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Press Release

Federal Officials Close the Investigation Into the Death of Otis James Byrd

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The Department of Justice announced today that following its investigation into the death of Otis James Byrd that there is no evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges in the death of Byrd. 

Officials from the Justice Department=s Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney=s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) met today with Byrd’s family to inform them of the decision.  Byrd, a 54-year old African-American man, was discovered hanging from a tree in Port Gibson, Mississippi, on March 19, 2015.

Justice Department investigators, working alongside state and local officials, conducted a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding Byrd’s death to determine whether his death was a homicide, and therefore within the scope of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.    

Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an individual willfully caused bodily injury because of the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity or disability. 

After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that there was no evidence to prove that Byrd’s death was a homicide.  Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed.

The Justice Department is committed to investigations of allegations of hate crimes and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that all allegations of serious civil rights violations are fully and completely investigated. 

Updated August 5, 2015

Press Release Number: 15-692