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Mothers Demand Answers After Sons Buried in Hinds County Penal Farm

Three mothers hold up large poster photos of their sons at a press conference
From left: Gretchen Hankins, Mary Moore Glenn and Bettersten Wade held a press conference with attorneys Ben Crump and Dennis Sweet III on Dec. 20, 2023, to demand justice for their sons, who were buried at the Hinds County Penal Farm without their knowledge. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

JACKSON, Miss.—The frustration of Gretchen Hankins, Mary Moore Glenn and Bettersten Wade was palpable inside Stronger Hope Baptist Church in Jackson on Dec. 20, 2023, as the three women stood shoulder to shoulder, holding up pictures of their sons.

All three mothers, alongside attorneys Ben Crump and Dennis Sweet III, demanded answers from local law enforcement and county coroners’ offices about why they did not notify families before burying their sons in the Hinds County Penal Farm.

It’s a saga NBC News first reported in October.

“I feel like Rankin County and Hinds County (officials) are not doing their job at all,” Hankins said. She reported her son Jonathan David Hankins missing last summer to the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department after he didn’t return home following a weekend out with friends.

Gretchen Hankins speaks at a press conference while a man holds a large photo of her son to the right
On Dec. 20, 2023, Gretchen Hankins questioned why it took over a year before she was told what happened to her son, whom she had reported missing in May 2022. An NBC News reporter told her on Dec. 4, 2023, that her son was dead and that Hinds County officials had buried him the previous year at the Hinds County Penal Farm. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Hankins said she checked with the Rankin County Sheriff’s Department periodically to see whether they had any new information about her son. They told her no, she said.

She also posted to social media, asking for anyone who may have information about her son’s whereabouts to contact her.

Over a year later, on Dec. 4, 2023, an NBC News reporter visited her home and informed her that Jackson Police had found her son dead in a hotel on May 23, 2022, and that the Hinds County officials identified his body the previous year.

“It’s very heartbreaking,” Hankins said on Dec. 20. “They’re incompetent, and I will tell them that. I don’t see any sense in that if you know their address, you could’ve went to their house. There’s no sense in just throwing people away like that.”

Jonathan David Hankins is the third man so far that NBC News reported that Hinds County officials approved for burial at the Hinds County Penal Farm before their families could be notified or have the opportunity to claim their bodies.

WBLT reported on Dec. 27 that the Hinds County coroner’s office has buried approximately 330 people at the Hinds County Penal Farm in Raymond, Miss., since 2008. The Mississippi Free Press attempted to confirm the number with the coroner’s office but did not hear back by press time.

Crump said at the press conference on Dec. 20 that two more families are awaiting news on whether Hinds County officials buried their missing loved ones at the penal farm. “It’s more likely than not that their loved ones are there, but we want it verified,” Crump said.

“Once we get that verification, they (may) join this fraternity that no family wants to be a part of,” he added.

‘How Many More Mistakes?’

Emotion overwhelmed Mary Moore Glenn as she talked about what happened to her son, Marrio. Unknown assailants beat Marrio Moore to death on Feb. 2, 2023, and left his body wrapped in a tarp on Gunda Street in Jackson, NBC News reported.

Moore’s sister, Marquita Moore, found out from a WLBT news report that he had been one of 24 homicide victims that JPD had previously not released to the public. Officials buried him at the Hinds County Penal Farm after officials failed to notify his next-of-kin of his death.

“My oldest son. I never would have thought that he would leave before me this kind of way. They just threw him in a hole like he wasn’t nobody, like he wasn’t important. I couldn’t get answers from nobody,” Mary Moore Glenn said at the Dec. 20 press conference.

Mary Moore Glenn cries at a press conference
Mary Moore Glenn was overcome with emotion and had to step away from the microphone at a press conference on Dec. 20, 2023, when speaking about what happened to her son Marrio Moore. Jackson Police found Marrio Moore dead on Feb. 2, 2023, after unknown assailants killed him. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

Glenn also questioned why she was told that she had to pay $250 in fees to get ownership of her son’s body after Hinds County officials prematurely buried him before she was notified.

“We had to buy him back from the state in order to get a death certificate or anything,” she said. “Why? I don’t get it. I don’t get that.”

The Jackson Police Department unveiled a new death-notification policy in November. Jackson Police Chief Joseph Wade said on Nov. 13 that the department did not have a written policy before that date. “You would think we’d have a death-notification policy, but we do not. But we will as of today,” Chief Wade said.

Mississippi law states that county officials, during instances when a deceased person’s body is found, are responsible for identifying that person’s remains and notifying their next-of-kin.

Bettersten Wade reported her son Dexter missing on March 14, 2023. She learned in August that an off-duty JPD officer driving along Interstate 55 had struck and killed him on March 5, 2023, and that Hinds County officials approved him for burial at the Hinds County Penal Farm without informing her of his death.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba said on Oct. 26, 2023, that the City had investigated the circumstances surrounding Dexter Wade’s death and did not find “any police misconduct in this process or that there was any malicious intent.”

He said Dexter Wade’s death was “honestly, an unfortunate and tragic accident.”

Bettersten Wade said on Dec. 20 she still does not understand how law-enforcement officials had trouble finding her to make a death notification about her son, Dexter. A court had convicted former JPD officer Anthony Fox in 2022 of negligent manslaughter for the beating death of her brother, George Robinson.

“I’ve been living at the same address for 20-something years. My brother, 2019, got killed by JPD. But did I get answers? I still haven’t gotten answers. Nobody still (has) come to Bettersten Wade to say, ‘I’m sorry,’” she said.

Three mothers hold up large poster photos of their sons at a press conference
Civil-rights attorney Ben Crump speaks to three mothers—(from left) Gretchen Hankins, Mary Moore Glenn and Bettersten Wade—on Dec. 20, 2023. The women said Hinds County officials approved their sons for burial at the Hinds County Penal Farm before notifying their families of their deaths. Photo by Shaunicy Muhammad

She rejects the notion that her son’s death and burial was simply an error. “A mistake? How many more mistakes do we have to have in Jackson, Mississippi?” Wade asked. “We need justice. We need answers.”

Attorney Ben Crump reiterated his call for the U.S. Department of Justice to open an independent investigation into the circumstances leading to Hinds County officials approving burials for the men at the penal farm without their families’ knowledge. He called on local officials and law enforcement to “do better” for the residents.

“Don’t make it like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube for them to get answers,” Crump said. “Don’t try to cover it up anymore. We need you all to be honest and be transparent now with them.”

The Hinds County Coroner’s Office did not respond before press time.

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