The body of a Mississippi man will remain in state hands as police investigate his death, judge says

JACKSON, ma’am. — The body of a Mississippi man found dead after disappearing under mysterious circumstances will not be released to family members until law enforcement authorities complete their investigation into the case, a state judge said Tuesday.

During a hearing in Jackson, Mississippi, Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas made no official ruling from the bench. Instead, he told attorneys that Dau Mabil’s body would be kept in the state crime lab while investigators try to shed light on what happened to the man. Mabil, who lived in Jackson with his wife Karissa Bowley, went missing in broad daylight on March 25 after going for a walk.

Mabil escaped a bloody civil war in Sudan as a child and built a new life in America. His disappearance sparked outrage among civil rights groups and is said to have sparked discord among local law enforcement agencies. Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, whose district includes Jackson, sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting a Justice Department investigation.

Tuesday’s hearing was intended to settle a legal dispute between Bowley and Dau Mabil’s brother, Bul Mabil, over the standards for a future independent autopsy. But Thomas also allowed attorneys to ask questions about Bowley’s marriage to Dau Mabil.

Bowley took the witness stand and was peppered with questions from Bul Mabil’s attorney, Lisa Ross. In a tense exchange, Ross asked Bowley to read text messages detailing the couple’s arguments over various issues, including Dau Mabil’s drinking and Bowley’s love of “feminist podcasts.”

Bowley’s lawyer, Paloma Wu, said the hearing had become a “forum for freely insulting” Bowley, but Thomas rejected her objections.

Police have never said Bowley is a suspect in Dau Mabil’s disappearance. The legal dispute between her and Bul Mabil began after fishermen spotted a body April 13 in the Pearl River in Lawrence County, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Jackson. Days later, officials confirmed the remains were those of Dau Mabil.

A sheriff said an initial state autopsy revealed no signs of foul play, but Bul Mabil has disputed those findings. Bul Mabil filed an emergency request that an independent medical examiner examine Dau Mabil’s body before releasing the remains to Bowley and her family.

In a subsequent filing, Bowley’s attorney said her client did not oppose additional autopsy by a qualified investigator. But she asked the court to ensure that the second autopsy would only take place after police had completed the investigation to preserve the integrity of the evidence on her late husband’s body.

Thomas said Tuesday that he agreed that police should complete the investigation before Dau Mabil’s body is released and that a second, independent autopsy would likely be allowed.

“I’m not drawing any conclusions about anyone or what happened to this man other than it’s unfortunate. I hope nothing nefarious was done to him,” Thomas said. ‘But I want to know. And I want the state to find out. I think they will.”

Medical examiners generally do not keep a body for the entire police investigation, no matter how long that takes. But authorities would make an exception because of the “extraordinary nature of this case,” said Eric Brown, an attorney for the state medical examiner’s office.

Thomas said he would issue a formal order later this week to address Bul Mabil and Bowley’s specific requests about setting the rules for a future autopsy conducted by an independent medical examiner.


Michael Goldberg is a staff 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.