The badly decomposed body of a missing black man who did 25 years in prison for murder was found hanging from a tree in Mississippi on March 19. Otis Byrd, 54, had been missing since March 2 in Claiborne County. Authorities aren’t saying much about the circumstances surrounding Byrd’s death, just that they’re not ruling anything out. In 1980, Byrd murdered a woman in a robbery that netted him $101. He was released from prison in November 2006.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Byrd Was Last Seen Being Dropped Off at a Casino
According to WJTV, Byrd went missing in Vicksburg, Mississippi, on March 2 but was not officially reported as missing until March 8. Byrd’s body was identified by the local NAACP chapter, more than 24 hours after this, the FBI confirmed that the body found was Otis Byrd. Fox Mississippi reporter Melissa Faith Payne tweeted that the body was too decomposed for police to ID him on the spot. He was last seen when a friend dropped him off at the Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg.
The NAACP in Claiborne County is asking for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Byrd’s death, according to Jackson, Mississippi reporter C.J. LeMaster. He added that local Sheriff Marvin Lucas says the FBI was quickly at the scene where Byrd was found hanging. The Clarion-Ledger reports that Coroner J.W. Mallett is not releasing any details about Byrd’s death. Speaking to the Vicksburg Post, Byrd’s friend, Sylvester Green, said, “I don’t know what’s going on but they need to find out what’s what’s going on. That’s not right. That’s not right.”
2. He Spent 25 Years in Prison for Murdering the Mother of a Republican Congressional Candidate
The Clarion Ledger reports that in 1981, Byrd was found guilty of murdering Lucille Trim in Claiborne County. Former Claiborne Sheriff Joyce McCay told the media about the crime: “She had a little country store. He robbed her and he killed her.” It emerged during Byrd’s trial that he stole $101 from Trim. The Vicksburg Post reports that he stole the money in order to pay a $10 restitution from a previous crime.
Lucille Trim’s daughter is Martha Rainville, a retired Air Force major general and 2006 Republican Congressional candidate in Vermont. Rainville is married to Paul McHale, the former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.
3. Byrd Was Found Hanging in the Woods Behind His Home
CNN reports that Byrd was found dead behind the residence where he lived at 1901 Rodney Road (below) in Port Gibson, Claiborne County. Byrd had been renting his place there. The network adds that there are “two parallel investigations” in the case, one by the FBI and one by local cops.
The FBI released this statement on March 19:
The FBI and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation are on the scene in Claiborne County conducting a death investigation.
Earlier in the day, the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department and the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks conducted a ground search for a man who had been missing since early March. Officers located a man hanging in the woods near Roddy Road a half mile from his last known residence.
The man was last seen March 2, and his family filed a missing persons report with the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department March 8. Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department officials reported the man missing to MBI March 13.
The Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department contacted the MBI and FBI for forensic and investigative assistance.
Investigators are currently processing the scene for evidence to determine the cause and manner of death.
4. Port Gibson Has an ‘Ethnically Diverse White Population’
According to the book A Little Taste of Freedom: The Black Freedom Struggle in Claiborne County, by history professor Dr. Emilye Crosby, Port Gibson, where Byrd was found dead, has an “ethnically diverse white population.” That population includes Catholics, Jewish people and Lebanese immigrants. This led to a strong anti-KKK sentiment in the town during the 1960s, according to the book.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Port Gibson’s population of 1,567 residents was 84.4 percent black and 14.6 percent white.
Parts of the racially charged Gene Hackman movie, Mississippi Burning, were filmed in Vicksburg, Mississippi, just north of Port Gibson. The movie deals with the murders of three Civil Rights volunteers in 1964.
5. Less Than a Year Ago, a 17-Year-Old in North Carolina Was Found Hanged in Mysterious Circumstances
This comes less than a year after 17-year-old Lennon Lacy was found hanged in North Carolina. The case was ruled a suicide. However Lacy’s family believe that he was lynched. Jon David, the Bladen County District Attorney, said in a statement released on October 1 that his office had “not received any evidence of criminal wrongdoing surrounding the death.”