Web Stories Friday, July 19

JACKSON, Miss. — More than eight months after 37-year-old Dexter Wade was killed and later buried in a pauper’s field, his mother gave her only son the formal funeral that he’d been denied.  

Civil rights leaders flew in from around the country for the service Monday. Several elected officials, including a member of Congress, found seats in the church audience alongside grieving family members. A gospel choir sang of hoping for better days to come, flanked onstage by 15 ornate flower bouquets, including one shaped in the initials of the man whose violent death and discreet burial had sparked a national outcry: “DW.”

At the front of the room, standing before a ruby red casket, Bettersten Wade, Dexter Wade’s mother, wiped tears from her cheeks and prepared to say goodbye.

From the church stage, with Dexter Wade’s two teenage daughters standing next to her, Bettersten Wade spoke of the months she’d spent searching and praying for her son to return, unaware that he’d been run over by an off-duty police officer and buried at the county penal farm.

“When this battle started,” Bettersten Wade said, “I started by myself.”

Now, with a live video feed streaming the service to a national audience, she addressed her son directly.

“Dexter,” she said, choking up, “you made it home.”

Ashleigh Coleman for NBC News

Her quest to find her son began soon after he left home on March 5 and didn’t return. For months afterward, missing persons investigators with the Jackson Police Department told her that they didn’t have any leads. Then, in late August, officers revealed that he’d been struck by a Jackson police cruiser while he was crossing a six-lane highway less than an hour after he’d left home.

The Hinds County coroner’s office told her his body had been buried in a pauper’s field in July after authorities had failed to reach his next of kin — even though, according to the family’s lawyers, an independent autopsy conducted on the family’s behalf this month found that Dexter Wade was buried with a state ID listing his home address.

The case sparked public outrage when NBC News reported about it last month. Civil rights lawyers Ben Crump and Dennis Sweet took on the case, helping arrange for Dexter Wade’s exhumation, the independent autopsy and, finally, a funeral. Last week, county workers exhumed his body hours before an agreed-upon time, adding another indignity to Bettersten Wade’s ordeal. 

Both Crump and Sweet were in the audience at the New Horizon Church International as the Rev. Al Sharpton, who hosts MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” delivered Dexter Wade’s eulogy Monday. Sharpton spoke of Wade’s daughters, who would finish growing up without a father, and of fighting to hold the city of Jackson and Hinds County accountable. In all his years advocating on behalf of the families of those killed by police, Sharpton said, he’d “never heard one like this.” 

“His life mattered to his mama, to his daughters,” Sharpton said. “And we’re going to make it matter all over this country.”

Crump said giving Wade “a respectable funeral” was just the beginning of the fight for accountability. He has called on the Justice Department to investigate.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, attended the funeral and said Dexter Wade’s family deserves to know more about what happened to him. 

“Who was investigating? Were any policies violated?” Thompson said. “To my knowledge, none of this information has been made available.”

In a statement last week responding to the allegation that Dexter Wade was buried with an ID listing his home address, a spokesperson for the city of Jackson said Hinds County was responsible for examining, burying and exhuming his body, which remained in county custody from the moment a coroner’s investigator arrived at the scene of the collision. The coroner’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens and Jackson City Council member Kenneth Stokes were also in attendance, part of an outpouring of support from local leaders. Owens has said his office is working with city and county authorities on a “full review” of the case. Stokes issued an apology Sunday on behalf of the City Council and apologized again during the funeral.

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