Monday, September 5, 2011

The Impending Execution of Lawrence Brewer

Lawrence Russell Brewer sits on death row awaiting execution by the people of Texas. Though you probably don't know him by name, you may recall his crime. He was one of the three (white) men who dragged the handicapped (and black) James Byrd ...
  • behind their pickup
  • by a chain,
  • which was tied to Byrd's ankles
  • until they decapitated him.
They then dragged Byrd's torso for another mile and a half before leaving it in front of a church.

This is a bad one, Ladies and Gentlemen, particularly when it gets to the description of the horrific injuries suffered by James Byrd, Jr. Proceed at your own risk.

Strangely, I have been unable to find a good appellate decision for Lawrence Brewer, one that summarized the facts of the case. I therefore present the factual summary from an appellate decision regarding John William King, one of Brewer's accomplices. King is referred to herein as "appellant." I have highlighted Brewer's name where it appears in the decision.
The evidence at trial [of John King] showed the following: George Mahathy, a life-long acquaintance of the victim, James Byrd, Jr., saw him at a party on Saturday night, June 6, 1998. Byrd left the party around 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. Byrd asked Mahathy for a ride home, but Mahathy was riding home with someone else. As Mahathy was leaving the party, he saw Byrd walking down the road towards home, which was about a mile from the party. Steven Scott, who had known Byrd for several years, also saw him walking down the road that night. After arriving home a few minutes later, at around 2:30 a.m., Scott saw Byrd pass by in the back of an old model, step-side pickup truck painted primer-gray. Three white people were riding in the cab of the truck.
On June 7, 1998, police officers responded to a call to go to Huff Creek Road in the town of Jasper. In the road, in front of a church, they discovered the body of an African-American male missing the head, neck, and right arm. The remains of pants and underwear were gathered around the victim's ankles. About a mile and a half up the road, they discovered the head, neck, and arm by a culvert in a driveway.
A trail of smeared blood and drag marks led from the victim's torso to the detached upper portion of the victim's body and continued another mile and a half down Huff Creek Road and a dirt logging road. A wallet found on the logging road contained identification for James Byrd Jr., a Jasper resident. Along the route, police also found Byrd's dentures, keys, shirt, undershirt, and watch. At the end of the logging road, the trail culminated in an area of matted-down grass, which appeared to be the scene of a fight. At this site and along the logging road, the police discovered a cigarette lighter engraved with the words "Possum" and "KKK," a nut driver wrench inscribed with the name "Berry," three cigarette butts, a can of "fix-a-flat," a compact disk, a woman's watch, a can of black spray paint, a pack of Marlboro Lights cigarettes, beer bottles, a button from Byrd's shirt, and Byrd's baseball cap.
The following evening, police stopped Shawn Berry for a traffic violation in his primer-gray pickup truck. Behind the front seat, police discovered a set of tools matching the wrench found at the fight scene. They arrested Berry and confiscated the truck. DNA testing revealed that blood spatters underneath the truck and on one of the truck's tires matched Byrd's DNA. In the bed of the truck, police noticed a rust stain in a chain pattern and detected blood matching Byrd's on a spare tire.
Six tires that were on or associated with Berry's truck were examined. Three of the four tires on the truck were of different makes. Tire casts taken at the fight scene and in front of the church where the torso was found were consistent with each of these tires. An FBI chemist detected a substance consistent with fix-a-flat inside one of the six tires.
Shawn Berry shared an apartment with Lawrence Russell Brewer and appellant. Police and FBI agents searched the apartment and confiscated appellant's drawings and writings as well as clothing and shoes of each of the three roommates. DNA analysis revealed that the jeans and boots that Berry had been wearing on the night of the murder were stained with blood matching Byrd's DNA. An analyst with the FBI lab determined that a shoe print found near a large blood stain on the logging road was made by a Rugged Outback brand sandal. Appellant owned a pair of Rugged Outback sandals and had been seen wearing them on the evening of the murder. Shawn Berry also owned a pair of Rugged Outback sandals that were a half size different from appellant's. One of the pairs of these sandals confiscated from the apartment bore a blood stain matching Byrd's DNA. A Nike tennis shoe with the initials "L.B." in the tongue also was stained with blood matching Byrd's. DNA analysis was also conducted on three cigarette butts taken from the fight scene and logging road. DNA on one of the cigarette butts established appellant as the major contributor, and excluded Berry and Brewer as contributors, but could not exclude Byrd as a minor contributor. Brewer was the sole contributor of DNA on the second cigarette butt. The third cigarette butt revealed DNA from both a major and minor contributor. Shawn Berry was established as the major contributor of DNA on the third cigarette butt; however, appellant, Brewer, and Byrd were all excluded as possible minor contributors of the additional DNA.
