Authorities Search for Answers In Case of Otis Byrd, Mississippi Man Found Hanging

Was the death of ex-con murderer connected to his crime?

ByMike Levine, Jack Cloherty, Jack Date
March 20, 2015, 5:36 PM

— -- Federal and local authorities fanned out across parts of Mississippi on Friday trying to identify family and friends who can help “paint a picture” of how an African-American man ended up dead, hanging from a tree in Claiborne County.

“Everybody wants answers, and they want those quickly. We understand that,” the head of the FBI’s office in Jackson, Miss., told reporters. “[But] we’re going to hold off on coming to any conclusions until the facts take us to a definitive answer."

It’s just “too soon” to know whether the man committed suicide or was the victim of a brutal murder, FBI Special Agent-In-Charge Don Alway said. An autopsy report with preliminary results is expected sometime next week, but a gun was not involved, authorities said. Some 30 agents have been assigned to the case.

Mississippi Man Found Hanging from Tree

The man found hanging has now been identified as 54-year-old Otis Byrd. Always said investigators are "still trying to find out more about" his personal and professional life "to identify potential reasons" for his death.

Byrd had served a lengthy sentence for murder. In 1980, he stole $101 from a woman and fatally shot her, according to court records obtained by ABC News. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life behind bars, but he was subsequently released on parole, the records show.

Authorities will be looking to see if that case may have played any role in his death. At the same time, the FBI and Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division have opened a preliminary civil rights investigation, focusing on whether Byrd's race may have played a role in his death.

Lucas said Byrd's family was unaware of any threats made against him.

"We got a young man that died and we're going to determine how he died and if someone did that, that person will be brought to justice and he will be punished for that," said Claiborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas.

Byrd was last seen March 2 and, within days, his family filed a missing person report with the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Office. The FBI and Mississippi Bureau of Investigation were then asked to help, the FBI said in a statement. Byrd's body was found about a half-mile from his home.

Earlier Thursday, the Claiborne County Sheriff's Office and the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks conducted a ground search for Byrd.

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