On June 7, 1998, James Byrd, Jr. was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death. About a mile from his mangled torso, his head, neck, and arm were found. Byrd was dragged over two miles on a small winding road made of asphalt.
Three white men who were suspected to have ties to the Ku Klux Klan were charged with the murder and jailed without bail: Lawrence Russell Brewer, John William King, and Shawn Allen Berry. Phil Denney, the county’s death investigator at the time, reported the preliminary autopsy results that showed Byrd died from multiple injuries to his head and body suffered as he was dragged along behind the truck.
Byrd was 49, disabled, and a father of three at the time of his death. He had been walking home from a niece’s bridal shower on a Saturday night and had accepted a ride from one of the aforementioned suspects. When Byrd was found, he was so badly disfigured that investigators had to use fingerprints to identify him.
King and Brewer were covered with tattoos indicating white supremacist beliefs, and all three had spent time in prison. They allegedly had ties to the KKK and the Aryan Nation.
Byrd’s lynching-by-dragging gave impetus to passage of a Texas hate crimes law. It later led to the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, commonly known as the Matthew Shepard Act, which passed on October 22, 2009. President Barack Obama signed it into law on October 28, 2009.