Growing outcry to bring end to pauper-field burying without notification of  families

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Marrio Moore found battered to death on a Jackson street in February 2023 was identified through personal papers and medical records. But he was buried in a pauper’s grave July 16 without authorities notifying his family. (Photo: Moore family records)

When Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump and his team finally got Dexter Wade’s body moved from the pauper’s field near the Hinds County Jail to a proper church burial on November 20, he thought the toughest part of his job, horrendous as it had been, was over. 

Wade, 37, died after being run over by an off duty Jackson police officer on March 5 of this year. His mother filed a missing person’s report with Jackson police a week after his death. But the connection between her son and the deceased was never made until August, when she learned that Dexter had been laid to rest in the pauper’s field in Raymond. After a nationwide burst of publicity, Crump was brought onboard as attorney. Wade’s body was scheduled to be exhumed at 11:30 a.m. on November 13. But the body was exhumed instead at 8:30 in the morning, well ahead of the time agreed upon, thereby disrupting Wade family plans to witness the exhumation and to hold a proper funeral immediately after. Finally, after making it through that crisis, the Wade family rescheduled the funeral for November 20 at New Horizon Church in Jackson, with the Rev. Al Sharpton presiding. 

Less than a month after the services for Wade, Crump and co-counsel Dennis Sweet were retained by the family of Marrio Moore, a 40-year-old man found battered to death on a Hinds County street on Feb. 2. He was buried in the same pauper’s field and on the same date, July 14, as Dexter Wade, also without his family’s knowledge.

Moore’s family did not learn about his death until eight months after he was killed, even though he carried a family contact number with him. 

The Hinds County coroner’s office said it had tried to call Moore’s brother based on the contact information they found on him. The brother’s phone was not working, the report said. JPD also said that at least one attempt was made to contact Moore’s mother, but there was no response to the card left for her by the assigned officer. Moore’s family members, however, said no one had called, visited, or left messages at their homes. They found out about Marrio’s burial from a story on Jackson homicides aired locally on NBC News, they said.

Moore’s family told Crump and Sweet they had not been notified by JPD until a little before a press conference scheduled for December 1. The Moore family said they had been treated with the same disrespect shown to the family of Dexter Wade.

Before the dust had time to settle, along came a third case that caught Crump’s attention. Jonathan David Hankins was reported missing in June 2022, a month after he was found dead in a Jackson hotel on May 23, 2022. Both the Hinds County coroner’s office and JPD responded to the scene and their investigators were able to identify him. But they failed to tell his family, and the county buried him in a grave marked number 645 in the same pauper’s field with Wade and Moore.

Hankins’ mother learned of his death on Dec. 4 from news reports. She sought the assistance of Crump’s legal team to obtain justice for her family. 

Crump reports that he represents five families with kin buried in the same field. 

He called for a federal investigation of every individual currently interred at the pauper’s cemetery.  

“It is inhumane to leave a family without answers and deprive them of the ability to give their loved one a proper burial,” Crump said. “Jackson authorities instead chose to bury these men in a pauper’s field with only a three-digit number to memorialize them. Shame on the Jackson Police Department for their inaction, their apathy, and their cruelty.” 

On October 9 of this year, WLBT’s investigative news unit “3 On Your Side” found that the Jackson Police Department did not have a policy of fully identifying all victims of homicide cases in place. The news team reported that JPD had failed to disclose publicly the identity of 24 of the homicides that had occurred in 2022 although the cadavers were still in the morgue and had identification papers or marks on them.” 

WLBT printed out the list of the 24 bodies with their respective identities and the location where the death had occurred. It was because of this list that the Moore family learned of Marrio’s death. 

The family held memorial services for Marrio on October 20 without the body. Crump said that he was working with the family to exhume the body and rebury it at a site chosen by the family.

JPD Chief Joseph Wade announced on November 13 that his department was adopting a “death identification policy” that would prevent similar problems in the future. “Every effort shall be made to locate and notify the next-of-kin and/or significant other as soon as possible,” he said.

Sweet said that the notification issue was not the most important one. He faults the police for not completing the investigation of all the cases that they should have. If there had been a full investigation of any homicide or death case presented to them, the problem of notification of next of kin would not exist, he said.

“When you have a death, whether it’s murder or a drug overdose, how do you know what it is if you don’t investigate?” Sweet pointed out. “You’re supposed to investigate the crime scene, contact family, gather evidence. There wouldn’t be any problem of notification if the investigation is carried out as it should’ve been in every case.”

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Growing outcry to bring end to pauper-field burying without notification of  families

By Earnest McBride
December 26, 2023