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Texas will no longer read death row inmates final statements following lawmaker's outrage

John C Moritz
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AUSTIN, Texas — Texas prison officials will no longer share the last written words of condemned inmates publicly following outrage by a state lawmaker.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice now says the agency will publicly relay only verbal statements made in the execution chamber.

The chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee said Monday that the Texas prison system was too accommodating to a condemned inmate when it read aloud a final statement that was not spoken from the gurney in Huntsville's death chamber.

State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and the chamber's longest-serving member, said he was "shocked" to learn that prison system spokesman Jeremy Desel read a statement from John William King, who was executed Wednesday for his part in the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd in Jasper.

James Byrd Jr., shown in this 1997 family photo, was tied to a truck and dragged to his death along a rural East Texas road early Sunday, June 7, 1998, near Jasper, Texas. Three white men were  charged Tuesday, June 9, 1998 with first degree murder in his death. (AP Photo/Byrd Family Photo) ORG XMIT: XJAS102
James Byrd Jr., shown in this 1997 family photo, was tied to a truck and dragged to his death along a rural East Texas road early Sunday, June 7, 1998, near Jasper, Texas. Three white men were charged Tuesday, June 9, 1998 with first degree murder in his death. (AP Photo/Byrd Family Photo) ORG XMIT: XJAS102

Byrd was targeted because he was African-American.

King declined the opportunity to make a final statement aloud before the execution was carried out. Later, Desel quoted him as saying: "Capital punishment: them without the capital get the punishment."

King executed: Texas executes white supremacist convicted in gruesome 1998 hate crime

Whitmire called the reading of the statement "totally improper."

"If a death row inmate has something to say to the public or victims, let him or her say it while they are strapped to the gurney," Whitmire said in a letter dated Monday to Brian Collier, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Desel declined to comment on Whitmire's letter.

The prison system routinely provides media with information about a condemned inmate's final hours leading up to the execution. A spokesman will also provide a description of the execution for reporters at the Hunstville Unit who are not credentialed to view the proceedings in the death chamber.

About an hour before the execution, Desel described King as "stoic," according to an account from The Associated Press. Later, he gave an account of the death by lethal injection.

"King did not open his eyes at any point during the process when witnesses were in the room," he said in the AP account. "When the witnesses entered the witness room, Mr. King was already on the gurney. He had his eyes closed and made very little if any movements."

He then read the final statement that King had prepared.

Whitmire called the post-execution letter insensitive, and perhaps even harmful, to the family of Byrd. His death made international headlines because of its gruesome nature and became the catalyst for Texas' hate crime legislation, enacted in 2001.

In an interview, Whitmire noted that King had never expressed remorse for his part in Byrd's death in the early morning hours of June 7, 1998.

"This man (King) was treated a lot better during his 20 years in prison than Mr. Byrd was," Whitmire said.

King, 44 at the time of his death, and two other men beat the 49-year-old Byrd and chained him to the back of a pickup. He was dragged him for three miles down a logging road.

Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in 2011 for his part in the killing. The third man, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow John C. Mortiz on Twitter: @JohnnieMo

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Texas will no longer read death row inmates final statements following lawmaker's outrage