The Department of Justice has confirmed that its civil rights division, the FBI, and the US attorney for the southern district of Mississippi will be conducting an investigation regarding the death of Otis Byrd, an African-American man found hanging in a tree in Claiborne County, The Guardian reported.
Byrd disappeared 10 days ago after being dropped off at a Vicksburg casino by a friend. The Clarion-Ledger reported that the body was found in the woods less than a mile from Byrd’s last known residence.
Investigators have not determined whether the death was a homicide or suicide, and Sheriff Marvin Lucas said foul play has not yet been ruled out.
“We didn’t close out any options because we really didn’t know what had happened to him,” said Lucas. “We can’t rule anything out right now.”
The local chapter of the NAACP released Byrd’s identity, which has not been confirmed by local officials, and wrote a letter to the DOJ asking for a federal investigation into Byrd’s death.
Byrd spent 26 years in prison for the murder of a Claiborne County woman whom he robbed of just over $100 in 1980. He was paroled in 2006.
The nature of Byrd’s death obviously raises suspicions given the racially-charged history in the Deep South. This marks the second time in less than a year that the FBI has been called in to investigate the hanging death of an African-American in the south.
Last August, the Bureau was called in after the body of Lennon Lacy, a black teenager from Bladenboro, North Carolina, was found hanging by a dog leash and belt from a swing set in the middle of a predominantly white trailer park.
Local police announced that they felt Lacy’s death was a suicide in just four days after his body was found. Lacy’s family and the local chapter of the NAACP were unsatisfied with their brief investigation and called for federal authorities to take over.