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Friday, November 19, 1999 Published at 03:41 GMT

World: Americas

Race killer jailed for life

Berry leaving Jasper County Courthouse after giving evidence on Tuesday

The third man found guilty of the brutal race killing of a man, who was dragged to death behind a truck in the United States, has been sentenced to life imprisonment.

The BBC's Jane Hughes: "One of the most brutal race crimes"
Shawn Allen Berry, 24, was spared the death penalty that had been handed down to his fellow murderers, John William King, 24, and Lawrence Russell Brewer, 32, in earlier trials.

All three were found guilty of murdering James Byrd Jr near Jasper, Texas, on 7 June, 1998.

Mr Byrd, 49, died after being chained by the ankles and dragged behind a pick-up truck over three miles (5km) of country road outside Jasper.

[ image: Victim: James Byrd Jnr]
Victim: James Byrd Jnr
Berry insisted he was just a frightened bystander as the crime, which sent shockwaves through the US, was carried out by his two white supremacist friends.

He testified during his trial that he had wanted to stop the attack but was paralysed by fear of what his racist companions might do to him.

He said King, who had a number of white power tattoos, had driven the truck while Mr Byrd was being dragged. The prosecution said Berry was the driver.

State District Judge Joe Bob Golden told jurors they had to decide whether or not Berry had intended to kidnap Mr Byrd when he offered him a lift.

No innocent bystander

Both defence and prosecution agreed Berry did not follow the racist dogma of his co-defendants.

But prosecutors said Berry was as much to blame as his friends for Mr Byrd's murder.

"This was Mr Berry's show as much as the others," Prosecutor Pat Hardy said in his closing arguments on Wednesday.

Berry's defence lawyer conceded that his client had failed to call police, had cleaned blood evidence and had lied to investigators after the killing.

But he said that nothing in Berry's behaviour showed that he had intended to kidnap or kill Mr Byrd.

The all-white jury, which took 10 hours to convict Berry, took a further two hours to decide his punishment.

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