Family of Israel Jackson, Roanoke man found dead hanging from tree branch, lobbies attorney general for new investigation

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ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — An attorney for the family of Israel Jackson, a 20-year-old found dead and tied by a sweatshirt to a tree branch in April, is lobbying the attorney general for a “true and thorough investigation into Israel’s death.”

As WFXR previously reported, the FBI in Richmond conducted a review of the Roanoke Police Department’s investigative files and did not find cause to open a federal investigation. Israel’s death was ruled a suicide, but his family is uncertain about that conclusion and wants the attorney general to take a look at the case.

“We’re committed to the truth. We’re committed to justice here, and justice really involves finding out what happened to Israel,” says Kush Shukla, an attorney representing the Jackson family and lobbying Attorney General Mark Herring for a new investigation. “Here you have a young man, a young black man, who was found hanging from a tree, which has strong racial undertones given the history in this country and we’ve had similar recent instances like this across the nation that are now being investigated.”

Melody Jackson, Israel’s mother, says she was shocked to learn about the death of her son and has many questions that have yet to be answered.

“Other than looking at his body and taking him down,” Jackson asked, “what was taken into account to rule this suicide?”

The letter to Attorney General Herring raises several questions. For instance, if Israel’s cause of death was hanging as the Chief Office of the Medical Examiner determined, why was his body touching the ground?

The letter states, “Curiously, a review of the pictures from the scene and body camera
footage shows that Israel was not even found hanging from a tree. Instead, Israel was found lying
upright with his back pressed up against a dirt mound. He was found with a black shirt wrapped
around his neck and tied to a low hanging vine. It is unclear how he could have committed suicide
from such a low hanging vine that could not even support his weight.”

The letter also points out what it refers to as deficiencies in the police investigation. Police reports show that certain items, like a knife that was found at the scene, were not tested until June, after the department received a phone call from a concerned citizen asking that the case be reopened.

By that time, certain items like Israel’s cell phone had already been thrown away. Israel spent several years during his teens living with an adoptive family. According to the police reports, after Israel’s death, the phone was given to Israel’s adoptive parents by the funeral home. But, according to the reports, it smelled of decomposition and wouldn’t turn on so they eventually threw it out.

The police reports also reference a person who may have been one of the last to have seen Israel alive on April 6th. But it’s not clear based on the reports whether police ever spoke with that person.

Roanoke City’s Chief of Police Sam Roman says while the department’s investigation is closed, investigators would take another look at the case if new information becomes available.

“There’s some things, investigatively, as the chief of police I cannot discuss. But what I can tell you, is that we’ve done everything that we possibly could, and when I say we, I mean collectively. The federal agencies, our agency, the medical examiner, to do everything possible to exhaust any thought other than what the conclusion was that we arrived at,” says Roman.

Melody Jackson says she’s ready to accept that Israel committed suicide if that’s where the evidence leads. But she and others in the Jackson family still feel there’s more work to be done in the case before arriving at that conclusion.

“I just am looking to know that they understand and care that his life was… he’s a human being. He had a life and he meant something to us, his family,” says Jackson.

It’s the same appeal the family is now making to Attorney General Herring, asking in the letter addressed to him, “If this were your son, would you have been content with the investigation?”

We reached out to the Attorney General’s Office for comment. A spokesperson for the office says, “We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Mr. Jackson on their loss and understand their desire for answers about his death. We will review the letter closely and determine how best to respond.”

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