King v. State

Decision Date18 October 2000
Citation29 S.W.3d 556
Parties(Tex.Crim.App. 2000) JOHN WILLIAM KING, Appellant v. THE STATE OF TEXAS NO. 73,433
CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals

O P I N I O N

KELLER , J., delivered the unanimous opinion of the court.

Appellant was convicted of capital murder on February 25, 1999.1 Pursuant to the jury's answers to the special issues,2 the trial judge sentenced appellant to death.3 Direct appeal to this Court is automatic.4 Appellant raises eight points of error. We will affirm.

I. SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

In his fourth through seventh points of error, appellant argues that the evidence is both legally and factually insufficient to support his conviction. Specifically, he argues that the evidence is insufficient to show that the victim was kidnapped or that appellant was a party to the capital murder.

The evidence at trial showed the following: George Mahathy, a life-long acquaintance of the victim, James Byrd, Jr., saw him at a party on Saturday night, June 6, 1998. Byrd left the party around 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. Byrd asked Mahathy for a ride home, but Mahathy was riding home with someone else. As Mahathy was leaving the party, he saw Byrd walking down the road towards home, which was about a mile from the party. Steven Scott, who had known Byrd for several years, also saw him walking down the road that night. After arriving home a few minutes later, at around 2:30 a.m., Scott saw Byrd pass by in the back of an old model, step-side pickup truck painted primer-gray. Three white people were riding in the cab of the truck.

On June 7, 1998, police officers responded to a call to go to Huff Creek Road in the town of Jasper. In the road, in front of a church, they discovered the body of an African-American male missing the head, neck, and right arm. The remains of pants and underwear were gathered around the victim's ankles. About a mile and a half up the road, they discovered the head, neck, and arm by a culvert in a driveway.

A trail of smeared blood and drag marks led from the victim's torso to the detached upper portion of the victim's body and continued another mile and a half down Huff Creek Road and a dirt logging road. A wallet found on the logging road contained identification for James Byrd Jr., a Jasper resident. Along the route, police also found Byrd's dentures, keys, shirt, undershirt, and watch. At the end of the logging road, the trail culminated in an area of matted-down grass, which appeared to be the scene of a fight.5 At this site and along the logging road, the police discovered a cigarette lighter engraved with the words "Possum" and "KKK," a nut driver wrench inscribed with the name "Berry," three cigarette butts, a can of "fix-a-flat," a compact disk, a woman's watch, a can of black spray paint, a pack of Marlboro Lights cigarettes, beer bottles, a button from Byrd's shirt, and Byrd's baseball cap.6

The following evening, police stopped Shawn Berry for a traffic violation in his primer-gray pickup truck. Behind the front seat, police discovered a set of tools matching the wrench found at the fight scene. They arrested Berry and confiscated the truck. DNA testing revealed that blood spatters underneath the truck and on one of the truck's tires matched Byrd's DNA.7 In the bed of the truck, police noticed a rust stain in a chain pattern and detected blood matching Byrd's on a spare tire.

Six tires that were on or associated with Berry's truck were examined. Three of the four tires on the truck were of different makes. Tire casts taken at the fight scene and in front of the church where the torso was found were consistent with each of these tires. An FBI chemist detected a substance consistent with fix-a-flat inside one of the six tires.

Shawn Berry shared an apartment with Lawrence Russell Brewer and appellant. Police and FBI agents searched the apartment and confiscated appellant's drawings and writings as well as clothing and shoes of each of the three roommates. DNA analysis revealed that the jeans and boots that Berry had been wearing on the night of the murder were stained with blood matching Byrd's DNA. An analyst with the FBI lab determined that a shoe print found near a large blood stain on the logging road was made by a Rugged Outback brand sandal. Appellant owned a pair of Rugged Outback sandals and had been seen wearing them on the evening of the murder. Shawn Berry also owned a pair of Rugged Outback sandals that were a half size different from appellant's.8 One of the pairs of these sandals confiscated from the apartment bore a blood stain matching Byrd's DNA. A Nike tennis shoe with the initials "L.B." in the tongue also was stained with blood matching Byrd's.9

DNA analysis was also conducted on three cigarette butts taken from the fight scene and logging road. DNA on one of the cigarette butts established appellant as the major contributor, and excluded Berry and Brewer as contributors, but could not exclude Byrd as a minor contributor.10 Brewer was the sole contributor of DNA on the second cigarette butt. The third cigarette butt revealed DNA from both a major and minor contributor. Shawn Berry was established as the major contributor of DNA on the third cigarette butt; however, appellant, Brewer, and Byrd were all excluded as possible minor contributors of the additional DNA.

