Activists decry decade-old dragging death at memorial service

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by Associated Press

khou.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:20 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 26 at 12:29 PM

PARIS, Texas -- At a memorial service Saturday for an East Texas man whose killing reminds some of the decade-old James Byrd dragging death, members of the Nation of Islam, the New Black Panthers and the NAACP promised protests to bring more attention to the case.

Speaker after speaker said they disagreed with the district attorney's stance that Brandon McClelland's death was not racially motivated.

"If this is not a hate crime, then there is no such thing as a hate crime," said Krystal Muhammad of the New Black Panthers. "Even though our brother was viciously slain, we will not let him die in vain."

Two white men, accused of running McClelland down and dragging his body about 70 feet beneath their pickup, remain jailed on murder charges.

Authorities have said they would seek the additional punishments that come with racially motivated crimes in Texas, but have so far cast doubt on theories that the attack was a hate crime.

But Deric Muhammad of the Nation of Islam called McClelland's death an "exact copycat" of the 1998 Byrd case.

Byrd, a black man in Jasper, about 200 miles south of Paris, was chained by the ankles to the back of a pickup by three white supremacists and dragged for three miles. Two of the killers are on death row; the third is serving a life sentence.

McClelland died after going with two white friends on a late-night beer run across the state line to Oklahoma. On the way back, authorities said, McClelland argued with the two suspects-< /p>

Shannon Keith Finley and Charles Ryan Crostley, both 27. He exited the pickup to walk home.

Authorities said the men then ran him over and that his body was dragged beneath the truck. His body was discovered Sept. 16. McClelland's mother said fragments of her son's skull could still be found three days later.

Crostley and Finley are jailed on charges of murder and evidence-tampering. Finley's attorney did not immediately respond to a voice mail message Saturday, and a call to a listing for Crostley's attorney was not answered.

Unlike the Byrd case, there is no evidence that McClelland was tied or chained to the truck. Officials also point out that McClelland was friends with the two murder suspects.

In an odd twist to the case, McClelland served jail time after pleading guilty to perjury for providing a false alibi for Finley in the latter's murder trial in 2004. Finley eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

"What this case shows is that if a white person wants to lynch a black man, all they have to do is befriend him first," Deric Muhammad said.

Officials said they have uncovered no evidence that Finley, who served time for manslaughter, had joined a white supremacist gang while in prison.

"There is nothing about that in his prison records and there are no tattoos on his body" that would indicate Finley had joined such a gang, said Allan Hubbard, a spokesman for the Lamar County and District Attorney's office.

Finley does have a tattoo of a Paris-area gang that includes blacks and whites, Hubbard said.

"There is nothing racially motivated in the state's eyes about this murder," Hubbard said.

The differences between the Byrd and McClelland cases were dismissed at the memorial service, which also served as a meeting to organize future protests. Speakers chanted "No justice, no peace," "Power to the people" and "Never again" and condemned Paris as a racist town.

"The time has come for a black man's life to be equal to a white man's life," said Anthony Bond, founder of the Irving chapter of the NAACP. "Whatever happens in Paris affects every other person in America."

The service later moved to a two-lane road lined by farms where McClelland's torn-apart body was found. Family members and activists from across the state placed flowers and wreaths at a spot alongside the road where white spray paint indicated where authorities had located body parts.

Bobby McCleary spoke movingly of his dead son, who called him " Pops."

"A couple of times, I've found myself calling him just to see what he is doing," McCleary said. "I just want to hear 'Pops' one more time from my son."

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