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US Supreme Court Clears Way For Execution of Avowed White Supremacist

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HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused a last-day appeal from condemned Texas inmate John William King, clearing the way for his execution for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. nearly 21 years ago.

John William King is set for lethal injection Wednesday evening for orchestrating one of the most gruesome hate crimes in U.S. history.

Prosecutors say the 44-year-old King and two other white men chained Byrd to the back of a truck and dragged his body along a secluded road outside Jasper, Texas, in June 1998.

Prosecutors said Byrd was targeted because he was black.


UPDATE: The US Supreme Court denies the stay of execution request from John William King. There were no notable dissents in this specific case. King will be executed shortly.

UPDATE: John William King has filed a response brief in support of his seeking an execution stay at the US Supreme Court. Read his filed brief below:

UPDATE: Texas has filed an opposition brief at the US Supreme Court against King’s request for a stay of execution. Read their filed brief below:

UPDATE: John William King has filed a petition for certiorari at the US Supreme Court, seeking a stay of execution in his death penalty case. Read the petition filed at the US Supreme Court below:

Live updates on the execution below:

Our previous report:

The dragging death of James Byrd Jr. was one of the most gruesome hate crimes in recent memory; rightfully referred to as a “modern-day lynching.” Picked up by the side of the road by three white men in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998, the 49-year-old black man was beaten and his face spray-painted; a logging chain was then tied around his ankles. He was dragged behind a pickup truck for almost 3 miles before parts of his body were displayed in front of a church outside Jasper, Texas.


Now, one of the three men involved in Byrd’s killing, John William King, is set to be executed on Wednesday, barring a last-minute stay of execution, CNN reports. If the death penalty is carried out, King will be the second person Texas has executed in Byrd’s death: Lawrence Russell Brewer died by lethal injection in 2011. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison after cooperating with the investigation.

But Byrd’s own relatives have spoken out against executing their loved one’s killers, according to earlier CNN reports:

Byrd’s sister, Betty Boatner, told CNN in 2011, after Brewer’s execution, that she “forgave him 13 years ago.” His son, Ross, joined protests decrying Brewer’s execution, saying, “You can’t fight murder with murder.” Ross’ sister, Renee Mullins, said after Brewer’s execution that she preferred a life sentence for her dad’s killer.

“I don’t feel justice was served,” she told CNN. “Lawrence Brewer was just given an option to take some drugs in his arm and go to sleep. My father wasn’t given that option. He was brutally tortured for 3 miles, until he was dismembered.”

King, a white supremacist whose history of racism is well-documented, has maintained his innocence, repeatedly appealing his guilty verdict. But cigarette butts found at the scene of Byrd’s beating contained King’s DNA; police also found lighters engraved with the words “KKK” and “Possum.”

“Possum” was King’s nickname.

There has been no dispute about King’s belief in white supremacy. From CNN:

Though the motive was never specifically outlined, race was a theme in King’s trial. Prosecutors presented evidence that King had been an “exalted cyclops” of the white supremacist Confederate Knights of America and regularly drew lynching scenes.

His tattoos included a burning cross, the double lightning bolt insignia of Adolf Hitler’s paramilitary Schutzstaffel, a robed Ku Klux Klansman, a swastika, the words “Aryan Pride” and a black man hanging from a tree.

Gang experts testified King was recruiting others to his cause — an all-out race war — and that leaving Byrd’s body in front of the church, rather than obscuring it, “demonstrated that the crime was meant to spread terror.”

A note presented at King’s trial intended for Brewer, who was in the jail at the time, showed he had no remorse about his role in Byrd’s brutal murder.

“Seriously, though, Bro, regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history and shall die proudly remembered if need be,” King wrote.

He signed off: “Much Aryan love…Possum.”

King’s execution is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 pm ET at Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. According to the Associated Press, King will be the third person executed in the state of Texas this year.

(Reporting by The Root)

Here’s all the documents essential to King’s execution proceedings (These will be updated when necessary).

This post will be updated when new information is available.

Execution Alert

Tennessee Death Row Inmate Executed For Murdering His Wife

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FILE - This undated file image released by the Tennessee Department of Correction shows death row inmate Don Johnson. Pressure from religious leaders for Tennessee's governor to grant mercy to the death row inmate mounted on Monday, May 13, 2019, as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal that could have delayed his upcoming execution. Johnson's petition for clemency has centered on his religious conversion and Christian ministry to other prisoners. He is scheduled to be executed Thursday, May 16 for the 1984 murder of his wife, Connie Johnson. (Tennessee Department of Corrections via AP, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A man convicted of killing his wife decades ago at a camping center he managed in Memphis was put to death Thursday in Tennessee.


