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In Jasper, Clergy Preach Peace

Three days after a white supremacist received the death penalty for the dragging death of a black man in Jasper, Texas, local church leaders used their sermons to preach for peace and reform.

"We're going to have to change," the Rev. Ron Foshage told parishioners at St. Michael's Catholic Church, a group that included the prosecutor and the condemned man's father. "Change our hearts and our minds."

John William King, 24, was sentenced to death Thursday for the June assault on James Byrd Jr., 49, who was dragged to death by his ankles behind a pickup truck.

As Father Foshage spoke at a weekend Mass, King's prosecutor, Guy James Gray, listened with bowed head, his wife, Mary, by his side.

Not 20 feet away, in another pew, sat King's ailing father, Ronald King.

"We pray for Bill King, that the Lord helps him seek forgiveness," Father Foshage said. "We pray for Ronald King, who was so deeply humiliated and grieved. We pray for the Byrd family."

Ministers throughout Jasper, a timber town in east Texas, tried to bring comfort to congregations made weary by the nation's scrutiny.

"Hate is still living and alive," the Rev. John D. Hardin assured his Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church followers. "But love has already won the race."

At Byrd's parents' church, Greater New Bethel Baptist Church, the Rev. Kenneth Lyons also used this week's events as a sermon topic.

"We must agree this morning that a few months ago we had a very horrible tragedy occur in our town. It was an event that shocked Jasper, the country, and the world," Rev. Lyons said. "The men who committed this crime meant it for evil against a black man."

At the Jasper United Pentecostal Church, Senior Pastor Malcolm Seal didn't discuss the trial in his sermon Sunday.

Several members of King's family attend the church, and the minister said it was sufficient that he preached about the murder right after it happened. "They're human beings, and I'm concerned for their welfare as well. They didn't commit any crime. They're victims," he added.

Trials for King's co-defendants Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, and Shawn Allen Berry, 24, have not been scheduled.