In The Blogosphere
One year ago today, on August 13, 2004, Winston "DeRoyal" Carter was found hanging from a tree on County Road 65 in Tuskegee, AL. DeRoyal was 29 years old. DeRoyal was an African American man.
The story wasn't going to get outside of Tuskegee, except a brave individual got the matter to the attention of Scott B. Smith, Jr., who conducted his own investigation. By chance, I ended up in touch with Scott B. and blogged his account of what happened to DeRoyal.
Carter's body was found at 6:15 a.m. last Friday, August 13. Before the police arrived on the scene, the news got out to the community and a substantial crowd gathered and saw Carter's body, still hanging from the tree. Observers noticed that Carter's shoelaces had been tied together and used to hold his pants up instead of his belt, which was used to hang him from the tree. Community members also saw that there was no available surface for Carter to step off of in order to hang himself. Rather, he would have had to have climbed up the tree with no laces in his shoes and straddle the branch, in order to attach himself to it by his belt, and then lower himself down with his own arms from that position. As a method of suicide this seems highly improbable if not physically impossible.
Before there had been an autopsy or any substantive investigation, the Tuskegee Chief of Police, Lester Patrick, was "leaning toward suicide." I was determined to make sure the story would spread, so I enlisted a number of higher traffic bloggers to join me in posting on DeRoyal's mysterious death. For about a week, the story flew around the blogosphere. About ten days after my initial post, on August 31, DeRoyal Carter's aunt found my blog and left a comment:
My name is Kathy Fetterman and I live in Northern Virginia. Winston Carter, "DeRoyal" as we lovingly called him, was my nephew - more like my little brother since he was raised by my parents (his paternal grandparents). I have major concerns about the nature of DeRoyal's death. People want to say he committed suicide, but I have trouble believing that. The officers in Tuskegee are so quick to rule it a suicide because it's easy. They never allowed us, his family, to see the crime scene pictures as they promised and these pictures were taken with a digital camera supposedly. I don't know how thoroughly they investigated the crime scene or anything. There are so many unanswered questions. I just don't believe my nephew would have done that to himself.
A lot of other deaths have been covered right away - why has it taken so long for this to make the news, especially when there were so many people at the scene? I don't understand that either.
On September 7, Scott B. returned to Tuskegee and spoke with other members of DeRoyal's family, who confirmed Kathy Fetterman's statement. Furthermore, they
raised some concerns about the police investigation of his death. Mr. Carter's family reports that the crime scene was never sealed off. The scene, where Mr.Carter was found hanging from a tree by County Road 65 in Tuskegee, was contaminated by passers through, making it impossible for anyone to cull proper evidence from the area. It has been distressing to Winston Carter's family that the Tuskegee Police does not seem interested in a true investigation.
Over time I learned about further problems with the police investigation and some more things about the circumstances surrounding DeRoyal's death. I'm not at liberty to write about these things at present. What I can say, however, is that last fall I obtained a copy of the coroner's report on DeRoyal Carter. The coroner's report is publicly available, under Alabama's Public Records Act . I think it is time I mentioned some troubling details in the report:
- I received an initial letter, dated Oct. 27, 2004, acknowledging receipt of my request for the report. In the letter it stated, "As of this date, the report(s) has not been completed. Upon completion, a certified copy of the report will be forwarded to you." In the third week of November I received the report with a cover letter from the Legal Custodian of Records , dated Nov. 15, certifying that the attached report is "true and complete." The report itself has a cover letter, from the State Medical Examiner, dated Sept. 21, 2004. It was strange that the letter dated Oct. 27 said the report was not complete, though the report itself was dated Sept. 21.
- On page 4 of the report, on the line for Toxicology, it reads: "Specimen collected, but not submitted." I would wonder about this in any case, but I was particularly struck by it because Scott B. had said he heard that, at first, the police were insinuating that DeRoyal's death was drug related. Even if the police backed away from this assertion, why wouldn't they want a toxicology report if they had suspicion of this?
- Also on page 4, on the line for Clothing, it reads: "One of the sneaker laces has been removed and is used as a belt on the pants." Scott B. had told me about the laces having been taken out of DeRoyal's shoes for use as a belt, and how this made his climbing up the tree even less probable. What I find odd now is that they say it was only one of his shoe laces. I don't know what kind of shoes DeRoyal wore, but that would have to be a pretty long shoe lace to go around his waist. I read that he was not a large man (5' 9", 140 lbs), but I still had to wonder about this.
I wish, for the sake of DeRoyal Carter's family, I had something conclusive to say.
May his soul find rest.