Accused white supremacist Lawrence Brewer denied he took part in the dragging death of a black man, saying today that his alleged accomplice Shawn Berry slashed the victim's throat.
Brewer, testifying in his capital murder trial, said he was an innocent bystander to a killing that prosecutors allege was meant as a racist message to the world.
"I had no intention of killing nobody," a weeping Brewer told a hushed courtroom shortly before the defense and prosecution rested their cases. Closing arguments were scheduled for Monday.
In rambling testimony often punctuated with sobs, Brewer said Berry was driving him and John King around Jasper, Tex., on June 7, 1998, looking for a party when he stopped to give victim James Byrd, 49, a ride as Byrd walked home. King became angry because he did not like blacks, Brewer said.
Instead of taking Byrd home, Berry drove to a remote spot in a pine forest outside town and stopped to take some steroids. King lit a cigarette, he said, and Byrd walked around the truck and said, "Let me smoke with you white boys."
Next, Brewer said, he heard some glass break and saw King and Byrd fighting. Brewer said that to help his friend he kicked at Byrd while inadvertently spraying him in the face with a can of black spray paint. Police believe Byrd was sprayed to humiliate him.
The fight came to a quick and violent end when Berry pulled out a knife, Brewer said.
"Shawn come around with that knife, and I guess he cut his throat," Brewer said. "As soon as he made that sweeping motion, I guess everything stood still there for a minute. Everyone lost everything. Byrd slid down the side of the truck."
A forensic expert who conducted the autopsy on Byrd testified on Thursday that he found no evidence of a knife wound.
Brewer said he and King got into the truck. "That's when we hear the chain coming out of the back of the truck, rattling, vibrating," he said. Whether Byrd was dead at that point was unclear, but Berry tied him to the truck with a 25-foot logging chain, then took off, Brewer said. A pathologist had testified earlier that Byrd was decapitated when he struck a roadside culvert.
"Everybody in that truck knew something had happened. It felt like the rear end or transmission had fell," he said. "I told Shawn to pull over, man, and take the man off."
They dumped Byrd's body in front of a black church.
King, who did not testify in his trial, was convicted of murder in February and sentenced to die. Berry awaits a trial set for next month.
Prosecutors say the three men killed Byrd to attract attention to a nascent racist group they were starting in Jasper, a plan allegedly hatched when Brewer and King were imprisoned for minor crimes in the mid-1990s. But Brewer testified that they had no such plan.