FBI Special Agent reflects on murder of James Byrd Jr.

Anya Dussault, News Editor

Beaten. Urinated on. Chained to the back of a pick-up truck. Dragged. Decapitated.

That was the chain of events leading to the death of James Byrd Jr., an African-American man who was brutally murdered by three white supremacists on June 7, 1998 in Jasper, Texas.

The lead investigator on the case, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent Mark C. Broome, visited campus on Thursday, Oct. 19 to talk about the case from his perspective.

“[Byrd’s] murder was the most violent crime I have ever been associated with in the FBI,” Broome said. “I can’t imagine a more horrible death than the one that he suffered.”

Before continuing, Broome posed a question for the audience: “In America, in 2017, are we closer to things like this happening again or are we further away from it?”

He touched on the fact that George W. Bush recently spoke out and condemned the bigotry going on within the nation, adding that the former president’s words seemed almost like an omen.

Byrd had been walking home from a family gathering and the three men—Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer, and John King—drove by and offered him a ride. With no reason to be afraid, Byrd accepted the offer that would soon lead to his death.

Through slides portraying the forensic evidence gathered by the prosecution, Broome walked the audience through what he and the other investigators had pieced together from that night.

The photos depicted the scenes of what had been done to Byrd; the street his no-longer-intact body was deposited on after being dragged the 3.12 miles, the outline of his torso once the crime scene investigators arrived, blood soaked and dried into the pavement because he wasn’t discovered until the next morning, the clothes he was wearing on his last day on Earth, the chain used to keep him defenseless, the road that he was dragged by his ankles on.

“Are we better off in our relations and bigotry and hate? Or is it okay now that members of the [Ku Klux Klan] go around dressed like I am? Are there really good people on both sides?” Broome asked, referring to a press conference response from U.S. President Donald Trump regarding the white nationalist rallies held in Charlottesville. “You have to answer that question and our society has to answer that question.”

Broome added that, in his time with the FBI, this case was one of the two most significant events he experienced. The other was the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The floor was then left open to questions from members of the audience. There were questions about the current status of the murderers, whether or not the case was defined as a hate crime, the effects of the case on Broome himself, the speed of the pick-up truck, and how the murderers knew one another.

Brewer was executed by lethal injection in 2011, King is currently on Death Row and nearing the end of his appeals, and Berry is serving a life sentence.

Byrd’s murder, in addition to the murder of Matthew Shepard, led to the passing of The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act on Oct. 22, 2009.

“In 1998, I can tell you that the Attorney General got daily briefings on this case. That’s pretty tall cotton for a boy in west Texas,” Broome said. “And I ask you tonight, would the Attorney General of the United States want daily briefings on this case?”

Juniors Brooke Eddy and Jessica Croak offered their reactions to the event as students studying criminal justice.

“The part that stuck out the most to me was the conversation that the presentation led to at the end,” Eddy said. “It was very powerful hearing individuals’ personal experiences towards injustice as well as their fears.”

A strong emphasis was put on comparing the country in 1998 to today in 2017.

“Listening to SA Broome speak about such a life-changing event for not only him, but for our country, was of great importance,” Croak said. “Understanding where our country was back in 1998, where our country is in 2017, and where our country is going is vital in my success as a criminal justice scholar.”

“Social justice is a crucial concept to appreciate and comprehend. Comparing our world today to 1998, the prevalence of discrimination and division against minority groups is appalling,” Eddy concluded.