Death by Hanging – Voluntary or Involuntary?

Mississippi Hangings

At 1:30 a.m. on August 22, 1992, Charles and Esther Quinn of Jackson, Mississippi, were awakened by a frantic phone call from Tanisha Love, the girlfriend of Esther’s 18-year-old son, Andre Jones. She told them the Jackson police had arrested Andre.

The following day, the Quinns received another phone call from the police, informing them that Andre had committed suicide while in jail.

The events that led to Andre’s arrest and death are still disputed. Police say it is an open-and-shut case of a depressed young man, fearful of going to prison, taking his life. Others contend Andre’s arrest was racially motivated, and his death was the result of police anger.

Civil rights leaders say the ordeal is a testament to a larger problem of racism in the Mississippi judicial system. They contend the death of Andre Jones shows that even as the 20th century was nearing its end, the 19th-century Jim Crow era was still operating in the Magnolia State.

Andre Jones’ mother, Esther Jones Quinn, was President of the Jackson branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His stepfather, Charles Quinn, was a Nation of Islam minister.

Many believe the police targeted Andre because of the powerful positions held by his parents.

Around 11:45 p.m. on August 21, Andre and his girlfriend, Tanisha Love, visited the Quinn’s home in Jackson for approximately 45 minutes. From there, Andre planned to drive Tanisha to her home in
Brandon, 14 miles east of Jackson. He had borrowed the truck he was driving from a friend.

At 1:00 a.m., on August 22, near the Brandon city limits, Andre and Tanisha were stopped at a police sobriety checkpoint. Police contend that just short of the checkpoint, Andre tossed something out of the window, which they found to be a.38 caliber handgun. Upon inspection of the truck, police say they found an open beer can. A license plate check revealed the truck license was stolen.

Tanisha’s version of the events differs from the police report. She insists that no gun was tossed out of the window and that no beer can was in the truck. She also says neither she nor Andre knew anything about the truck’s being stolen.

Police asked to see Andre’s license and insurance card, but he did not have them with him. Tanisha said when Andre told them his name, the policemen’s demeanor changed as they ordered Andre out of the truck, handcuffed, and arrested him.

Tanisha believes the white police officers arrested Andre because they knew who his parents were.

Andre’s friends and family are adamant that he was not and had never been a gang member.

At the police station, however, officers claim Andre admitted he was in a gang and showed them gang hand signals, which they said they photographed. Despite repeated requests from family members and the media, police have consistently refused to release the said photographs without explaining.

At approximately 2:00 a.m. on August 22, half-an-hour after Tanisha called the Quinns with the news of Andre’s arrest, Andre called his parents from the Brandon police station. He told them he did not know what he was being charged.

At 4:00 a.m. Andre called his parents again to say that he was being transferred to the Simpson County Jail in Mendenhall, 40 miles southwest of Jackson, still not knowing what the charges against him were.

Esther says she spoke with Andre three more times throughout the day. That afternoon, she finally learned the charges against her son: driving a truck whose vehicle identification number had been altered; carrying a concealed weapon; possession of stolen license plates and tags; and driving with an open container of alcohol in an automobile.

Fellow inmates say the police officers who booked Andre directed racial epithets against him. The officers, all of whom were white, deny making any derogatory statements.

When Esther called the Simpson County Jail shortly before midnight on August 22, she says she was casually informed that Andre had committed suicide in the jail’s shower. Authorities said Andre tied his shoelace to an iron grate above the showerhead and hanged himself.

Charles Quinn visited the scene where his stepson was found. Because he estimated the grate to be about eight feet above the floor, Charles believed Andre would have needed something to stand on and that he would have needed someone to hold him up. He also did not think a shoelace could have supported Andre’s body weight.

Dr. Steven Hayne, the state-appointed pathologist who performed Andre’s autopsy, said investigators demonstrated that Andre could have hanged himself unaided.

Dr. Hayne also contended that the manufacturer tested the shoelaces, and their tensile strength was determined sufficient to support Andre’s body weight.

The Quinns hired independent pathologist Dr. James Bryant of Chicago, to examine Andre’s remains. Dr. Bryant came to a different conclusion from Dr. Hayne, concluding it was “highly probable” that Andre had been strangled.

Dr. Bryant said in most suicide hangings, the ligature mark is along the side of the neck and does not go all the way around. In Andre’s case, the ligature marking went along the side of his neck, all the way to the back where it crisscrossed. For Dr. Bryant, this suggested someone had come from behind and wrapped the ligature around Andre’s neck.

Dr. Hayne disagreed, saying the knot imprint area would be in the hairline, which would act as a
buffer preventing the imprint from being present on the upper back surface of the neck. Dr. Bryant counters by saying that because Andre’s hair was short, the crisscross marking was not in the hairline, and no knot marks were found elsewhere.

The official autopsy report completed by Dr. Hayne listed no evidence of bruising on Andre’s neck or anywhere else on his body. However, Dr. Bryant’s autopsy found that Andre had sustained bruising under one of his eyes and on his shoulders. He says the bruising could have occurred at the time he died or could have been inflicted earlier that day.

Dr. Bryant believes Andre endured some sort of blunt force trauma during the time he was in jail. He concluded Andre was killed by someone who attempted to make his death look like a suicide.

However, Dr., Hayne’s ruling Andre’s death a suicide was supported by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S Attorney’s Office, the F.B.I., the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Mississippi and the state Medical Examiner of Mississippi.

Many people, particularly Civil Rights leaders, believe the death of Andre Jones was an example of incompetence, corruption, and perhaps racism in the Mississippi criminal justice system.

From 1988-93, at least 48 inmates, both black and white, died in Mississippi jails. Each death was by hanging, and all were ruled suicides.

In March of 1993, a coalition of Civil Rights groups conducted hearings in Jackson, Mississippi, regarding the jail deaths. Those testifying included the families of both black and white Mississippi inmates who had died under questionable circumstances.

Following the hearings, upon recommendation of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Justice Department opened a full investigation. Overseen by Attorney General Janet Reno, the Justice Department cited Mississippi’s jail system for what it called “gross deficiencies,” particularly unsanitary conditions and untrained employees. However, the report found no evidence that the hangings, including that of Andre Jones, were anything other than suicides.

In July of 1993, Andre’s parents filed two lawsuits: one against the state of Mississippi, charging wrongful death based on the intentional infliction of emotional distress; and the other against the federal government on the grounds that Andre’s civil rights had been violated. Both lawsuits were dismissed.

The death of Andre Jones and those of many other Mississippi inmates are still debated.

Civil rights leaders, as well as many other people, continue to believe the principles of the Jim Crow era, are still being followed by Mississippi authorities sworn to uphold the current laws. They believe the deaths of the inmates, including Andre Jones, were lynchings.


Further Reading:

• The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi)
New York Times
Unsolved Mysteries

More About Our Wonderful Guest Blogger:

Ian Granstra

Ian Granstra is a writer and a native Iowan now living in  Arkansas.Growing up, he enjoyed watching real-life crime shows and further researching the stories featured. He wrote about many of them on his personal Facebook page, and several people suggested he should start a group featuring his writings. Ian founded the Facebook group “Murders, Missing People and More Mysteries” in August of 2018 he writes about many cold cases. The group also features many current criminal cases in the news.When Ian isn’t writing, he enjoys exercising, traveling and collecting sports cards. He’s also a big animal lover (his Facebook nickname is “beagle lover.”)

This week’s Recommended Reading:

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