewer get death sentences. Both were executed by lethal injection, Brewer in 2011, and King in 2019. Berry, on the other hand, was sentenced to life in prison and his parole is set for 2038. One interesting thing is that many of James Byrd Jr.'s family members were opposed to the death sentences, they did not want his murderers to be killed by lethal injection. And they were very outspoken about this.

Rasha Pecoraro 31:50

Yeah, they, they were and they are. And not only were they opposed; James's son actively campaigned against his father's murderers receiving the death penalty, and his daughter Renee and other family members denounced it so loudly. And in 2011, after Brewer was executed, James's sister Betty Boatner told CNN that she quote, "forgave him 13 years ago", end quote. At this time, James's son actually joined anti-execution protests saying, quote, "you can't fight murder with murder". That's pretty amazing that their family is that forgiving, and that passionate about trying to save lives even when their, their father's life was taken from them. 

Trevor Young 32:41

Yeah, like, if I was going through that sort of grief, I don't know if I'd have that sort of, you know, level headedness or not, you know. Obviously, like, my brain says, like, you know, capital punishment is bad. But if I was actually going through that, like, my emotions would be like, screaming at me to like, get revenge, essentially, you know. So it's pretty phenomenal that they can get past that in this moment.

Yvette Gentile 33:03

I just have to say one thing I, you know, his family was very deep in the church, and I think their faith and their religion and God, you know, was a huge thing in this because you know, you can't fight hate with hate. 

Rasha Pecoraro 33:17


Trevor Young 33:18

Yeah, I hadn't thought about that. It's interesting. And in 2003, which is about five years after their dad's murder, James Byrd's son and daughter actually went to go meet Shawn Berry in prison and talk to him about their dad and the murder and everything that went down. So wherever Shawn Berry's in prison for life at this point, he's probably not getting executed, but he does have parole in like 15 years. 

Rasha Pecoraro 33:45

Yeah, it doesn't seem like it's that far away. Ross Byrd said that he told Shawn Berry, quote, "you should have helped", end quote, and they ended up praying together. And he said, quote, "When I walked in the building, that's the first thing he did. He wanted to pray. And you know, I respect him for that. I respect him for saying that he was sorry", end quote.

Yvette Gentile 34:12

That's such a powerful act of forgiveness. The Byrd family has endured such immense pain. We, again, we can't even comprehend, you know, but to walk into that prison and pray with this man is, you know, that is the silver lining.

Rasha Pecoraro 34:33

 And forgive.

Yvette Gentile 34:34

And forgive. And forgive. Yeah.

Rasha Pecoraro 34:36

Yeah. Another silver lining that came from this horrible crime. You know, as we talked about in the Matthew Shepard episode, in October of 2009, then President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into federal law. And this law expanded hate crime legislation to also include crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Yvette Gentile 35:04

Also in Jasper, Texas, they had a graveyard that was still segregated back then. And after this horrific act happened, they took down that fence. And so there was no more division between white and black. So that was, that was huge as well.

Rasha Pecoraro 35:27

That's absolutely beautiful. And that brings us to this week's Imua, our final message of hope and healing. We'd like to dedicate this week's Imua to the Ohana or the family of James Byrd Jr. In the years since her father's unjust death, one of James's daughters Renee Mullins has become an advocate for hate crimes legislation. And she and her brother Ross Byrd are still fighting the death penalty, even in cases that feel unforgivable. Also, James's other daughter Jamie has become a police officer in Houston, Texas, and has written a book titled "Triumph Over Tragedy".

Yvette Gentile 36:13

It is said that when you hold on to bitterness and anger, those emotions only end up turning against you. And against all odds, James Byrd's family, they found fortitude and they found a grace that turn their sorrow into a fight for change. And that source of that fight is love and forgiveness.

Rasha Pecoraro 36:39

This horrific murder never should have happened. And they should not have lost their father, their brother, their son, their friend. But they have taken that loss and that hurt and turned it into something so beautiful and so much larger than themselves. And for this, we honor them. Onward and upward. Imua.

Yvette Gentile 37:02

 Imua. Well, that is our show for today and we'd love to hear what you thought about today's discussion. And if there is a case you'd like us to cover. Find us on social media or email us at facingevilpod@tenderfoot.tv. And one request if you haven't already, please find us on iTunes and give us a review and a good rating if you like what we do. Your support is always cherished.

Rasha Pecoraro 37:33

Until next time, aloha.

Trevor Young 37:51

Facing Evil is a production of iHeartRadio and Tenderfoot TV. The show is hosted by Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile. Matt Frederick and Alex Williams are executive producers on behalf of iHeartRadio with producers Trevor Young and Jesse Funk. Donald Albright and Payne Lindsey are executive producers on behalf of Tenderfoot. TV, alongside producer Tracy Kaplan. Our researcher is Claudia Dafrico. Original Music by Makeup and Vanity Set. Find us on social media, or email us at facingevilpod@tenderfoot.tv. For more podcasts from iHeart Radio or Tenderfoot TV, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.


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