Vigil held for Jasper dragging-death victim

September 21, 2011 6:20:43 AM PDT
Barring any last minute delays or stays, the first of two men on death row for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. will be executed today.

The murder, in Jasper in 1998, did more than kill an innocent man. It brought to light the need for special hate crime laws in our state. On Tuesday, Byrd was remembered during a graveside memorial.

Thirteen years ago, James Byrd Jr. was laid to rest at the Jasper city cemetery. Lifelong residents say the community is still healing.

"We're going to have to live together, and we're gonna have to pray together and we're gonna have to get along with everybody and love one another. It's gonna take love," lifelong Jasper resident Katie Larkin Adams said.

"It's just another sad day, and just here for family support," Jasper resident John Phillips said.

It was a brutal hate crime that shook the community and made headlines around the world.

"Today, we are gathered here to say to Jasper you can kill this brother, but you can't kill Jasper." civil rights activist Dick Gregory said."And it's tragedies like this that bring out the goodness in all of us -- not the evil in all of us."

Forty-nine-year-old James Byrd Jr. was tortured, chained by his ankles and dragged from a pickup truck for miles by three white men who were tracked down within days of the crime.

On the eve of the execution of the first killer in the case, Lawrence Russell Brewer, Byrd's sisters say they are at peace.

"We forgave him a long time ago. We didn't convict him and so that's what we've been sticking with. We forgave him and so whatever he got, it was just what the law allowed him to have and when he said he had no remorse, then I began to cry because I feel sorry for him" said Betty Byrd Boatner, the victim's sister.

For the Byrd family, justice took a very long time. James Byrd Sr. won't attend Wednesday's execution due to illness. Byrd's mother Stella died last year.

"We'll never forget him and I know if my mom was alive today, she would love to have her son," Boatner said.

Two of Byrd's sisters say they will attend today's execution.

There were two others convicted in Byrd's murder. John King is serving a death row sentence in Polk County while Sean Berry is serving a life sentence in Brazoria County.

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