Sixty-eight-year-old inmate Don Johnson was executed via lethal injection inside a maximum-security Nashville prison for the 1984 suffocation of his wife, Connie Johnson.

In his dying moments, the religious inmate uttered a long prayer, asking for forgiveness. He asked the warden if he could sing, and he sang two hymns. The last words observers could hear were “no more dying here.” He was pronounced dead at 7:37 p.m.

Johnson had initially blamed his wife’s slaying on a work-release inmate who confessed to helping dispose of the body and who was granted immunity for testifying against Johnson.

Johnson became the fourth person executed in Tennessee since August. The last two inmates executed in Tennessee chose the electric chair, saying they believed it offered a quicker and less painful death than the state’s default method of lethal injection.

Johnson had spent half his life on death row and seen three execution dates come and go as his appeals played out in court, including challenges to Tennessee’s lethal injection protocols. The state’s present default method is a three-drug combination that includes the sedative midazolam, which inmates have claimed causes a prolonged and excruciating death. Three more executions are scheduled for later this year in Tennessee.

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday that he would not intervene , following “prayerful and deliberate consideration” of Johnson’s clemency request.

Religious leaders, including the president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, to which Johnson belongs, had asked Lee to spare Johnson’s life. Supporters of clemency said Johnson had undergone a religious conversion and cited his Christian ministry to fellow inmates. Johnson was an ordained elder of the church in Nashville.

Connie Johnson’s daughter, Cynthia Vaughn, said she’d forgiven Johnson and joined in the request for clemency. Other relatives had sent a letter to the governor asking that the execution move forward. “I ask you to please bring justice to our family after 35 years of exhausted heartache, sorrow, and emptiness,” wrote the victim’s sister, Margaret Davis.

On Wednesday, the inmate’s attorneys made public a statement from Johnson to his son, stepdaughter and other members of Connie Johnson’s family in which he begged for their forgiveness. “I am truly sorry and if I knew something that I could do to ease your pain I would gladly do it,” Johnson wrote.

Defense attorneys said Thursday that the inmate declined to request a special last meal, instead asking supporters to provide a meal to a homeless person. The Nashville church where the inmate is an ordained elder was collecting grocery gift cards for a meal next week for the homeless and planned a vigil as the execution hour loomed.

Alabama administered a lethal injection Thursday evening to 41-year-old Michael Brandon Samra. He and a friend, Mark Duke, were convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Duke’s father, the father’s girlfriend and the woman’s two elementary-age daughters in 1997 after a dispute over use of a pickup truck.

Duke’s sentence was subsequently overturned because he was 16 at the time of the killings and the Supreme Court later banned executing inmates younger than 18 at the time of their crimes. The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to consider extending its ban on executing juvenile offenders to people as old as 20 when they committed their crimes, denying a stay to Samra. He was 19 at the time of the quadruple murder.

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Execution Alert

Alabama Death Row Inmate Executed For Helping Commit A Quadruple Murder

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FILE - This photo provided by the Alabama Department of Corrections shows Michael Brandon Samra. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey refused a reprieve for Samra, an inmate set for execution Thursday, May 16, 2019, night for a quadruple killing that occurred after a dispute over a pickup truck, the prisoner's lawyer said. (Alabama Department of Corrections via AP)

ATMORE, Ala. (AP) — A man condemned for his role in a quadruple killing that followed a dispute over a pickup truck was put to death Thursday in Alabama after declining to make any last-minute appeals.


Michael Brandon Samra, 41, was pronounced dead at 7:33 p.m. following a three-drug lethal injection at Holman prison, authorities said.

Samra and a friend, Mark Duke, were convicted of capital murder in the deaths of Duke’s father, the father’s girlfriend and the woman’s two elementary-age daughters in 1997. The two adults were shot and the children had their throats slit. Evidence showed that Duke planned the killings because he was angry his father wouldn’t let him use his pickup.

Families of the victims thanked law enforcement and the community for support in a statement read by Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn after the execution.

“This has been a painful journey. Today justice was carried out,” said the statement from relatives, six of whom were witnesses.

Strapped to a gurney with his arms extended, Samra made a profession of Christian faith before the drugs flowed.

“I would like to thank Jesus for everything he has done for me,” Samra said. He ended with the word, “Amen.”

As the drugs flowed, Samra went still and his chest heaved three times. He took a few deep breaths and his head moved slightly. Then an officer checked to see if he was still conscious.

