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A Mississippi mother wants the Justice Department to investigate her son's death

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A Mississippi mother wants the U.S. Justice Department to investigate her son's death after an off-duty police officer's vehicle struck him. Get this - it took nearly six months before the woman learned that her son was dead and buried in a common grave. Here's Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Michael McEwen.

MICHAEL MCEWEN, BYLINE: More than 250 days after Bettersten Wade Robinson reported her son Dexter missing to the Jackson Police Department, she and other relatives wanted to give him a proper burial.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Justice for Dexter Wade.

MCEWEN: Yesterday, they came to an overgrown field in the shadow of the Hinds County Penal Farm to watch the exhumation of his body, which had been scheduled for 11:30. But when they arrived, a group of inmates had already set his body on an open bed trailer. Bettersten Wade said not being there when her son was removed from the grave broke her heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BETTERSTEN WADE: I asked can I exhume my child and try to get some peace? Now y'all take that from me. I couldn't even see him come out the ground.

MCEWEN: Officials say Dexter Wade was attempting to cross Interstate 55 by foot in early March and that the collision was an accident. When Bettersten hadn't heard from him for more than a week, she reported him missing. At the time, Dexter Wade was in the county morgue and identified by a prescription pill bottle found in his pocket, but city officials didn't notify his mother of his death until late August after he'd been buried at this pauper's cemetery. Bettersten says city officials told her it was a gap in communication.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WADE: Is that fine with the system? Is this how the system works? Is this what I'm living in? And I'm living in Mississippi, and this is what I got to deal with? That I don't even matter?

MCEWEN: Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing the family. He said the exhumation should have happened with everyone present.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENJAMIN CRUMP: That exacerbates the reason why we have to have the Department of Justice conduct the investigation from beginning to end. Because what happened to Dexter Wade in March and what happened to Dexter Wade here today reeks to the high heavens.

MCEWEN: County officials have not yet said why Wade's body was exhumed before the scheduled time nor who gave the order. The family has scheduled an independent autopsy.

For NPR News, I'm Michael McEwen in Jackson, Miss.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATCHING FLIES' "OPALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael McEwen