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Texas sheriff speaks out after new review in James Byrd Jr. dragging death

Newton County Sheriff Billy Rowles. He was sheriff in Jasper County when Byrd Jr. was killed. (KFDM)

JASPER COUNTY, Texas (KFDM) - A man on death row for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. will get his claim of innocence and poor legal representation reviewed by an appeals court.

John William King is on death row for the killing 20 years ago of Byrd, a black man, who was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged along a rural East Texas road.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late Tuesday said it would review a claim from King that lawyers were deficient in presenting a case for innocence during his trial for what became one of the nation's most shocking hate crimes since the Civil Rights era.

King's appeal said only a few pieces of circumstantial evidence that could be innocently explained tied him to the scene of a fight that resulted in 49-year-old Byrd being chained at his ankles to the bumper of a truck in June 1998 and fatally dragged outside Jasper.

King, now 42, was the first of three white men convicted of capital murder for Byrd's death.

Newton County Sheriff Billy Rowles has been in office for only eights months, but it's his previous elected position as Jasper County sheriff that has him speaking out.

Nineteen years ago, Sheriff Rowles escorted King out of court, where he was found guilty of murdering Byrd.

KFDM/6 News on Fox's Peter Eliopoulos spoke with Sheriff Rowles.

"That guy needs to die for what he did, and I firmly believe he's going to," said Rowles.

Watch Eliopoulos' full report in the video player above (photos of Byrd courtesy of Byrd family).

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