A Missouri jury overturned a coroner’s initial ruling that a Black teen died by suicide, after the teen was found dead in the home of a man known to fly the Confederate flag.
It took a six-person jury only two hours on Friday (July 30) to decide that 19-year-old Derontae Martin died by violence, not suicide after hearing witness testimony and evidence during an inquest of a St. Louis coroner.
Martin was found dead on April 25, fatally shot in the head, during a birthday party of the daughter of James Wade, a white man known to post bigoted comments online and fly a Confederate flag.
Dr. Russell Deidiker, a pathologist who performed the initial autopsy on Martin testified that Martin died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, though Martin’s family and members of the community questioned the ruling and ordered their own autopsy to be performed.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the second autopsy indicated Martin had been shot from a range of two to three feet. Partygoers testified before the jury various versions of the circumstances around Martin’s death, some saying the teen seemed “paranoid” while others claimed multiple people were involved with his death.
Martin’s family and social justice activists launched the inquest against the coroner which determined the teen’s cause of death was the result of violence and not suicide.
“I am happy,” Kimberly Lotts, Martin’s grandmother, told the Post-Dispatch. “I am happy that somebody else saw. 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,” Lotts added.
The newspaper reported it’s unclear how the case will proceed after the jury’s decision.
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