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

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The body of a Mississippi man who was found dead after vanishing under mysterious circumstances will not be released to family members until law enforcement agencies finish investigating the case, a state judge said Tuesday.

At a hearing in Jackson, Mississippi, Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas did not make an official ruling from the bench. He instead told attorneys the body of Dau Mabil would be preserved at 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 prompted an outcry from civil rights organizations and is alleged to have sparked discord between 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 had been set to settle a legal dispute between Bowley and Dau Mabil’s brother, Bul Mabil, regarding 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 by Bul Mabil’s attorney, Lisa Ross. In a tense exchange, Ross asked Bowley to read text messages detailing arguments between the couple over several issues, including Dau Mabil’s alcohol consumption and Bowley’s penchant for “feminist podcasts.”

Bowley’s attorney, Paloma Wu, said the hearing had become a “forum for freewheeling defamation” of Bowley, but Thomas overruled her objections.

Police have never said Bowley is a suspect in Dau Mabil’s disappearance. The legal conflict 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 did not uncover 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 examiner. But she asked the court to ensure the second autopsy takes place only after law enforcement finishes investigating to preserve the integrity of the evidence on her late husband’s body.

On Tuesday, Thomas said he agreed that police should finish their investigation before releasing Dau Mabil’s body and that a second, independent autopsy would likely be permitted.

“I do not draw conclusions about anybody or what’s happened to this man other than that it’s unfortunate. I hope … there was nothing nefarious done to him,” Thomas said. “But I want to find out. And I want the state to find out. I think they’re going to do that.”

Medical examiners do not typically store a body for the entirety of a police investigation, however long it takes. But, authorities would make an exception due to 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 in the week to deal with the specific requests made by Bul Mabil and Bowley over setting the rules for a future autopsy conducted by an independent medical examiner.


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.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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