Judge grants autopsy rules requested by widow of Mississippi man found dead after vanishing

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Karissa Bowley, widow of Dau Mabil, a 33-year-old Jackson, Miss., resident who went missing on March 25 and whose body was found in April floating in the Pearl River in Lawrence County, is hugged by her father James E. Bowley, following a hearing on whether a judge should dissolve or modify his injunction preventing the release of Mabil's remains until an independent autopsy could be conducted, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. – A Mississippi judge granted a request Thursday by the widow of a deceased man who vanished under mysterious circumstances to set standards for a future independent autopsy of her late husband's body.

Hinds County Chancery Judge Dewayne Thomas formalized through a court order comments he made at a Tuesday hearing that the body of Dau Mabil would be preserved at the Mississippi state crime lab while investigators try to shed light on what happened to the man.

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“I’m relieved to have more of an opportunity to grieve,” Karissa Bowley, Mabil's widow, told The Associated Press. “Now we can get back to what we were already doing, which is trying to find out as much as we can about whatever happened to Dau.”

Mabil, who lived in Jackson with Bowley, went missing in broad daylight on March 25 after going for a walk. Mabil escaped a bloody civil war in Sudan as a child and built a new life in America. His disappearance prompted an outcry from civil rights organizations and is alleged to have sparked discord between local law enforcement agencies.

A legal conflict between Bowley and Bul Mabil, the brother of Dau Mabil, began after fishermen spotted a body on April 13 floating in the Pearl River in Lawrence County, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Jackson. Days later, officials confirmed the remains were those of Dau Mabil.

A sheriff said an initial state autopsy did not uncover signs of foul play, but Bul Mabil has disputed those findings. Bul Mabil filed an emergency request that an independent medical examiner examine Dau Mabil’s body before releasing the remains to Bowley and her family.

Bowley’s attorney said her client did not oppose an additional autopsy by a qualified examiner. But she asked the court to ensure the second autopsy takes place only after law enforcement finishes investigating to preserve the integrity of the evidence on her late husband’s body.

In his Thursday order, Thomas wrote that there was “no case or controversy” between Bul Mubil and his sister-in-law because Bowley consented to an independent autopsy and agreed to make the results public.

He also ruled that Bul Mabil lacked the standing to pursue further legal action against Bowley related to the release of Dau Mabil’s body. Bowley is Dau Mabil’s surviving spouse, giving her primary legal authority over her late husband’s body, Thomas found.

Bul Mabil's attorney, Lisa Ross, said Thomas' guarantee that an independent autopsy would be performed before the release of Dau Mabil's body was a “first step toward justice.” But they were disappointed that Thomas removed Bul Mabil as a plaintiff in the legal dispute over his brother's body.

Dau Mabil’s mother, who lives in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, will attempt to travel to the U.S. for her son’s funeral when his body is released. But that can't happen until after the investigation and independent autopsy.

In separate interviews, Bowley and Bul Mabil said officers with the Capitol Police had not told them whether the first state autopsy had been completed.

In April, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, whose district includes Jackson, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting a Justice Department investigation into Dau Mabil’s disappearance.


Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him at @mikergoldberg.

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