Tommy Faulk testified that Berry, Brewer
The State presented evidence of appellant's racial animosity, particularly towards African-Americans. Several witnesses testified about how appellant refused to go to the home of an African-American and would leave a party if an African-American arrived. In prison, appellant was known as the "exalted cyclops" of the Confederate Knights of America ("CKA"), a white supremacist gang. Among the tattoos covering appellant's body were a woodpecker in a Ku Klux Klansman's uniform making an obscene gesture; a "patch" incorporating "KKK," a swastika, and "Aryan Pride"; and a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree. Appellant had on occasion displayed these tattoos to people and had been heard to remark, "See my little nigger hanging from a tree."
A gang expert reviewed the writings that were seized from the apartment and testified that appellant had used persuasive language to try to convince others to join in his racist beliefs. The writings revealed that appellant intended to start a chapter of the CKA in Jasper and was planning for something big to happen on July 4, 1998. The expert explained that to gain credibility appellant would need to do something "public." He testified that leaving Byrd's body in the street in front of a church—as opposed to hiding it in one of the many wooded areas around town—demonstrated that the crime was designed to strike terror in the community.
Appellant neither testified nor made a formal statement to police. But he sent letters concerning the night of the murder to the Dallas Morning News and to Russell Brewer while he and Brewer were in jail awaiting trial. The following portion of the letter to the Dallas Morning News was read into the record:
Given a description as to the whereabouts of the dirt trail where an alleged beating of the deceased occurred, it's essential to acknowledge the fact that Shawn Berry co-inherited a small tract of land adjacent to the tram road, which he visited quite frequently.
Therefore, the fact that my cigarette lighter with "Possum" inscribed upon it was found near the scene of the crime, along with other items—i.e., several hand tools with "Berry" inscribed on them, a compact disk belonging to Shawn Berry's brother Lewis, and my girlfriend's watch, as well as items of the deceased—are all verified facts implementing that these items could have fallen from Shawn Berry's truck during a potential struggle with the deceased while on the tram road.
However, unacknowledged facts remain, that I, along with Russell Brewer and Lewis Berry, had been borrowing Shawn Berry's truck to commute to and from an out-of-town land clearing job each day. My girlfriend's watch was kept in Shawn Berry's truck for us to keep track of the time. Lewis Berry had brought along several of his C.D.s for our listening pleasure during our hourly drive each morning and evening, which he had a tendency to leave in his brother's truck.
Furthermore, the aforementioned cigarette lighter had been misplaced a week or so prior to these fraudulent charges that have been brought against Russell Brewer and me. This, so forth, does not prove the presence of my girlfriend, Lewis Berry, Russell Brewer nor myself at the scene of the crime, verifiably only the owners of the property in question. ...
Several statements and the theories against Shawn Berry, Russell Brewer, and myself, John W. King, for a prospective motive in this hard crime have been presented to the public. Against the wishes of my attorney, I shall share with you objective facts and my account of what happened during the early morning hours of June 7th, 1998.
After a couple of hours of drinking beer and riding up and down rural roads adjacent to Highway 255 off Highway 63, looking for a female's home, who were expecting Shawn Berry and Russell Brewer, Berry though [sic] frivolous anger and fun at first, begun [sic] to run over area residents' mail boxes and stop signs with his truck due to negligence in locating the girl's residence.
Becoming irate with our continued failure to locate the female's house, Shawn Berry's behavior quickly became ballistic as he sped through area residents' yards in a circular manner and made a racket with his truck's tailpipes managing to sling our ice chest from the back of his truck several times.
During his little conniption fit, Shawn Berry then stopped just ahead of a mailbox on Highway 255, took a chain from the back of his truck, wrapped it around the post of the mailbox, and proceeded to uproot and drag the mailbox east on Highway 255, stopping yards short of the Highway 63 north intersection, where he then removed his chain, replaced it, and continued to drive to a local convenience store, Rayburn Superette, to try to call the female who was expecting him and Brewer.
Fortunately no one answered at the girl's house and after repeated requests from me, as well as complaints from Russell Brewer, of a throbbing toe he injured during a recovery of our ice chest, Shawn Berry then agreed to take us to my apartment.
Shawn Allen Berry, driving with a suspended license and intoxicated, while taking Russell Brewer and me home those early morning hours, decided to stop by a mutual friend of ours home located on McQueen Street to inquire as to what the residents and his brother Lewis Berry were doing. On our way there, we passed a black man walking east on Martin Luther King Drive, whom Shawn Berry recognized and identified as simply Byrd, a man he befriended while incarcerated in the Jasper County Jail and, Berry stated, supplied him with steroids.
Shawn Berry then proceeded to stop his truck approximately 10 yards ahead of this individual walking in our direction, exit his vehicle, and approach the man. After several minutes of conversation, Shawn Berry returned to the truck and said his friend was going to join us because Berry and Byrd had business to discuss later and, thus, Byrd climbed into the back of Shawn Berry's truck and seated himself directly behind the cab.
While continuing on to our friend's residence where supposedly Lewis Berry was to be, we noticed there were neither lights on nor signs of activity in the trailer as we approached. We decided to proceed on to my apartment; but contrary to Russell Brewer's and my request, Shawn Berry drove to and stopped at another local convenience store, B.J's Grocery, just east of the Jasper city limits. Shawn Berry then asked Russell Brewer if he could borrow 50 to $60 because he needed a little extra cash to replenish his juice, steroid supply.
