Monday, September 19, 2011
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division, described the murder of Mr. Byrd as follows:
Brewer and John King were passengers in a truck driven by Shawn Berry. At 1:30 a.m. on June 7, 1998, the men, all white, offered a ride to James Byrd, Jr, a black man. Byrd was walking home from a party. The men drove to a country road outside of Jasper, Texas. As they stood by the truck smoking, the three men attacked Byrd, tied his feet with a chain, and dragged him behind the truck, eventually decapitating him. The men left Byrd’s body on the road.
King and Brewer had been involved in racist groups while they were in prison together, and King had prepared materials to start a racist organization in Jasper. Shortly after being released from prison, Brewer had accepted King’s offer to visit him in Jasper. Some of King’s materials were found among Brewer’s possessions. The prosecution argued that King intended the killing to be a signal that his racist organization was up and running.
Brewer admitted to participating in the attack on Byrd, but testified that he did not join in the dragging and in fact tried to stop it. He also testified that Berry had cut Byrd’s throat before the dragging began.
On October 30, 1998, Brewer was indicted for capital murder by a Jasper County grand jury. Venue was transferred to Brazos County for trial in June 1999.
On September 20, 1999, Brewer was convicted of capital murder. After a separate punishment proceeding, Brewer was sentenced to death on September 23, 1999.
On April 3, 2002, Brewer’s conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on direct appeal. Brewer did not appeal the state court’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, he filed an application for habeas corpus relief which was denied by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on September 11, 2002.
On September 10, 2003, Brewer filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division. The federal court denied this petition on September 1, 2005.
On September 29, 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected Brewer’s appeal and affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief by the district court.
Brewer filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court on April 30, 2007, but the Supreme Court denied certiorari review on October 1, 2007.
Under Texas law, the rules of evidence prevent certain prior criminal acts from being presented to a jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. However, once a defendant is found guilty, jurors are presented information about the defendant’s prior criminal conduct during the second phase of the trial which is when they determine the defendant’s punishment.
During the penalty phase of Brewer’s trial, jurors learned that Brewer was convicted of burglary of a habitation in 1986 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, probated for 7 years. He was again convicted of burglary of a habitation in 1987 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, probated for 10 years. His probation was revoked in 1987 and he was sentenced to 7 years in prison. In 1988, Brewer was released on parole. In 1989, he was convicted of possession of cocaine. His parole was revoked and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 1991, Brewer was released on parole again. In 1993, his parole was revoked again for failure to report to his parole officer. Brewer was returned to prison to serve his 15-year sentence. In 1997, Brewer was released again on parole and remained on parole until he was arrested for the murder of Mr. Byrd in 1998.
For additional information and statistics, please go to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website at www.tdcj.state.tx.us.