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Tuesday, February 23, 1999 Published at 22:44 GMT

World: Americas

White supremacist guilty of dragging murder

John King was one of three people charged with the murder

A court in the American state of Texas has convicted a white supremacist of murder after he chained a black man to his pick-up truck and dragged him to his death.

The jury deliberated less than two-and-a-half hours before finding John King guilty in the racially-motivated killing of James Byrd Jr, who died near the town of Jasper after being dragged almost three miles behind a truck last year.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur reports: "John King showed no emotion"
King - one of three white suspects in the trial - now faces either life in prison or execution. The jury of 11 whites and one black will decide King's sentence after additional testimony.

To make King eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors must show that Mr Byrd's murder occurred in conjunction with another crime.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors said Mr King was one of three "riders coming straight out of hell".

The defence concentrated on trying to disprove kidnapping charges in their final comments.

Pathologist Thomas Brown testified that Mr Byrd was alive as he was dragged by a logging chain around his ankles until his head, shoulder and right arm were torn off by a concrete drain.

[ image: Dr Thomas Brown: key witness for the prosecution]
Dr Thomas Brown: key witness for the prosecution
The prosecution needed to prove that Mr Byrd was alive when the dragging started to prove kidnapping and murder.

Mr Brown testified on Monday that Mr Byrd had shifted desperately from side to side to try to ease the pain of being dragged along a bumpy road.

He said everyone knew the pain of "brush burn abrasions, like if you fall and slide on a surface with your hands ... This would have been very painful to him".

He said: "He would probably swap one portion of his body for the other, trying to get relief as he was being dragged."

He said Mr Byrd's heels and limbs were ground to the bone by the effort.

The jury looked at 14 crime-scene photographs as Dr Brown testified.

Mr King's father and Mr Byrd's mother left the courtroom during the testimony.

Before the defence began, the prosecution played an 11-minute silent video tracing the 2.5 mile-long trail of blood and metal along which Mr Byrd was dragged.

'Intense dislike of blacks'

The defence rested its case on Monday after an hour of testimony from three character witnesses. Mr King did not testify.

[ image: Mr King's body is covered with racist tattoos]
Mr King's body is covered with racist tattoos
The witnesses included John Mosley, a convicted burglar and sexual offender, who had made some of Mr King's racist tattoos.

The prosecution said that the tattoos were evidence of Mr King's racial hatred. Mr Mosley said the symbols "looked cool, that's all".

The tattoos included Nazi-type SS lightning bolts on Mr King's shoulders and a large patch of the Confederate Knights of America, a white supremacist group, on the side of his stomach.

A former employer, Dennis Symmack, testified that Mr King was a hard worker, but that he had fired him after an argument.

Mr Symmack said that Mr King knew a lot about the Ku Klux Klan and harboured "an intense dislike of blacks".

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