Black Death in Mississippi: Lynch or Suicide?

Scott County, Mississippi (AP) — On the night of February 8, 2018, Willy Andrew Jones Jr. and Alexis Rankin quarreled in the car on their way to their parents’ home in Scott County, Mississippi.

The couple were experiencing a rough patch in their relationship, but they had a three-month-old child together, and 21-year-old Jones wanted to reconcile.

They continued to fight when they arrived at Rankin’s house, 19 years old, where a group of her family was staying. At some point Jones left Rankin inside. Shortly thereafter, Rankin’s stepfather called 911 saying Jones was dead.

A black man was found hanging from a tree in the garden of his white girlfriend’s house. It’s 50 feet (15 meters) from the house and about 5 feet (1.5 meters) from the driveway.

The young man’s feet were touching the ground and his knees were bent. His body fell under a young pecan tree, with a blue and white cloth belt wrapped around his neck. A yellow nylon cord attached to the buckle was tied around a tree branch.

The sheriff’s department has decided to hang suicide. Jones’ family believes he was lynched. The case occurred when the past was contaminated by frequent black lynching, and during national calculations of how law enforcement agencies interacted with African Americans and other minorities. I touched the raw nerves.

Jones’ family refused to accept the sheriff’s ruling and demanded that the case be resumed.The family alleged illegal death after the prosecutor first refused to prosecute Proceedings Rankin’s stepfather, Harold O’Brient Jr., claims he killed Jones or couldn’t prevent him from killing himself. O’Brient did not respond to the proceedings, and in April a judge in the Jackson area awarded his relatives nearly $ 11.4 million.

Police reported that O’Brient told police officers that Jones intended to commit suicide shortly before leaving. O’Brient said he saw Jones walking in the front yard with a rope in his hand, but said he didn’t take the threat seriously.

Jones’ mother, Tammy Townsend, said her son had never expressed suicidal ideation to her. She said she couldn’t lift her arms overhead because of a sports injury.

Jones’ family says O’Brient had a prejudice against him because of his race and did not approve his stepdaughter dating a black man. The proceedings state that O’Brient has a history of irregular and violent behavior, and that he made threatening comments in the past about Jones and another boyfriend of Rankin, who is also black. Insist.

O’Brient categorically denies that claim.

“I would have been in jail if I had seen them do anything wrong,” he told The Associated Press. “They are trying to make me look like a white supremacist or something. I didn’t touch him.”

Mr O’Brient said he had never filed a proceeding or defended in court because he had never received a subpoena. He wants to appeal now, but says he doesn’t have the money to hire a lawyer.

O’Brient, who works as an auto mechanic, said he couldn’t put together $ 11 someday. “I certainly don’t have $ 11 million,” he said.

At the same time, he said, his family was forced to move out of their home. After Jones’ death, he said a drive-by shooting game shot a bullet at his house while his grandson was inside.

Sheriff Mike Leigh rejects the idea that Jones was lynched. He said his office had reported the case to the Mississippi Investigation Bureau and the FBI. The grand jury saw the evidence and did not think there was any reason to prosecute.

“My department-no if, ands, buts about it-if someone feels targeted for race, we will not only make that arrest, but it will be very public. “He said.

White Lee said one of the reasons investigators felt that Jones’ death was suicide was that O’Brient himself came from a multi-ethnic family. He had a black stepfather, five interracial grandchildren, and lived in a black neighborhood throughout his life.

Jones lawyer Jill Koren Jefferson said that being around blacks does not prevent anyone from being a racist.

In other allegations, the proceedings allege that O’Brient was once charged by Rankin’s other black boyfriend in a broken bottle, shouting racial adjectives. O’Brient denies this.

When he was young, he admitted that he was told in the church that interracial dating was wrong.

“I still feel it’s not right, but hey, that’s what it is. I’m not against it,” O’Brient said.

Rankin is currently married to a black man. She said O’Brient never tried to discourage dating someone of another race.

Jones’ mother, Townsend, described her son as a “country boy.” He loved dogs, chickens, and most of all, the fancy horses he rides every day. He was a talented sketch artist and dreamed of becoming a director of an oil pipeline.

When Townsend saw his son’s body after his death, she saw what looked like a scratch or a cigarette burn. Her shoulders appeared to be dislocated, she said, which often happened when she was upset.

Investigators said the markings were due to injections made when Jones’ body was embalmed, and the autopsy did not reveal any signs of cheating.

Townsend has been three years since he lost his eldest son.

“I was able to get all the money in the world, but like in prison time I was trapped because someone paid me and killed my son. That’s what I wanted. That’s what she said.

Scott County District Attorney Stephen Kilgore said his office was prepared to pursue a new criminal case if new evidence was submitted, but would present the case to a grand jury with the same evidence. There is no such thing.

“If we have a reason to restart it, we will do it without hesitation,” he said. “For now, there is no reason to do so.”


Leah Willingham is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in the local newsroom to report on unreported issues.

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