FBI investigating hanging death of black man in Mississippi

Claiborne County officials prepare to leave a home in Port Gibson, Miss., where authorities were investigating the hanging death of a black man in the neighboring woods, Thursday, March 19, 2015. The man has not been identified. (AP Photo/The Vicksburg Evening Post, Josh Edwards)

PORT GIBSON, Miss. (AP) — Federal and state authorities are investigating the hanging death of a black man in Mississippi who had been missing for more than two weeks, the FBI said Thursday.

The investigation involves the FBI, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s office. The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is also involved.

The man was last seen March 2 and was reported missing by his family days later, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jason Pack said in a statement. Pack says the cause of death has not been determined, and authorities aren’t sure if it’s a homicide or a suicide.

Jim Walker, a spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, told The Associated Press that the body was found by the department’s officers while they were searching for 54-year-old Otis Byrd of Port Gibson.

Walker said that about 25 minutes after the officers started the search, they found the body hanging in the woods about 200 yards from Byrd’s house.

None of the authorities has positively identified the body that was found as Byrd’s, however. Claiborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas Sr. said a positive identification will not be available until the completion of an autopsy, which he said also should help determine whether the death was a homicide or a suicide. Lucas said the body has been sent to the state Crime Lab in Jackson. He said the body was found hanging by a bedsheet.

Walker said the body had “obvious signs” of decomposition, indicating it had been hanging there for more than one day.

Johnie Baker, 87, owns the land where the body was found.

Baker, who did not accompany authorities on the search, described it as an area of pecan and black walnut trees, frequented by hunters and home to several wild hogs.

___

Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press Writer Jeff Amy in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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