DOJ investigating suspicious death of Alfred Wright - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

DOJ investigating suspicious death of Alfred Wright

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(CBS NEWS) - On Nov. 7, 2013, 28-year-old Jasper, Texas resident Alfred Wright went missing.

His body was found weeks later by volunteer searchers frustrated that local law enforcement seemed to have given up. But two autopsies later, there are few answers about what happened to Wright - and now the Department of Justice has agreed to look into the case.

Wright, a physical therapist whose brother Savion was a finalist on the television show "American Idol," was last seen at a grocery store in Sabine County, according to Chuck Foreman, a private investigator hired by Wright's family. Foreman says that Wright called his wife and parents to say that his truck had broken down, but when his parents came to pick him up, he was gone.

Local police searched for Wright, a married father-of-two, for only four days, and CBS affiliate KSLA reports that Sheriff Tom Maddox said he didn't suspect foul play. At the time of his disappearance, Wright was under indictment for allegedly embezzling money when he worked at a bank while attending college in Tennessee.

"They kept saying that it was staged, that he was on the run," Foreman told CBS News' Crimesider.

 But Wright wasn't on the run. On Nov. 25, a group of church volunteers found Wright's body. According to Foreman, Wright was found wearing just his boxer shorts, two shoes and one sock. He says Wright's scrubs were found on a barbed wire fence nearby. KSLA reports that Wright was found just 150 yards from where sheriff's deputies originally set up their command post for the search. One of the men who found the body told the station that Wright's eyes were missing and so was part of his ear.

Foreman, who is the president of the Center for Search and Investigation, a Texas-based group that helps search for missing children, says that local police immediately blamed drugs for Wright's death, and a county autopsy reportedly revealed the presence of cocaine and meth in his system.

"They kept saying it was drug-induced behavior," Foreman says. "But nobody ever witnessed him doing drugs, and he has no drug-related criminal history."

Sheriff Maddox did not return Crimesider's call for comment on the case.

The autopsy called Wright's death an accident, but his family didn't buy it. They commissioned a second autopsy by Dr. Lee Ann Grossberg who announced at a news conference that she has "a high index of suspicion that this is a homicide." 

"This has been the worst investigation I've ever seen in my life," said Foreman, an Army Special Operations veteran. "The sheriff's department never searched his truck, they never did a neighborhood canvas."

In fact, Foreman says that it was his own neighborhood canvas that eventually led to the discovery of Wright's body. Foreman says that when he knocked on the door of a man who owned about 100 acres of land near the store where Wright was last seen, the man told him police had never asked to search his property. Volunteers did, and they found Wright.

Desperate for answers, the Wright family reached out to Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) for help. On January 23, Lee wrote to the Department of Justiceasking them to investigate Wright's death. They agreed, and the U.S. Attorney's office in Texas' Eastern District told Crimesider that they are "reviewing the investigation."

One of Rep. Lee's spokespeople told Crimesider that Lee took interest in the case, in part, because of the history of racial violence in Jasper. In 1998, 49-year-old Robert Byrd was killed near the town after three white men tied him to the back of their truck and dragged him for more than three miles until his head came off.

Wright's sister told KSLA that she believes her brother was kidnapped, tortured and dumped. A $30,000 reward for information leading to a conviction has been offered in the case.

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