A black man was found hanging from a tree in Mississippi, and now the FBI is calling for patience while they continue their investigation.
Otis Byrd, a 54-year-old ex-convict, was found on March 19, two weeks after his family members reported him missing, hanging from a tree branch by a white sheet approximately 500 yards from his home in Claiborne County, Mississippi. According to CBS News, Byrd was hanging two feet off of the ground with a skull cap covering his face.
Now, the question that 30 federal, state, and local agents are trying to answer is whether or not Byrd was murdered or committed suicide.
According to Claiborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas Sr., although Byrd’s hands were not bound, there was nothing around that he could have stepped off of. It also didn’t appear that Byrd had climbed the tree. “It wasn’t no chair, no ladder,” Lucas said.
Lucas ultimately made the decision to contact the FBI. “We all know the history of Mississippi, and I don’t want anyone to feel like I got anything to hide,” Lucas explained. “Life matters. I commit to you, as the sheriff of Claiborne County, that I will not allow the shadows of the past to cast a shadow on the future.”
During a press conference at the Claiborne County Courthouse on Friday, March 20, FBI Special Agent Don Always asked the public to hold off on making assumptions until they concluded their investigation.
“Everybody wants answers and wants them quickly. We understand that. We are going to hold off on coming to any conclusions until the facts take us to a definitive answer… Everybody has heard rumors, but we ask you to hold off.”
According to the International Business Times, the preliminary autopsy results points to suicide. However, Byrd’s official cause of death has not been released at this time. Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain revealed that Byrd’s body was released to the funeral home on Friday.
Byrd was arrested and convicted in 1980 for fatally shooting a woman in a convenience store. He stole $100 from her before taking her life. In turn, he served 26 years in prison.
Despite his past, Byrd’s family said that he was turning his life around, and wouldn’t have been the type of person to commit suicide.
“He tried to turn his life around. He was going to church every Sunday,” said Byrd’s stepsister, Tracy Wilson. “Anybody could have done this. I just don’t see him doing it to himself.”
Byrd’s family and friends, along with the residents of Port Gibson, Mississipi, are convinced that Byrd was murdered as part of a white against black hate crime. They have staged a protest march in Byrd’s behalf for today.
[Photo via Mugshots.com]