On March 2 a friend dropped off Otis Byrd at the Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Miss. On March 8, members of the Byrd family reported the 54-year-old missing. On Thursday, Claiborne County, Miss., authorities found a man's body, believed to be Byrd's, hanged from a tree by a bed sheet, causing many in the area to wonder whether the hanging was a homicide and, if so, whether it could be retaliation for a killing some 25 years ago.
Authorities have not confirmed the man's identity, but the Claiborne County NAACP and family members have said that it was Byrd.
According to Mississippi Department of Corrections public records viewed by the Clarion-Ledger, "Byrd spent a little over 25 years in prison for the murder of Lucille Trimm in Claiborne County. Records show he robbed her of $101. He was convicted of capital murder on Feb. 8, 1980, and was paroled Nov. 2, 2006."
Earl Jackson, 54, who identified himself as a friend of Byrd's, told The Root that the man he knew never said a harsh word.
"Him and my nephew were good friends," said Jackson. "I met him about four or five years ago. He was a real humble person, and you would have never known he was in any trouble." Jackson continued: "All I've been hearing is that it's retaliation for the killing years ago, but he always treated me nice."
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jason Pack told CNN that the man's hands were not bound and that he was wearing a skull cap. It's unclear whether the hanging was a suicide or a homicide.
"We don't know what happened out there—if it is a suicide, a homicide. That is why we investigate these types of cases to determine exactly what happened," he told WAPT.
The Byrd family and the state NAACP are calling for a full investigation into the death. "Considering Mr. Byrd's body was found hanging from a tree, we are calling on federal authorities to immediately investigate to determine whether his death is a result of a racial hate crime," Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, told the Clarion-Ledger.
"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," according to the FBI statement.
"The sheriff's department contacted the [Mississippi Bureau of Investigation] and FBI for forensic and investigative assistance. Investigators are currently processing the scene for evidence to determine the cause and manner of death," according to the FBI.