A white man accused in the dragging death of a black east Texas man was close friends with the victim and didn't kill him, the suspect's sister said Monday.
"This was no hate crime," Krystala Boyd said. "You can't hate somebody you love."
She also said she doesn't believe her brother, Shannon Keith Finley, and childhood friend Charles Ryan Crostley had anything to do with the death of Brandon McClelland.
Finley and Crostley, both white, were arrested on murder and evidence tampering charges. Authorities have said the three men got into a fight during a late-night beer run from Paris, Texas, to Oklahoma, and that Finley and Crostley in a pickup truck ran over McClelland and dragged him as far as 70 feet.
McClelland's family and black activists call the death a "copycat" of the decade-old James Byrd slaying, in which a black man in Jasper, about 200 miles south of Paris, was chained by the ankles to a pickup by three white supremacists and dragged for three miles.
But Boyd's sister and prosecutors said they don't believe race was a factor because the victim was friends with the two suspects. Investigators also said there's no indication McClelland, 24, was tied to the truck.
The pair had long friendship
Boyd said her brother and McClelland have been friends for about 10 years.
"They were like brothers," Boyd said. "Brandon would come to all of our family functions. He was around all of our kids. He would have dinner with us. I have known Brandon longer than I have known my own husband."
Ben Massar, Finley's attorney, also dismissed the hate crime angle as false.
"And that is what is really upsetting to his family," Massar said.
According to Boyd, the two suspects have been friends since they were young boys and with McClelland about 10 years.
Deric Muhammad, a Nation of Islam member who is helping an independent investigation of the case, said proof of the friendship between Finley and McClelland bolsters the argument that the killing was racially motivated.
"I think that worsens the case," Muhammad said. "It doesn't exonerate the case from being a hate crime."
Doesn't understand racial implications
Boyd said she spoke to Finley by telephone Monday and that her brother does not understand the reason behind the case's racial implications.
"He's doing OK for the most part," she said. "I am so sorry, my whole family is so sorry for (the McClellands') loss. But we believe Shannon and (Crostley), and we don't believe they had anything to do with his death."
Finley's criminal record includes DWI convictions, marijuana possession, property theft, and a four-year prison sentence for manslaughter in 2004. In that case, Finley was accused of fatally shooting a white friend in the head and McClelland served jail time for providing a false alibi for Finley.
A phone call to a listing for Crostley's attorney was unanswered.
Crostley and Finley have not been indicted. They face up to life in prison if convicted.
The grand jury is scheduled to convene Nov. 13.