Appeals court: More review needed for Jasper dragging death killer

Appeals court: More review needed for Jasper dragging death killer

HOUSTON, TX (KTRE) - A federal appeals court has approved additional review of a claim from one of the men convicted in the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. that he is innocent of the crime.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order in the case for John William King, 42 stating that, in part, the third of the five claims made by King's attorneys was grounds for additional review of the case.

"For the foregoing reasons, we grant a [Certificate of Appealability] in part on Claim 3," the court's order stated. "King shall submit brief on this claim within 30 days. The State shall submit a claim within 15 days thereafter. We deny a COA on King's other claims."

King's defense attorneys appeared before three circuit judges with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Attorneys for John William King argued to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that King's trial lawyer was deficient in presenting a case for innocence," an Associated Press story stated. "They contend only a few pieces of circumstantial evidence that could be innocently explained tied King to the scene of a fight that resulted in 49-year-old James Byrd Jr. being chained to the truck and fatally dragged."

The order stated that "jurists of reason" could debate whether King's trial counsel was deficient and cited part of the third claim as their reason for approving additional review in the case.

The court order cited an example given by King's attorneys. During closing arguments King's defense attorney apologized to the jury for forgetting what the evidence showed about who had possession of a lighter at the time of the murder before moving on to the cigarette butt that had King's DNA on it.

Byrd's body was found in the Huff Creek area of Jasper County on June 6, 1998. His remains were found scattered along a highway. He had been chained to the back of a pickup and dragged down the highway until he died.

King was sentenced to death for Byrd's death on February 25, 1999, according to a previous East Texas News story. King asked to drop his appeal in August of 2000.

He stated in a letter to the Jasper County District Clerk that said, "to put it mildly, I simply don't care to pursue these cases any longer."

However, under Texas law, all death penalty verdicts are required to be appealed even if the convicted killer doesn't want the appeal.

The State of Texas executed Lawrence Russell Brewer, another suspect in Byrd's death on Sept. 21, 2011, according to a previous East Texas News story. Shawn Allen Berry, the third suspect in the slaying is serving out a life sentence in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison.

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