Update (March 21, 2015):FBI Special Agent in Charge Donald Alway confirmed in a press conferenceon Friday thebody found hanging in the woods in Claiborne County, Miss. has been identified by authorities as Otis Byrd.
By Sheryl Estrada
Authorities are investigating the death of a Black man found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County, Miss.
The FBI, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI), local law enforcement, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s office are investigating the death. It has yet to be determined whether it was a homicide or suicide.
Claiborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas and his officers discovered a decomposing body, believed to be Otis Byrd, with a bed sheet tied around his neck, hanging from a tree at approximately 10:21 a.m. on Thursday. His hands weren’t tied. The area of the hanging is approximately 500 yards southwest of a house belonging to Byrd’s family.
An official release from the FBI and the MBI on Thursday states:
Earlier in the day, the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department and the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks conducted a ground search for a man who had been missing since early March. Officers located a man hanging in the woods near Old Rodney Road a half-mile from his last known residence.
Byrd, 54, was last seen March 2 when a friend dropped him off at the Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg. He was reported missing by his family the same day, a missing person’s report was formally filed on March 8, and on March 13 the MBI received a missing person’s report from the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department.
Authorities have not positively identified the body as Byrd’s. The body has been sent to the state Crime Lab in Jackson, and an autopsy will be completed to determine whether the death was a suicide or homicide. But the Claiborne County chapter of the NAACP says the deceased is Byrd.
In an official statement, Derrick Johnson, the President of the NAACP Mississippi State Conference, said:
The Mississippi NAACP calls for an investigation regarding the death of Mr. Otis Byrd of Claiborne County, MS.Mr. Byrd, who has been missing for over a week,was found hanging from a tree in a wooded area approximately 4 or 5 miles from his home. We are calling on federal authorities to immediately investigate the hanging death of Mr. Otis Byrd to determine whether or not his death is the result of a hate crime.”
The NAACP emailed the U.S. Department of Justice to ask for assistance in the investigation.
Released on parole in November 2006, Byrd was convicted of capital murder for killing Lucille Trim in Claiborne County in February 1980 during a robbery.
One of Byrd’s family members, who did not want to be identified, told CNN that he was a “good, hard-working man” who had held various jobs since his release from prison.
The family member acknowledged that he served time in prison for murder, but said he had been an upstanding citizen since his release.
According to a report released in February by The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) titled “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” between 1877 (the end of Reconstruction) and 1950, there were 3,959 racial-terror lynchings of Blacks, at least 700 more than has previously been reported. Mississippi was one of the 12 most active lynching states in America.