U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal from James Byrd's killer, could clear way for execution of John William King in Texas

A Texas man convicted in a notorious hate crime that spurred the passage of a federal law has lost his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court on Monday turned away 44-year-old John William King’s request to take his case in the dragging death of 49-year-old James Byrd Jr.

The order, issued without an opinion from the justices, could clear the way for Texas to set an execution date for King. King and co-defendants Lawrence Russell Brewer and Shawn Berry were convicted of the dragging death of 49-year-old James Byrd in June 1998.

Brewer was executed in Texas on Sept. 21, 2011. King remains on death row. Berry was sentenced to life in prison.

King had asked the justices to review his case, claiming a federal appeals court in New Orleans erred in turning him down.

Byrd died after being dragged behind a truck for three miles on an asphalt road near Jasper, Texas. Investigators said Byrd remained conscious throughout much of the incident and died when his body hit the edge of a culvert, decapitating him and severing his right arm.

Byrd’s death helped lead to the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law Oct. 28, 2009.

When King was sentenced to death in 1999, he showed no remorse. Instead, King quoted Francis Parker Yockey, an American fascist who died in prison in 1960 and who has become something of a hero to the antisemitic and militant far right.

King issued a statement through his lawyer that ended: “The promise of success is with the man who is determined to die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.”

King is currently being held in the Polunsky Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

It is not clear if and when Texas will set an execution date for King. Currently, the state has six executions scheduled between Nov. 14 and Feb. 28, 2019.

Photo credit AP Images/David J. Phillip. John King in 1999.

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