FBI joins Riley investigation

Published 10:21 pm Tuesday, September 14, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
The FBI has joined the investigation into the death of Woodrow Riley.
The Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith contacted the FBI office in Mobile Wednesday and agent Henry McCaskill from the Monroeville office started an independent investigation Friday.
Riley, a 15-year-old student at ECHS, was found dead at his home on Atmosphere Road August 26, with a bungee type cord around his neck. The central question facing investigators and the community is whether Riley committed suicide or was killed.
"We have a responsibility to make sure this investigation is thorough, and we have a responsibility to reassure the community that we're doing everything that can be done," Smith said.
"We now have three independent agencies investigating this," he said. "I think it will be a thorough investigation."
The Alabama Bureau of Investigation was called by the Sheriff's Department to investigate the incident the same day the original investigation started.
The FBI has received the full case file the Sheriff's Office has, and agents have reinterviewed family members and other witnesses.
Smith said the Sheriff's Office is still the lead agency working the case, but "the ABI and the FBI have the right and the responsibility to step in if they don't feel like we're doing our job."
Smith also addressed two recurring points brought up in the community.
The first, is the issue of two unfamiliar cars that were seen the night Riley died. "We've been able to identify and talk to the drivers of those two cars," Smith said. One was the mother of Riley's girlfriend, picking her up from the house. The other car belonged to a man on his way home from work, Smith said. The Sheriff's Office interviewed both people.
The other point of contention is that of the nail on the house where the cord was allegedly attached. Critics of the investigation so far have claimed the nail could not have supported the weight of an athletic teenager.
Smith claims the nail would not have needed to support the full body weight of an individual. "It only takes 6 lbs. per square inch of pressure to collapse the arteries. In 10 seconds, the victim is unconscious," Smith said.
Though the two issues have some explanation, Smith said the department is still treating the incident as a potential criminal case. "We will wait until all the facts are in before we draw a conclusion," Smith said.
The Sheriff's Office plans to present the results of its investigation, when concluded, to the Escambia County Grand Jury.
Black males have the second highest suicide rate in America for youths between the ages of 15 and 19, according to statistics from the National Institute for Mental Health.
In the state of Alabama, more people die from suicide each year than are killed in homicides. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among Alabamians.
The Escambia chapter of the NAACP has applauded the move to include the FBI. "We will wait until the Sheriff's Office, ABI and FBI have finished their investigation," said Anthony McKenzie, a spokesman for the group. "We're going to monitor the situation."

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