A few moments later, Samra’s hands curled inward, his chest moved like he was breathing and his mouth fell slightly agape before he turned ashen.

The execution procedure began about an hour after the scheduled 6 p.m. start time, but Dunn said there was no particular reason for a delay.

“There were no issues that I was aware of,” Dunn told reporters.

None of Samra’s family attended, but the inmate had a final phone call with his father on Wednesday, said prison spokesman Bob Horton. The execution came hours after Samra met with six friends and a spiritual adviser, who witnessed the execution with Samra’s two lawyers.

Steven Sears, one of the attorneys, said the inmate received a denial of clemency from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office several hours earlier Thursday. Sears said he had gained hope on Wednesday when Ivey talked about the sanctity of life in signing a bill to virtually outlaw abortion in the state.

“Today my hopes were dashed. I guess she didn’t mean it,” he said after the execution.

Though Duke and Samra were both originally convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, Duke’s sentence was overturned because he was 16 at the time, and the Supreme Court later banned executing inmates younger than 18 at the time of their crimes.

Samra was 19 at the time and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to delay his execution while the Kentucky Supreme Court considers whether anyone younger than 21 at the time of a crime should be put to death, but the justices refused.

Court documents show Duke and Samra killed the four at a home in Pelham, a Birmingham suburb, on March 23, 1997. The day before, Mark Duke and his father, Randy Duke, got into a heated argument over the man’s refusal to let the son borrow his truck.

After enlisting friends to help, Mark Duke killed his father with a gunshot to the face and Samra shot the man’s girlfriend, Dedra Mims Hunt, who survived and fled to another part of the house.

Mark Duke found the woman in a bathroom and shot her, court documents show. Out of bullets, he then used a knife to slit the throat of the woman’s 6-year-old daughter, Chelisa Hunt. Samra cut the throat of the woman’s 7-year-old daughter, Chelsea Hunt, as she begged for mercy while Duke held the child down.

Two other men who were teenage friends of Samra and Mark Duke at the time of the killings served prison sentences for lesser roles. David Layne Collums and Michael Lafayette Ellison, both now 39, were accused of helping plan and cover up the killings.

Alan Freedman, an attorney who formerly represented Samra for 16 years, said the inmate had accepted his fate and wasn’t interested in a last-ditch court fight. Samra made no 11th-hour appeals to the courts.

“My heart goes out to the victims’ families,” said Freedman. “He was remorseful, he was ready. He was ready a long time ago.”

Another execution was carried out Thursday in Tennessee , that of 68-year-old Don Johnson, who drew a death sentence for the 1984 suffocation of his wife in Memphis.

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Execution Alert

Tennessee and Alabama Death Row Inmates Will Be Put To Death This Evening Within One Hour Of Each Other

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Brandon Samra (Left) and Don Johnson (Right) are both being executed tonight in Alabama and Tennessee, within one hour of each other. Both have exhausted their appeals, and both have been denied clemency by their respective governors.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A man convicted of killing his wife decades ago at a camping center he managed in Memphis is set for execution in Tennessee.


Sixty-eight-year-old inmate Don Johnson is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday evening for the 1984 suffocation of his wife, Connie.

Johnson would be the fourth person executed in Tennessee since August, barring a last-minute stay. The last two inmates executed in Tennessee chose the electric chair, saying they believed it offered a quicker and less painful death than the state’s default method, a three-drug lethal injection.

Gov. Bill Lee declined clemency requests for Johnson from religious leaders including the president of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church, of which Johnson is a member.

Meanwhile, in Alabama…

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An attorney for an Alabama inmate set for execution Thursday night says the governor has denied his request for a reprieve.


The decision apparently clears the way for Michael Brandon Samra to be put to death by lethal injection since the defense doesn’t plan to file last-minute appeals.

A lawyer for Samra, Steven Sears, says he received the denial from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office on Thursday morning.

Ivey’s staff hasn’t responded to an email seeking comment.

Samra was convicted of capital murder in the killing of two adults and two young girls near Birmingham in 1997. Evidence showed the slayings stemmed from a friend’s argument with his father over a pickup truck.

The clemency request highlighted that the 41-year-old Samra was only 19 at the time of the killings.

The lawyer for an Alabama inmate set for lethal injection in a quadruple killing says he doesn’t anticipate any last-minute appeals to block the execution set for Thursday night.

Steven Sears tells The Associated Press in an email that he doesn’t plan to file additional litigation on behalf of 41-year-old Michael Brandon Samra.

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