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Tex. Suspect Denies Hate Crime

November 11, 1998

DALLAS (AP) _ The beating and dragging death of a black man in Jasper was not a racially-motivated hate crime, according to one of the three white defendants.

John King said in a written statement released to The Dallas Morning News that co-defendant Shawn Berry had drug ties to the victim, James Byrd Jr., and that Berry’s ``irate temper, abusive behavior and steroid use″ were likely causes of the June 7 kidnapping and slaying.

``It’s been prematurely concluded that this was some sort of hate crime with me implicated as the initiator, despite unsubstantial evidence. Thus overlooking facts that imply otherwise,″ according to King’s statement, quoted today in the newspaper.

The seven-page statement was released by King’s father over the objection of defense attorney C. Haden Cribbs, who called the document a ``terrible, terrible mistake.″

Berry had cooperated with authorities after his arrest, telling them he watched from a distance while King and Lawrence Brewer stomped and dragged Byrd from a pickup truck.

But subsequent evidence, including blood found on Berry’s shoes, shows he might actually have participated in the attack, authorities said after all three were indicted on a charge of capital murder.

Authorities say they know of no evidence to support King’s claims of Berry having drug ties to Byrd, 49.

Berry’s attorney, Lum Hawthorn of Beaumont, said his client has consistently denied participating in the attack.

Members of Byrd’s family dismissed King’s claims as baseless.

``It don’t bother me, because I know the truth,″ said the victim’s mother, Stella Byrd. ``Those boys belonged to a gang. They had tattoos all over them, and they were out hunting down anybody black.″

State prison records say the tattoos include a woodpecker in a Ku Klux Klan robe and Nazi symbols. In his letter, King said the tattoos have been misinterpreted.

He ended his letter this way: ``I, John W. King, remain White and Proud.″

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