PARK HILLS, Mo. (AP) — A Black man who died during a party at the Missouri home of a man with a history of bigoted social media posts was killed by violence, not suicide, a jury found after a coroner’s inquest.
Friday’s inquest into the death of 19-year-old Derontae Martin came after his family and racial injustice activists questioned the initial finding that Martin shot himself in the head during a party at a rural house on April 25.
Martin was found in the attic of a home near Fredericktown, about 27 miles (43 kilometers) south of Park Hills, where Martin and his family had lived until shortly before his death. Some of the people at the party initially told police he had shot himself.
The six-person jury that heard testimony from about 20 people Friday had to decide whether Martin’s death was the result of violence, suicide, accident or natural causes.
It is unclear how the case will go forward now and Madison County Prosecutor M. Dwight Robbins declined to comment after the hearing, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Dr. Russell Deidiker, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Martin, testified that Martin died from a gunshot wound fired at close contact to his head.
A second autopsy, which was commissioned by Martin’s family, indicated the gun had been fired from a different range. Deidiker said that autopsy was done after Martin’s body was cleaned and didn’t change his opinion.
Toxicology results also found drugs in Martin’s system, Deidiker testified.
Other witnesses testified that Martin was acting paranoid at the party, that various people might have been involved in his death, or that the homeowner had killed Martin.
The homeowner testified that he had used racial slurs in the past and on social media but said he did not kill Martin.
Because the man is not charged with a crime, The Associated Press is not naming him.
Martin’s mother, Ericka Lotts, danced in the courthouse hall after the decision was announced, shouting praise to God before briefly collapsing in a chair and crying heavily.
Kimberly Lotts, Martin’s grandmother, said she was thankful for the outcome but said more work needs to be done to determine how her grandson died.
“I am happy that somebody else saw,” Lotts said. “Glory to God. I could just shout. But we got a long way to go, so we’ll just keep on praying and keep on trusting in the Lord.”