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Dozens attend wake of man dragged to death

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Dozens of area residents packed a funeral home Friday for the wake of a black man who was dragged to death on a country road, allegedly by three white men.

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.

Cooper said the slaying was racist but perhaps could serve a higher purpose.

"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 was still possible in this case, she replied, "I can."

Byrd's burial was scheduled for Saturday.

Meanwhile, at least one of the three suspects, John William King, has denied taking part, attorney Randy Walker said.

"Basically, he tells me he had no involvement in this murder, so we intend to plead not guilty and we intend to go to trial," Walker said.

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

"I've defended all sorts of folks in criminal cases," said attorney William Morian, appointed Friday by state District Judge Joe Bob Golden to represent Brewer. "It's a horrible allegation, but at this point I've got to do what every attorney is obligated to do, zealously defend his client."