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Cause of death still unknown in Mississippi hanging

The body was found in the small Mississippi town of Port Gibson
FBI investigates missing man's body found hanging from tree 02:32

The FBI and local authorities are continuing to investigate how a black man found hanging from a tree in Mississippi died.

The man, still yet to be officially identified, was found Thursday, hanging from a tree by a bedsheet. The local sheriff is waiting for the state crime lab to perform an autopsy. He is urging people to avoid jumping to conclusions.

"I can speculate, but speculation ain't no good," Marvin Lucas, sheriff of Claiborne County, said.

"Anytime a person is hanged from a tree, either two things happened," Lucas said. "Either someone hanged them or he hung himself and that is yet to be determined."

Lucas has asked the state crime lab to identify the body because it had begun to decompose.

Otis James Byrd. CBS News

But the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP says it is 54-year-old Otis James Byrd. The organization is calling on the federal authorities to determine whether or not his death is the result of a hate crime. The Justice Department's civil rights division is involved in the investigation.

The body was hanging from a tree some 500 yards behind Johnie Baker's home.

"He said they had a guy been missing for a few weeks and they found him down in the woods down there," Baker said.

Byrd was reported missing by his family on March 8 and state investigators got involved on March 13. He's an ex-con, paroled in 2006 after spending nearly 30 years behind bars for murder.

A search and rescue team found the body while combing the woods near Byrd's family house.

"I know that was the last place he was seen - at his home. He didn't have any transportation, no one told me they took him anywhere," Lucas said. "So, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I knew something probably had happened near that home."

Byrd's family is asking for help while they wait for answers.

"Just come up and say something please - for the closure of this family, just come and say something," his nephew said.

Results of the autopsy are expected by early next week.

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