JASPER, TX (KTRE) – It has been 13 years since the nation learned of the brutal dragging death of James Byrd Jr., a black man chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death in Jasper.
Lawrence Russell Brewer, a purported white supremacist is set to be executed on Wednesday for the 1998 murder. He was condemned for fastening 49-year-old James Byrd Jr. to the truck. Byrd was killed on June 7, 1998 on a rural road. His decapitated body was found the next day. Prior to Byrd's murder, Brewer had served a prison sentence for drug possession and burglary.
Brewer will be the first of two men on death row for Byrd's death to be executed. His scheduled lethal injection, puts Jasper back in the national spotlight.
The horrific murder of Byrd set into motion a call for special hate crime laws in Texas. It later led to the Federal October 22, 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, commonly known as the Matthew Shepard Act. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on October 28, 2009.
"Today is a good day as well as a sad day and what I mean by that is that I'm okay because I have gotten peace with everything and the sad thing about it is that he says he has no remorse and that saddens me," said Betty Boatner, Byrd's sister.
Boatner still lives in Jasper and says she often visits her brother's grave. She says even though their parents taught them about forgiveness it was a still a process for them to forgive their brother's killer. "We forgave him. We didn't convict him."
On Tuesday, Byrd was remembered during a graveside memorial. Lifelong residents say the community is still healing. "We're going to have to live together, and we're gonna have to pray together and we're gonna have to get along with everybody and love one another. It's gonna take love," Katie Larkin Adams said.
"Today, we are gathered here to say to Jasper you can kill this brother, but you can't kill Jasper," civil rights activist Dick Gregory said. "And it's tragedies like this that bring out the goodness in all of us, not the evil in all of us."
The racism stigma lingers in the small town, some say, pointing to a recent attempt to oust three black city council members who helped confirm a black man as police chief. Many others say the label is unfair.
There were two others convicted in Byrd's murder. John King is serving a death row sentence in Polk County. His case is still under appeal and no execution date has been set. Sean Berry is serving a life sentence in Brazoria County.
Two of Byrd's sisters say they will attend Wednesday's execution. Byrd's mother, Stella, died last year.
Appeals to the courts for the 44-year-old Lawrence Russell Brewer were exhausted and no last-day attempts have been filed to keep him from execution in Huntsville.