After Brewer gave Shawn Berry the remainder of what money he had to return to Sulphur Springs, Texas, on, Berry asked if Russell Brewer and I could ride in the back of the truck and let his friend sit up front to discuss the purchase and payment of more steroids for Shawn Berry. Russell Brewer and I obliged on the condition Berry take us to my apartment without further delay, which, after a brief exchange of positions, he did.
Once we arrived at my apartment, Shawn Berry informed Russell Brewer and me that he was leaving so that he could take Byrd to get the steroids and then home. I asked if Brewer or I would bring a small cooler of beer down for him and his friend along with a bottle of bourbon Berry had bought a few days prior.
Russell Brewer and I went up to my apartment and began to fill a small cooler with approximately six to eight beers. Realizing I left my wallet and cigarettes in Shawn Berry's truck, I opted to bring the cooler back down to Berry. After retrieving my wallet, but unable to locate my cigarettes, I then returned upstairs to my apartment, into my bedroom, and proceeded to call an ex-girlfriend before retiring to bed in the predawn hours of June 7th, 1998.
A portion of the note appellant wrote to Brewer was as follows:
As for the clothes they took from the apt. I do know that one pair of shoes they took were Shawn's dress boots with blood on them, as well as pants with blood on them. As far as the clothes I had on, I don't think any blood was on my pants or sweat shirt, but I think my sandals may have had some dark brown substance on the bottom of them. ...
Seriously, though, Bro, regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history and shall die proudly remembered if need be.... Much Aryan love, respect, and honor, my brother in arms. ... Possum.
Dr. Tommy Brown, a forensic pathologist, testified that he received Byrd's head, neck, and arm separately from the main torso. The autopsy revealed extensive injuries all over Byrd's body. Nearly all of Byrd's anterior ribs were fractured. He suffered "massive brush burn abrasions" over most of his body. Both testicles were missing and gravel was found in the scrotal sac. Both knees and part of his feet had been ground down, his left cheek was ground to the jawbone, and his buttocks were ground down to the sacrum and lower spine. Some of his toes were missing and others were fractured. Large lacerations of the legs exposed muscle. But his brain and skull were intact, exhibiting no lacerations, fractures, or bruises.
Brown concluded that the lacerations and abrasions around Byrd's ankles were consistent with the ankles having been wrapped by a chain and that the abrasions all over Byrd's body were consistent with him being dragged by his ankles over a road surface. Red regions around the area where Byrd's upper and lower body separated indicated that Byrd's heart was still pumping and that he was alive when his body was torn apart by the culvert. Therefore, Brown determined that the cause of death was separation of the head and upper extremity from the rest of the body. Some of the wound shapes and patterns indicated that Byrd was conscious while he was being dragged and was trying to relieve the intense burning pain by rolling and swapping one part of his body for another. Also, the absence of injuries to Byrd's brain and skull suggested that he was trying to hold his head up while being dragged. ...
Appellant's DNA along with Byrd's DNA on the same cigarette butt establishes that appellant was with Byrd near the scene where Byrd was chained to the truck. Byrd's blood on appellant's sandals supports the conclusion that appellant was involved in injuring Byrd. Further, the blood on appellant's sandals and the blood found on Lawrence Brewer's shoes contradict appellant's contention in his letter to the Dallas Morning News that he and Brewer merely rode in the truck with Byrd and then were dropped off at the apartment before Berry left with Byrd.  ... Appellant's jail note to Brewer also incriminates appellant as a participant. In the note, appellant states that he did not believe any blood was on his pants and shirt -- suggesting the possibility that blood could have been on his clothes. Also damaging is his statement that "regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history and shall die proudly remembered if need be ..." This statement reveals not only appellant's pride in the offense, but also his acknowledgment that he and Brewer could receive the death penalty for their crime.
From a NY Times article, I find the following information about Brewer's trial and conviction:
Mr. Brewer testified that he had only tried to kick Mr. Byrd as the man and Mr. King fought. He said that Mr. Berry slit Mr. Byrd's throat with a knife and that he did not realize Mr. Byrd was chained to the bumper until they drove away.
Mr. Byrd's blood was found on the shoes of all three men.
In letters introduced into evidence, Mr. Brewer referred to the killing and boasted about ''rolling a tire,'' which prosecutors said was a derogatory term for assaulting a black person.
''Well, I did it,'' Mr. Brewer wrote. ''And no longer am I a virgin. It was a rush, and I'm still licking my lips for more."
Mr. Brewer also wrote Mr. King after their arrests, saying that they had become bigger stars than O. J. Simpson and that a life sentence would do them no justice. Mr. Brewer wrote that lethal injection would be ''a little old sleeping medicine."
I oppose the execution of any person who might be factually innocent of the crime for which they are to die. For those cases in which the person to be executed is clearly guilty, I take no position with respect to the propriety of the death penalty. With respect to the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer, I stand mute.