Seeking Death in Texas

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JASPER, Texas: Anyone who doubts the gruesome nature of the killing police say took place here earlier this week need only look at the crime scene. In bright fluorescent paint, police have marked the separate locations in which parts of James Byrd's mutilated body were found. "Dentures," reads one. "Head," says another.

Now prosecutors -- ever more incensed by what they see as a brutal racially motivated crime in which three white supremacists chained and dragged a black man behind their pickup truck, decapitating him -- are scrambling to build a case that will allow them to ask for the death penalty. And blacks in this small sawmill town of 8,000 are beginning to ask: How deep does this river run?

Thankfully, not very deep. Jasper's white residents did not need prompting to show their disgust toward suspects Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer and John King. Even King's father disowned his son in an apology to the Byrd family Wednesday: "I want to say I'm sorry," he wrote. "It hurts me deeply to know that a boy I raised... could find it in himself to take a life." And Sheriff Billy Rowles had a plea for the country: "Don't label us; we're good people." Rowles need not worry. Some of the South's ghosts may have been raised this week, but a town grieving in unison has shown that the rest are well and truly buried.