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Body of Dexter Wade exhumed hours before family was present, raising questions, suspicions

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Bettersten Wade Robinson, mother of Dexter Wade, speaks near the site where her son's body was exhumed from an unmarked common grave on Nov. 13, 2023. She's joined by civil rights attorney Ben Crump 9left) and Pastor R.K. Moore (right).
Michael McEwen / MPB News

More than 250 days after Dexter Wade was reported missing to the Jackson Police Department, his mother and relatives drove to Raymond to give him a proper burial. 

But on a cold, sunless day at an overgrown field in the shadow of the Hinds County Penal Farm, they arrived to the news that the exhumation of his body – ordered through a vote by the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to occur at 11:30 a.m. with family present – had instead occurred at 8 a.m. 

The revelation marked yet another heartbreak for Bettersten Wade Robinson, Dexter’s mother, who spent much of her time after she reported him missing searching for the 37-year-old in abandoned houses, nearby neighborhoods and Facebook groups. 

She’d also asked the Jackson Police Department if there was any update from the missing persons division or whether he might be in a hospital. 

It wasn’t until August 24, nearly six months after Bettersten reported Dexter missing, that Jackson officials contacted her to notify her he’d been killed in an accidental collision with an off-duty Jackson Police officer’s SUV and buried in an unmarked common grave without her knowledge.

“I came to y'all for that help that I needed. Y'all covered it up that you killed Dexter, kept telling me, 'No, no, we don't know where he is.' Then come to find out that in your department somebody did this?,” Wade cried out at the site.  

“Now I asked if I could exhume my child and try to get some peace – now y'all take that from me. I couldn't even see him come out of the ground. Y'all didn't give me the time to see him before he took his last breath, I didn't get to see him come from the ground?

Exhumed nearly 4 hours before a Hinds County Board of Supervisors order scheduled the family to arrive, Dexter Wade's body is transferred from the Coroner's custody to the funeral home van. 
Michael McEwen / MPB News

Officials say Dexter Wade was attempting to cross Interstate 55 by foot in early March and that the collision was an accident. 

When Bettersten hadn’t heard him for more than a week, she reported him missing. 

At the time, Dexter Wade was in the county morgue and identified by a prescription pill bottle found in his pocket. But the Hinds County Coroner says she had trouble contacting his mother by phone, and subsequently passed the responsibility off to the police as is custom. 

Wade says she received neither that phone call nor an in-person visit to notify her of her son’s death. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said it was a matter of “miscommunication” in the police department and that there was no malicious intent. 

“I put in a missing persons report. There's my address, there's my phone number. Same thing on his medical records. How could they not put all that together? How could they not?” she said. “I gave you a second chance to get the number right because I filed a missing report. There again is my number, my name and my address. And they still missed it. What kind of system do we work under?

The attorneys representing Wade, including prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump and local civil rights attorney Dennis Sweet, repeatedly expressed doubt as to whether Jackson Police really struggled to notify the family of Dexter’s death or whether they avoided it. 

“That exacerbates the reason why we have to have the Department of Justice conduct the investigation from beginning to end. Because what happened to Dexter Wade in March and what happened to Dexter Wade here today reeks to the high heavens,Crump said.

Bettersten’s brother, George Robinson, died in 2019 after a violent arrest by three Jackson Police Department officers. A later indictment said the officers pulled him from his car, slamming his head onto the pavement and striking him multiple times in the ribs and chest.

All three received a grand jury indictment for second degree manslaughter in 2020, but two later had their charges dismissed in a directed verdict. 

The third officer, Anthony Fox, was found guilty of culpable negligence and manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison in 2022. 

Led by Bettersten Wade, the family has since filed a pending civil suit against the three officers, the City of Jackson and the ambulance service that responded to the scene. 

Dennis Sweet has been the attorney representing the family on that case since the beginning, and says it’s part of the reason he has trouble believing police couldn’t notify the family when Dexter was killed by a Jackson Police officer in March.  

“It just gets worse for them. We started this in 2019 with her brother, then you have indictments and now you have her son,” he said, citing multiple depositions between the Jackson city attorney conducted with Bettersten Wade through the course of the civil case regarding her brother's death.

“They need to come get straight with this family – hiding and not saying anything. Dexter called – he said, 'Come find me, don't give up, mama come find me.’”

An order issued by the Hinds County Board of Supervisors scheduled the exhumation to take place at 11:30 so the family could attend. But a county official told employees of the Public Works Department to remove the body from the numbered grave at 8 a.m. 

As members of the media and Pastor Ronald K Moore began to arrive ahead of a vigil to be held prior to the exhumation, Dexter Wade’s body was set out in a black body bag on the same open-bed trailer it’d been towed in on. 

It wasn’t until Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart arrived at 11:30 that the body was placed inside of a vehicle and out of sight. 

As the Wade family arrived to the news that their long-awaited reunification with Dexter’s body had already been taken from them, Hinds County officials present at the staging area – Sheriff Tyree Jones, District 2 Supervisor David Archie and the Coroner – all said they weren’t sure what had gone wrong.

An order from the Hinds County Board of Supervisors confirms the place and time of Dexter Wade's exhumation on Nov. 13.
Hinds County Board of Supervisors

Sweet and Crump displayed a printed notice developed during the Nov. 7 meeting of the Board of Supervisors verifying the order to exhume at 11:30. 

“We went through the procedure and we went to the Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors voted on it and we agreed with the Board of Supervisors that it would occur at 11:30,” Sweet. “We called the lawyer for the Board of Supervisors last night and asked, ‘Is everything set?’ He told us yes.” 

“Then we get a call from the minister who was here early. He said he was told Dexter's body had been exhumed and was gone.The permission given was for 11:30 in writing, by letter. So why was it at eight? We're going to find out.” 

Both attorneys described the overall scene at the staging area – of confusion, finger pointing and even suspicion – as a deeply painful blow dealt to a family already dealing with far too much loss and confusion themselves. 

They also questioned whether some form of cover-up was in place. 

“This family is standing up for all the families of Jackson that are suffering. This is not the first time in our history that we had to exhume a body,” said Sweet. “They had to exhume Emmett Till so they could get some justice. They had to exhume Medgar Evers to get some justice. She's joining a long line of people who have to come in and make the sacrifice of taking a loved one from the ground.

It’s possible that Bettersten Wade Robinson will never know why her son was exhumed without her presence in the same way that he was buried without her knowledge. 

The family has already said they’ve scheduled an independent autopsy to inform how they move forward. 

Their request that the Department of Justice begin an investigation into Dexter’s death and eventual unknown burial remains pending. Crump says he’s working the phones “non-stop” to have the agency grant their request into what he says is ultimately a matter of transparency and police accountability. 

As Dexter’s body was transferred from the coroner’s SUV to the funeral home’s van, Bettersten stared blankly into the black bag holding her son’s remains and asked why they couldn’t have at least buried him in a box. 

“Oh, It's just a misunderstanding. It's just bad communication. Is this fine with the system? Is this how the system works? Is this what I'm living under here in Mississippi? And this is what I have to deal with, that I don't even matter?