Mississippi state and federal investigators have been called in to review a case where the death of a 21-year-old black man was ruled a suicide. On Feb. 8, Willie Andrew Jones Jr. was found hanging from a tree outside his ex-girlfriend’s house in Scott County. The local sheriff insisted that Jones took his own life but after learning of several altercations and viewing the young man’s body, the family rejects the theory.
Jones was in an interracial relationship, which had ended shortly before his demise. According to the Clarion Ledger, Scott County Sheriff Mike Lee said that the young man’s death was consistent with suicide and no evidence of a racially-motivated crime was found.
However, in a videotaped conversation with members of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) headed by Krystal Muhammad, Jones’ mother Tammy Townsend shared that her son’s body showed signs of physical trauma. She took photos of him at the morgue after initially being denied access, and captured what appeared to be scratches, bruises, and cigarette burns all over his body, including his groin area.
Townsend also revealed details about an altercation between Jones and his ex-girlfriend, Alexis, which took place at a local Burger King where she worked. The couple shared a baby and Jones went to the restaurant to pick up the child for the day.
An argument ensued and a friend of the woman’s stepfather called Townsend to inform her of what was happening. The friend also called Alexis’ stepfather who came to the restaurant and confronted her. Townsend found out from a statement taken by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI) that he told Alexis to stop dealing with these “nappy-headed thugs” and reminded her of what he said he would do if Jones ever put his hands on Alexis again.
Just after 10 p.m. on the same day, Alexis arrived at Townsend’s home to pick up the baby. She recalled that Jones was in a hurry to get the child ready which Townsend said was unusual. Alexis normally came inside and visited with her before taking the baby home.
Once Jones had secured the baby seat in the car, Alexis told him to get in the back seat. Townsend saw Alexis, her brother, the brother’s girlfriend Shania, and their little girl in the car as well. They all left together, marking the last time Townsend would see Jones alive.
Shania’s mother called Townsend 45 minutes to an hour later to tell her that the couple was fighting yet again. Townsend said that she asked the mother to have Jones wait outside and she would drive to the house and pick him up. Townsend called Alexis, but Shania answered the phone sounding distressed. She starting crying and told Townsend that “it just went all wrong.” Townsend believes that Shania witnessed her son’s murder and was terrified to talk about it.
The MBI and the FBI have reopened the investigation in light of these accounts as well as discrepancies in reports about the way Jones died. The Mississippi State Conference NAACP (MS NAACP) issued a press release on Feb. 14 calling for state and federal intervention as the Scott County Sheriff’s Office failed to report the crime until the week after Jones’ death.
MS NAACP President Charles R. Hampton filed a petition on behalf of the Jones and Townsend families demanding a thorough investigation. The statement asserts that the ruling on the young man’s cause of death was premature and the investigation was inadequate.
Townsend said that her son was found with a rope tied around his neck that was looped around a tree branch. However, his feet were said to be clad in flip flops and touching the ground. Jones would have had to jump off a bucket or chair to hang himself and no elevated surface was found nearby.
Townsend believes that even if her son wanted to die, his body would have struggled and kicked loosening his shoes from his feet. The grieving mother also wants to know why Alexis, her brother, and Shania would stand by and watch Jones hang himself. She is convinced that they all know what really happened here.
“I want justice for my son,” Townsend said. “Because I know he wouldn’t do it.”