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Vigil Held for Man Dragged to His Death

June 13, 1998| From Times Wire Services

JASPER, Texas — Dozens of area residents packed a funeral home Friday for the wake of a black man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck on a country road.

Flower arrangements surrounded the gray and silver casket, with a framed picture of James Byrd Jr. on top of it.

Oleather Cooper, 39, knew the 49-year-old Byrd his whole life and recalled how he was always singing.

She said the slaying was racist but perhaps could serve a higher purpose. Three white men allegedly linked to white supremacist groups are charged in the crime.

"I just hope that this will pull people together," she said. "Sometimes the Lord lets things happen to make things better."

Another of Byrd's friends, Gwen Tudmon, 36, said love is the answer.

"I say love your enemies," she said.

Asked whether that is still possible in this case, she replied, "I can."

Byrd's burial is scheduled for today.

Meanwhile, at least one suspect, John William King, has denied taking part, attorney Randy Walker said.

Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, Shawn Allen Berry and King, both 23, are charged with murder in the slaying of Byrd, who authorities believe was dragged to death behind Berry's pickup simply because he was black.

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