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Not Enough Evidence To Rule Death Of Black Man Found Hanging From Tree In Mississippi A Homicide

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday that it closed its investigation into the death of Otis James Byrd, a 54-year-old Mississippi man found hanging from a tree in Port Gibson on March 19.

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Otis James Byrd's hanging death has not been ruled a homicide following a federal investigation.

The U.S. DOJ announced Friday that it had closed its investigation into Byrd's death after it concluded there was not enough evidence to prove the 54-year-old's death was a homicide. Byrd was found dead on March 19, 2015 hanging from a tree in Port Gibson, Mississippi.

Authorities in Mississippi initially launched an investigation into the death of a black man who was found hanging from a tree on March 19.

Breaking: The body of an African American man is found hanging from a tree in Claiborne County. The FBI and MBI are on the scene.

The next day, CNN and the Los Angeles Times reported law enforcement officials were leaning toward the possibility that the death was a suicide.

Both news agencies cited unnamed sources.

Meanwhile, local, state and federal authorities — about 30 agents in all — were working to interview friends and family of victim, who has been identified as 54-year-old Otis Byrd.

The Associated Press had previously reported that all 30 agents were federal.

Investigators were also still awaiting the results of an autopsy, but were hoping to construct a history of Byrd's life and recent days, which could assist in the investigation, said Don Alway, special agent in charge of the FBI's Jackson, Mississippi, division.

"The community deserves answers, specifically, his family deserves answers," Alway said during a news conference Friday. "We're still trying to find out more about Mr. Byrd's life."

Federal agencies joined local law enforcement in the investigation of the death, and it was not yet known whether foul play was involved.

Members of the Claiborne County Sheriff's Department and the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks had been searching the woods of the eastern Mississippi County for a man who disappeared in early March, FBI supervisory special agent Jason Pack told BuzzFeed News.

Family members of the man, who was last seen on March 2, filed a missing persons report on March 8. He was found hanging from a tree about a half-mile from his home, Pack said.

WJTV reported he was found hanging with a bed sheet around his neck and skull cap on his head. His hands were not tied behind his back.

Local authorities reached out to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and the FBI for assistance with the investigation and forensics, Pack said.

"Investigators are currently processing the scene for evidence to determine the cause and manner of death," Pack said.

Though it was not yet known how the man died, the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division was also investigating.

Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson told BuzzFeed News that the FBI, Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi are investigating the matter.

The man was identified by the NAACP to local media as 54-year-old Otis Byrd.

According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Byrd was paroled in 2006 after serving more than 25 years in prison for killing a woman during a robbery.

Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Claudia Koerner at

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