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Friday, February 19, 1999 Published at 03:18 GMT

World: Americas

'Race killer's prison boast'

Body of evidence: John King's tattoos

A white supremacist charged with dragging a black man to his death boasted in prison that he planned to carry out a race-hate killing, a court has heard.

John King allegedly told a fellow inmate the murder would form part of a gang initiation rite.

[ image: Aryan Pride tattoo covers most of the side of Mr King's torso]
Aryan Pride tattoo covers most of the side of Mr King's torso
Former prisoner William Hoover told the jury in Jasper, Texas, how Mr King talked of race killings as part of an initiation ceremony.

Mr Hoover said: "He talked about kidnapping, maybe putting him in the trunk of a car, taking him out in the woods, killing him.

"He told me 'You have to spill blood to get in and give blood to get out'."

Mr King is charged with murdering James Byrd Jr by chaining him to a pick-up truck and dragging him to his death.

The prosecution say the killing was carried out to promote a race hate group he was planning to form. Mr King was released from a prison sentence in June 1997.

He faces life imprisonment or the death penalty if convicted.

He is the first of three defendants to go trial for Mr Byrd's murder. The two other defendants are Lawrence Brewer, 31, and Shawn Berry, 23.

Race war fantasy

[ image: John King's disabled father sits in court]
John King's disabled father sits in court
Mr Hoover told the court that the Texas jail where he met Mr King was filled with race gangs locked in a power struggle.

He said white inmates banded together for protection and to promote their racist beliefs.

Mr Hoover said he became a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, while Mr King joined the Confederate Knights of America.

He said the gangs often fantasised about sparking a race war by committing racist murders, which prosecutors say may have been another motive for the Byrd killing.

The prosecution - attempting to portray Mr King as a hate-filled supremacist - have used his own body as evidence.

The jury was shown photos of his tattoos, which include a black man hanging from a tree, Nazi SS symbols and another which reads Aryan Pride.

But defence lawyers say the tattoos, most of which were obtained while Mr King was in jail, were intended as protection devices to help him survive the violent prison regime.

Mr Hoover testified they were intended to show solidarity with other white inmates and help ward off attacks from black inmates.

Jasper police officer Rich Ford, acknowledged under cross-examination that the tattoos could be meant to intimidate other inmates who might prey on a 5ft 7in white man in prison.

The trial continues.

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