People Magazine Investigates Recap for Evil Comes to Jasper
Texas–1998 (Jasper County area)
Several people recall living in the area at the time and the evil that occurred. Certain places were considered dangerous if you were a person of color.
On June 7th, 1998, a grandfather and his grandson found a body by a church in Huff Creek. The head and shoulder were missing from the body. He was later identified as James Byrd Jr. His family was very active in the church, particularly his parents.
James was known as a talented guy, especially when it came to music. His family remembers him as a loving man who was devoted to his wife and children.
The night before he died, he was at a bridal shower for his niece and another party for a friend.
A Disturbing Crime
Retired Sheriff Rowles recalls being called to the scene of the crime. A woman at the scene is hysterical since the head and shoulder are in her yard. The scene is disturbing and gritty, shaking everyone to their core. An investigation begins immediately, with the blood trail leading down a dirt road.
A tool with the name ‘Berry’ on it, along with a lighter with the word ‘possum’ on it. It also looked like there had been a struggle. A wallet was also found, confirming James’s identity.
People at the anniversary party James attended after the bridal shower were questioned, but nothing panned out. The biggest wonder was why he ended up by Huff Creek when he lived less than two miles away. It is speculated that he was seen in the back of a truck….which is later to be said to be owned by Shawn Berry.
The Killers Are Found
A search begins to find him and the truck. Pretty soon, the truck with human blood on it, along with his tool kit, which matches the one found at the crime scene. At this point they have enough evidence against him and bring him in for questioning. Shawn makes it clear the murder was racially motivated. He also shares that he was with two other people and they picked James up when they saw him walking. Shawn’s roommates beat and then dragged him to death. His body was left at the church to ‘send a message.’
Bill King and Lawrence Brewer are the roommates in question with rap sheets a mile long. They are also brought in for questioning, but are nonchalant about the whole thing until Bill’s lighter is brought out. The two of them refuse to cooperate at this point and they are arrested, along with Shawn.
More Disturbing Information
Both Bill and Lawrence’s tattoos are racially disturbing, making it clear what the motive was in this case. Further evidence is found, including blood, more DNA and disturbing writings from Bill about forming a white supremacy group.
James’s funeral is attended by thousands of people, including Jesse Jackson. It also received a lot of media attention.
The aftermath of the funeral leads to a lot of disturbing events involving the KKK and Black Panthers. The Byrd family want everyone to not embrace the hate.
Justice is Served
The trial begins, with Shawn and Lawrence getting the death penalty. Bill did not get the death penalty because he talked to authorities. Lawrence was put to death in 2011 and Shawn was put to death in 2019.
A foundation is formed in James’s name to give scholarships to high school students and for a children’s foundation. A park was also named in his memory.
The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act was also passed in 2001 and signed into federal level in 2009.