Mon, Dec 11, 2023 2:31 PM
By MICHAEL GOLDBERG, Associated Press/Report for America
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A third man in Mississippi has been discovered buried in a pauper's cemetery without his relatives' knowledge — and despite authorities knowing the identities of the deceased.
It is the latest case in which families learned of their deceased love one's death from news reports instead of from officials in Hinds County, Mississippi, according to civil rights attorney Ben Crump. Jonathan David Hankins, 39, is the third person to have been quietly buried in the paupers’ cemetery near the Hinds County Penal Farm in suburban Jackson, said Crump, who represents the families.
“Jonathan David Hankins’ family has been desperately seeking answers about their loved one’s disappearance for more than a year," Crump said in a news release. “Now, to find out from news reports that his body was found in the same county where Dexter Wade’s body was buried after being struck by a police cruiser raises disturbing questions.”
Hankins was first reported missing in June 2022, but his family did not learn of his death or burial until NBCNews.com reporters told them about it Dec. 4, the news outlet reported. Hankins was found dead in a Jackson hotel room on May 23, 2022. Investigators confirmed his identity, but the Hinds County Coroner’s Office and the Jackson Police Department failed to tell his family, Crump said.
While Hankins was found to have had methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system, the death certificate didn’t include that finding, Crump said.
Reached by phone Monday, a Hinds County Coroner’s Office employee said she would pass along a message to the coroner requesting comment.
Scrutiny of burials near the Hinds County Penal Farm in Raymond, Mississippi, accelerated after the August discovery of Dexter Wade's body. Wade, 37, died on March 5 after an off-duty Jackson Police Department officer struck him with a department SUV while Wade was walking across Interstate 55. His mother said it was late August before she learned her son had been killed and buried.
Wade’s body was exhumed on Nov. 13, and an independent autopsy was conducted. A wallet found in the jeans Wade was buried in contained his state identification card with his home address, credit card and health insurance card, Crump said. He was given a proper funeral — attended by more than 200 people, including U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and Rev. Al Sharpton — on Nov. 20.
On Dec. 1, Crump's office said another man, 40-year-old Marrio Moore, was buried in the same field without his family's knowledge. Moore was beaten to death and found wrapped in a tarp on Feb. 2. His body was kept in the Hinds County morgue until he was buried in a pauper's grave on July 14.
Moore’s family did not learn about his death until eight months after he was killed, Crump said.
NBCNews.com reported that a Hinds County coroner’s report indicated the office tried to call Marrio’s brother, but the phone number “didn’t work.” The media outlet also reported that police told the family a detective’s card was left at Marrio’s mother’s house. None of the family members recalled being contacted.
Crump has called for a federal investigation into the burials.
“Families that report a loved one missing deserve immediate and accurate answers,” he said.
Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.