Accessibility links

Breaking News

Mississippi Hanging Death Ruled Not a Homicide

The Port Gibson, Mississippi, home of ex-convict Otis Byrd, who was reported missing by his family more than two weeks ago, March 20, 2015.

The Justice Department is closing its investigation into the hanging death of a black man in the southern state of Mississippi.

Otis Byrd, 54, was found March 19 hanging by a tree from a bed sheet in a wooded area about a half mile from his rural home in Port Gibson, Mississippi. He had been missing for two weeks.

The death raised red flags in the minds of many Americans, who associate the hanging of a black man with lynching.

Lynching is the practice of killing — usually by hanging — outside of the legal system. It is different from homicide in that it is intended to spread terror among a certain population.

Lynching has a long and ugly history in the United States where it was notably used to persecute black Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Not a Homicide

But the Justice Department said in a statement that “that there was no evidence to prove that Byrd’s death was a homicide. Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed.”

Members of the Department’s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi and the Federal Bureau of Investigation met with Byrd’s family Friday to inform them of the decision.

It followed what the department said was “a careful and thorough review” conducted by a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents.

Had the death been found to be a homicide, authorities might have pursued it as a hate crime under a 2009 law, attempting to show that the death was caused “because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or disability.”

The Mississippi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had called on federal authorities to investigate the death amid fears it may have been a racially motivated killing.