Family, Activists Want Outside Help Investigating Jasper Man’s Death

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The family of Alfred Wright
Patrick Michels
The family of Alfred Wright, who was found dead near the East Texas town of Hemphill two weeks after his mysterious disappearance, at a press conference Friday with attorney Ryan MacLeod at the Bernsen Law Firm in Beaumont.

On November 25, several days after the Observer‘s story on Alfred Wright’s mysterious disappearance along a remote East Texas highway near Jasper, a search party of Wright’s family and friends discovered his body just yards from the spot where his clothes and belongings had been found.

At that point, his family had already grown upset with the Sabine County Sheriff’s Department, which called off its ground search after a few days, declaring it had exhausted its leads on the scene. Sheriff Tom Maddox told the Observer those concerns were misguided—that his office was still busy with an investigation that went beyond a ground search. He and Jasper Mayor Mike Lout both said they were frustrated by community members who rushed to tie Wright’s disappearance to Jasper’s history of racial violence, or who said investigators gave up the search early because Wright was black.

But in the weeks since Wright’s body was discovered, his family has only grown more frustrated with local officials, and many community members have only grown more suspicious, as time passes with no new answers about Wright’s death.

This morning in Beaumont, dozens of concerned people from around Jasper, Beaumont and Houston joined Wright’s family and lawyers to discuss getting investigators from outside Texas to look into the case—and to hear the results of a second autopsy on Wright’s body.

Officials released the preliminary results of the first autopsy last week, which noted Wright’s body showed “no evidence of severe trauma.” The Bernsen Law Firm in Beaumont, which is representing Wright’s family, hired Houston forensic pathologist Lee Ann Grossman to conduct a second exam.

“From what I can tell,” Grossman said this morning, “I disagree. I would not have put that statement, I see findings that are definitely suspicious for homicidal violence.” Though she said it was a “preliminary opinion” while she waits for photos from the original exam, Grossman said she had “a high index of suspicion that this is a homicide.”

Ryan MacLeod, an attorney at the firm, said Wright’s family was particularly frustrated that investigators have yet to ask for statements from family members or the volunteers who found Wright’s body. He said police have yet to search Wright’s truck. And it’s been two weeks since either the family or his firm have heard from local investigators or Texas Rangers about the case.

“We are blind,” MacLeod said. “We are asking law enforcement for answers to questions, but the door as of today has been slammed shut.”

Maddox has, so far, not returned a call requesting comment. When he spoke to the Observer last month, though, he said his office was being cautious not to share too much of their investigation prematurely. “Thank you very much, hey, we don’t release every single piece of evidence,” he said.

MacLeod mentioned other mysterious details this morning:

A patch of material from Wright’s medical scrubs (he was a physical therapist, and had just left an appointment when he disappeared) found on a barbed-wire fence is a “perfectly cut rectangular piece” that does not appear to be torn. The package store where Wright left his truck has a surveillance camera inside that either malfunctioned or was never recording, while the outdoor camera is missing from its mount.

And then there’s the fact that Wright’s body was found just 100 yards or so from where officials spotted his belongings weeks earlier.

Alfred Wright's family
Patrick Michels
Alfred Wright’s mother Rosalind, father Douglas, sister Kassilia and wife Lauren stand beside Beaumont lawyer Ryan MacLeod Friday.

“For anyone that has been down Coussons Road, I can’t explain it in any other way, but it is a creepy, creepy road. It is a dark road, God bless those who live out there, but I’m not going to. It’s not a place that I would be by myself at night, and it’s not a place that Alfred Wright would be on his own at night either.”

A crowd of friends and supporters packed the law firm’s office to hear the latest, and some called on federal investigators to take on the case.

“My suggestion is that everybody in this room reach out to your congressperson, and tell your congressperson to request a federal investigation into the murder of Alfred Wright,” said Deric Muhammad, a Houston activist whose name will be familiar to some readers from Emily DePrang’s reporting on police brutality in Houston. “If Alfred Wright were white, this investigation would not be going the way that it’s going.”

Cade Bernsen, another attorney at the firm, spoke up right after.

“We know there are some heated feelings about this disappearance and this whole situation,” Bernsen said. “Whether race was involved, we do not know. We’re not saying that. … I don’t care what color he is, he deserves justice.”

Patrick Michels is a reporter for the Texas Observer and a former legislative intern. He has been a staff writer and web editor at the Dallas Observer, and a former editor of the Texas Independent. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a competitive eating enthusiast.

  • mpunfun

    No doubt, some “white supremes” who would rather kill someone who is stranded than help them are involved and this whole thing is “much ado about nothing,” by the local police. Obviously, this man killed himself. Let’s face it, you can’t find a more racist, bigoted, evil place in the world than this area of Texas. I won’t even drive through these towns and I am a white, senior citizen. My heart breaks for his family.

    • DavidD

      I’ve live in these towns but usally live out in the county.
      .This area produced two death row convictions on the first two lttle bundist that did the orginal dragging death.
      The other boy ,a town boy got Life.
      We have a lot of good people living in East Texas too.
      It’s horrible to have a family member treated this way.

  • Dale

    East Texas is full of “White Supremes” and you find them all on Sunday at their local church.

  • Anonymous

    The police are very corrupt in these parts, I dont doubt for a minute that they have knowledge to the incident and the truth might not ever get out. Many people know that the police have covered up incidents in that town that get long forgotten about and never get any media attention. I too have experienced many bad dealings with law enforcement in this area.