Third Dragging Defendant on Trial
JASPER, Texas (AP) _ The third white man charged in the dragging death of a black man went on trial Wednesday with his lawyers trying to rob some of the drama from prosecutors by showing the jury the 24-foot logging chain used in the crime.
Shawn Allen Berry, 24, could get the death penalty, just like the two other men did earlier this year.
The trial opened after District Judge Joe Bob Golden refused a defense request to move the case out of Jasper, where the crime took place last year, because of intense news coverage and alleged jury prejudice.
Also on Wednesday, CBS gave prosecutors the transcript of an interview the network conducted with Berry two months ago, ending a dispute that had threatened to land a CBS producer in jail for contempt of court.
James Byrd Jr. was chained to a pickup truck by his ankles and dragged to pieces along a country road in June 1998.
Berry’s lawyers used their opening statement to the all-white jury to distance their client from the racist ideology of the two men already convicted, John William King and Lawrence Russell Brewer.
Berry knew they ``talked racist talk, but he did not think they posed danger of killing anybody,″ attorney Joseph C. ``Lum″ Hawthorn said.
Prosecutors have acknowledged Berry did not share the racist history of King and Brewer, who were known for their white supremacist tattoos and writings. But they insist he actively participated in the killing.
``Maybe some of what they were saying rubbed off on him,″ Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray said.
Gray said that Byrd’s blood was on Berry’s clothing and shoes, that Berry was at the wheel while Byrd was being dragged from Berry’s truck and that it was his chain. He said Berry also contradicted himself numerous times in statements he gave to police and in the CBS interview.
``Every time we confronted him with facts and evidence, he changed his story to fit the evidence, said former FBI agent Zachariah Shelton, one of 11 witnesses who testified Wednesday.
Hawthorn said the victim’s blood was on Berry because he was pushed into Byrd while trying to break up a fight between him and King. He said Berry would testify in his own defense.
And during cross-examination of a detective, Hawthorn gave jurors a look at the heavy chain, trying to defuse a dramatic moment prosecutors had used in their cases against King and Brewer.