Tommy Faulk testified that Berry, Brewer, and appellant frequented his home and had played paintball in the woods behind his trailer. Police conducted a search of these woods and found a large hole covered by plywood and debris. Underneath the cover, they discovered a 24-foot logging chain that matched the rust imprint in the bed of Berry's truck.

The State presented evidence of appellant's racial animosity, particularly towards African-Americans. Several witnesses testified about how appellant refused to go to the home of an African-American and would leave a party if an African-American arrived. In prison, appellant was known as the "exalted cyclops" of the Confederate Knights of America ("CKA"), a white supremacist gang. Among the tattoos covering appellant's body were a woodpecker11 in a Ku Klux Klansman's uniform making an obscene gesture; a "patch" incorporating "KKK," a swastika and "Aryan Pride"; and a black man with a noose around his neck hanging from a tree.12 Appellant had on occasion displayed these tattoos to people and had been heard to remark, "See my little nigger hanging from a tree."

A gang expert reviewed the writings that were seized from the apartment and testified that appellant had used persuasive language to try to convince others to join in his racist beliefs. The writings revealed that appellant intended to start a chapter of the CKA in Jasper and was planning for something big to happen on July 4, 1998. The expert explained that to gain credibility appellant would need to do something "public." He testified that leaving Byrd's body in the street in front of a church--as opposed to hiding it in one of the many wooded areas around town--demonstrated that the crime was designed to strike terror in the community.

Appellant neither testified nor made a formal statement to police. But he sent letters concerning the night of the murder to the Dallas Morning News and to Russell Brewer while he and Brewer were in jail awaiting trial. The following portion of the letter to the Dallas Morning News was read into the record:

Given a description as to the whereabouts of the dirt trail where an alleged beating of the deceased occurred, it's essential to acknowledge the fact that Shawn Berry co-inherited a small tract of land adjacent to the tram road, which he visited quite frequently.

Therefore, the fact that my cigarette lighter with "Possum" inscribed upon it was found near the scene of the crime, along with other items--i.e., several hand tools with "Berry" inscribed on them, a compact disk belonging to Shawn Berry's brother Lewis, and my girlfriend's watch, as well as items of the deceased--are all verified facts implementing that these items could have fallen from Shawn Berry's truck during a potential struggle with the deceased while on the tram road.

However, unacknowledged facts remain, that I, along with Russell Brewer and Lewis Berry, had been borrowing Shawn Berry's truck to commute to and from an out-of-town land clearing job each day. My girlfriend's watch was kept in Shawn Berry's truck for us to keep track of the time. Lewis Berry had brought along several of his C.D.s for our listening pleasure during our hourly drive each morning and evening, which he had a tendency to leave in his brother's truck.

Furthermore, the aforementioned cigarette lighter had been misplaced a week or so prior to these fraudulent charges that have been brought against Russell Brewer and me. This, so forth, does not prove the presence of my girlfriend, Lewis Berry, Russell Brewer nor myself at the scene of the crime, verifiably only the owners of the property in question.

* * *

Several statements and the theories against Shawn Berry, Russell Brewer, and myself, John W. King, for a prospective motive in this hard crime have been presented to the public. Against the wishes of my attorney, I shall share with you objective facts and my account of what happened during the early morning hours of June 7th, 1998.

After a couple of hours of drinking beer and riding up and down rural roads adjacent to Highway 255 off Highway 63, looking for a female's home, who were expecting Shawn Berry and Russell Brewer, Berry though [sic] frivolous anger and fun at first, begun [sic] to run over area residents' mail boxes and stop signs with his truck due to negligence in locating the girl's residence.

Becoming irate with our continued failure to locate the female's house, Shawn Berry's behavior quickly became ballistic as he sped through area residents' yards in a circular manner and made a racket...

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