Body of missing black man found hanging from tree in Mississippi sparks hate crime probe

The man was last seen by a friend on 2 March at a casino

The body of a black man was found hanging from a tree yesterday two weeks after he was reported missing.

He has been identified as Otis James Byrd by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the discovery prompted authorities to determine whether he was a victim of a hate crime.

The body was discovered about half a mile away from his rented home just outside Port Gibson in the US state of Mississippi. The FBI are now investigating the case.

“Mr Byrd was found hung in a tree, and because of that we want to ensure it was not in fact a racial hate crime,” said Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.

It was found by a Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks game warden who was called in to help with the search of the man who was last seen on 2 March when his friend dropped him off at a casino. His family reported him missing six days later.

The body appeared to have been hanging in the tree “for some time,” Jim Walker, a spokesman for MDWFP said.

FBI Special Agent Jason Pack said: “We’re trying to determine whether it’s a suicide or it was a homicide, and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Mr Byrd was convicted of the murder of 51-year-old Elizabeth Trim after he stole $101 from her to pay off a $10 court fine, according to The Vicksburg Post. He was sentenced in 1980 and was paroled in 2006 after serving 26 years.

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The house on the outskirts of Port Gibson where Mr Byrd last lived

Investigators are currently searching for evidence and the body is to undergo an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Lynching, or public execution by hanging, was once a common practice in parts of the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. An estimated 3,500 black people and 1,300 white people were lynched from 1882 to 1968.

The incident involving Mr Byrd comes seven months after 17-year-old black teenager Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing in North Carolina.

Mr Lacy’s death was quickly ruled a suicide by local police but the FBI announced in December that it was probing the death as suspicious.

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