Ringleader in dragging death case seeks to drop appeal

BEAUMONT, Texas - The white supremacist ringleader convicted in the 1998 dragging death of a black man is asking to drop the automatic appeal of his death sentence.

In an Aug. 16 letter to the Jasper County authorities, John William King also asked to withdraw his recent response to a wrongful death lawsuit filed against him by the children of his victim, James Byrd Jr.

A jury last year sent King, 25, to death row for chaining Byrd to a pickup truck and dragging him to pieces along a country road. Another participant, Lawrence Russell Brewer, 33, received the death penalty. The third participant, Shawn Allen Berry, 25, was sentenced to life in prison.

In his letter, King expresses disgust with the appellate system and court-appointed lawyers. ''To put it mildly, I simply don't care to pursue these cases any longer,'' he wrote.

Jasper County assistant prosecutor Pat Hardy said Texas law mandates King's appeal continue regardless of his wishes. King's execution date could be set within months if his death sentence is upheld by the state's highest criminal court.

John Heath, a court-appointed attorney for King, declined to discuss the letter.

King also sought to withdraw his reponse to the wrongful death lawsuit filled by Byrd's family. In the response, he claimed he is innocent of the racially motivated crime and that Berry lied in testimony at King's trial.

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