Killing Time

Some Blacks Surprised Berry Was Involved

By now, most Americans are familiar with the small town of Jasper, Texas.
There, on June 7, 1998, James Byrd Jr., a black man, was beaten, chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death on a dark country road by three white men.

In 1999, two of the men, John William King, then 24, and Russell Brewer, then 32, were found guilty and sentenced to death. The third man, Shawn Berry, who was also 24, was sentenced to life in prison.

Berry said that he didn't plan to be part of a murder that night. Instead, he says, he expected to spend a few hours drinking beer and driving back roads.

In an exclusive interview last November, before he was sentenced, 60 Minutes II Correspondent Dan Rather talked to Berry about the crime and his role in it.

There was little surprise about King and Berry. The day after the murder, local police arrested Brewer, an outsider who had been in Jasper for only a few weeks, and King, who is seen by many as a man who became obsessed with race during a stint in prison.

But many in town were shocked that Berry was involved.

"If you knowed Shawn and been around him like I was," said Joseph Glenn, a black Jasper resident, "and worked with him and that kinda thing....No. You would know that he's not a racist. At all! He never showed that to me."

"I'd like to think that I know people," says Willian Lan, another black man who lives in Jasper. "And I've known Shawn for a long time. And...he just wasn't that type of my opinion. I would, I would trust Sean with anything I got."

Even some local police say off the record that they don't think Berry is capable of the crime.

Berry said that he had fallen in with a bad crowd. "That's no excuse," he says. "But I was with people that I shouldn't have been with." Berry's link to the crime was King, whom he had known for almost a decade.

The two had been in trouble before. Seven years ago, they were arrested for breaking into a warehouse. Both completed boot camp. Berry did well on probation. But King violated his probation and ended up in prison. While King was in prison, he wrote Berry.

Said Berry: "I never returned any of [the letters]. Never. First, he was just talking, using a lot of prison talk. They use different slang in there. I don't really know a lot. Calling everybody 'bro' and stuff like that."

"And I didn't like it. And then he started talking about his white supremacy. He wrote me about four letters. And he would end it by calling me his Aryan brother. And saying stuff like 'Stay white.' Stuff like that. I never wrote him back."

But when King returned to Jasper, he and Berry began hanging around together again. According to Berry, King continued to talk a lot about white supremacy and his hatred for blacks and Jews.

"I didn't like it," Berry said. "My brother didn't like it. The people that we were aroundidn't like it. He made it known that he didn't like blacks, or Jews or Asians."

"He saw that we didn't like that. No one. Nobody liked it because, you know, it was just something negative that came to town. And no one liked it," he added.

Then Brewer, who had been in prison with King, came to town; both were covered with racist tattoos.

Berry has tattoos as well, but of a different sort: a Playboy bunny, a grim reaper, a rock group, and, on the small of his hand, a happy face.

Christie Marcontell, Berry's girlfriend and the mother of their young son, says that she thinks Berry didn't know that Brewer and King were planning to murder someone.

Even the district attorney, Guy James Gray, who is asking for Berry's death, conceded that Berry is different than the other two.

For more on Berry, go on to part two.

Story produced by Mary Mapes; Web site produced by David Kohn