Fort Worth, Texas Star-Telegram staff writer Mike Cochran reports. Excerpt:
FORT WORTH – It was going to be James Byrd’s day of vindication.
After spending almost five years in prison for a crime that he and his older brother Donnie Johnson say Johnson committed, Byrd took a polygraph test Tuesday in the special crimes unit of the Tarrant County district attorney’s office to prove his innocence.
It came a month after Johnson passed a polygraph to prove his guilt.
Instead, Byrd’s test was deemed invalid because his blood pressure readings were too high and could not be stabilized. The next step, said Rick Holden, who administered both polygraphs, is for a doctor to examine Byrd and a new test to be administered in a more laboratorylike environment.
Thus, another bizarre twist in a case that seemed like little more than a two-bit robbery gone sour, but over time turned into a twisted tale of injustice that sent Byrd to prison, broke a mother’s heart and shattered a large but close-knit family, as well as the relationship of two brothers who had been inseparable.
On Tuesday, the brothers reconciled in a tearful reunion in the special crimes unit.
“Hey, what’s up?” Byrd said, sitting at a table handcuffed.
“How ya doin?” Johnson said as the brothers embraced.
Both anticipated that the results of the polygraph test were a foregone conclusion.
“I am relieved,” Johnson said before Holden’s evaluation. “I’ve been carrying this burden almost five years. I told him [Byrd] I was sorry that I had put him through this. … He said he accepted my apology and that he loved me. That felt good.”
Byrd said: “What hurt me more than anything, my own brother, my own flesh and blood … he constantly lied.”
The latest development doesn’t mean Byrd is indeed guilty; Holden speculated that the excitement of seeing his brother, taking the test and contemplating freedom may have been responsible for the elevated blood pressure readings.
Nonetheless, the result delays the process of righting an alleged wrong and the goal of obtaining a full pardon for Byrd.
For now, freedom is still a jailhouse dream.