Sun, Oct 26, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Black Texan man dragged to death, two friends charged

AP , PARIS, TEXAS

In a gruesome case with powerful echoes of the dragging death of James Byrd a decade ago, a black man was killed underneath a pickup truck in East Texas and two white men have been charged with murder.

Black activists and the victim’s mother are calling last month’s killing of 24-year-old Brandon McClelland a racist attack. But prosecutors cast strong doubt on that Friday.

McClelland died after going with two white friends on a late-night beer run across the state line to Oklahoma, investigators said. Authorities said he was run over and dragged as much as 21m beneath the truck. His torn-apart body was discovered along a bloodstained rural road on Sept. 16. His mother said pieces of his skull could still be found three days later.

The case has raised racial tensions in Paris, a town of 26,000 with a history of fraught relations between blacks and whites.

To some, it sounded like the Byrd case, in which a black man in the East Texas town of Jasper, about 320km south of Paris, was chained by the ankles to the back of a pickup by three white supremacists and dragged for several kilometers. Two of the killers are now on death row; the third is serving a life sentence.

Prosecutors in the McClelland case said they are looking into whether one of the defendants, Shannon Keith Finley, was in a white supremacist gang while in prison for killing a friend.

But they said they have seen no evidence so far that McClelland’s slaying was racially motivated. And they noted the three men had been friends for years.

“This is a group of guys who had black friends and white friends,” said Allan Hubbard, a spokesman for the Lamar County district attorney’s office. He added: “Any comparison to Jasper and James Byrd is preposterous.”

Autopsy results are expected back next week, and investigators will look closely for marks on the body that would indicate whether McClelland was tied to the truck.

Community activist Brenda Cherry said authorities have not seriously considered the possibility this was a hate crime.

According to court papers, Finley and Charles Ryan Crostley, both 27, told police they left the dry town to get beer in Oklahoma, and on the way back, the three men, all apparently drunk, argued about who was sober enough to drive. McClelland, an unmarried maintenance worker, decided to walk home, taking some beer with him, the men told police.

But Finley’s estranged wife and one of his friends said they had been told by the two defendants that Finley began to bump McClelland with the front of his truck until McClelland fell, and Finley drove over him, according to court papers. Crostley and Finley then allegedly drove to a car wash to clean off the blood.

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