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Wednesday, June 10, 1998 Published at 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK

World: Americas

'Race' murder shocks US

King (front) and Brewer (rear) leave Jasper County Court

Three suspected white supremacists have been charged with the murder of a black hitch-hiker.

BBC US correspondent Malcolm Brabant: "Hallmarks of a lynching"
The killing of James Byrd, 49, as he walked home from a niece's party in Jasper, Texas, has shocked the United States.

Laurence Brewer, 31, and Shawn Berry and John King, both 23, have been charged with murder.

They are said to have driven Mr Byrd to a remote spot, where he was beaten and chained to the back of a pick-up truck.

He was then dragged for 3km with such violence that he was decapitated and his right arm was severed, according to an affidavit of probable cause released by police.

[ image: Berry:
Berry: "KKK ties" says sheriff
Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray said: "It was real brutal and real serious. It's a senseless murder."

A tool engraved with the name of one of the suspects was found near the body.

All three suspects are tattooed with symbols of Aryan Nation - a white supremacist group.

James Byrd's sister, Clara Taylor, talks of her shock at his death
Jasper County Sheriff Billy Rowles says they have also all spent time in prison where they had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

But he insists there are no white supremacist groups operating in Jasper, 160km north of Houston.

If the men remain charged with murder the maximum sentence is life.

But federal investigators are examining the case to see whether the killing amounts to a hate crime which would warrant a capital murder charge and a potential sentence of death by lethal injection.

A BBC correspondent says they can expect little judicial mercy if convicted as Texas is proud of its reputation for executing more convicted killers than any other state in the US.

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