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Veiled accusations fly in hearing over disappearance and death of Jackson man

Following a contentious hearing Tuesday in the disappearance and death of a Jackson man, a Hinds County judge said he intends to keep an injunction in place until the state can complete an autopsy. 

Chancery Court Judge Dewayne Thomas heard arguments Tuesday morning in a lawsuit to determine who will decide what happens to the remains of Belhaven Heights resident Dau Mabil and whether an independent autopsy can happen. 

Mabil, 33, disappeared March 25, and three weeks later, his body was found over 50 miles away in the Pearl River in Lawrence County. 

The day that a preliminary autopsy determined that the body was that of Mabil, his brother, Bul, filed the lawsuit against Mabil’s wife, Karissa Bowley, and state investigators: the Capitol Police and the State Crime Lab. None of the defendants said they were notified of the April 18 hearing when Thomas entered the emergency temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. 

Lisa Ross, Bul Mabil’s attorney, right, answers questions from the media after a court hearing about Dau Mabil’s death investigation at the Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, April 30, 2024.
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Lisa Ross, Bul Mabil’s attorney, right, answers questions from the media after a court hearing about Dau Mabil’s death investigation at the Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Bul Mabil and his attorneys have raised suspicions about what led to Dau Mabil’s death, and they argue that an independent autopsy is the only way to be certain there was no foul play – contrary to what the Lawrence County sheriff has said. U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson has requested the Justice Department investigate.

On Tuesday, that led to pointed questions by Bul Mabil’s attorney Lisa Ross to Bowley, who testified for nearly two hours. 

Ross’ questions included implications about whether Bowley or some of her family members  had something to do with Mabil’s disappearance, including introduction of text message evidence showing that the couple had fought and spent a few days apart in the weeks leading up to him going missing. 

The questioning culminated when Paloma Wu, who is representing Bowley, asked if she killed Mabil or knew who did, and Bowley said no.

Karissa Bowley, left, is consoled after a court hearing concerning the investigation of the death of her husband, Dau Mabil, at the Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, April 30, 2024.
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Karissa Bowley, left, is consoled after a court hearing concerning the investigation of the death of her husband, Dau Mabil, at the Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Ross also asked Bowley other reasons why her husband went missing, including past arguments they had, money, whether Mabil was suicidal and why she didn’t accompany him on March 25. 

Throughout testimony, Wu made multiple objections to Ross’ questioning, asking about how they were relevant, saying they were hearsay and they should be stricken from the record. Judge Thomas allowed most of the questions. 

“This has become a performance for free-wheeling defamation,” Wu said about the attorney’s questioning. “This is not a murder trial against Karissa.” 

To date, there has been no evidence of foul play and nobody has been criminally charged. 

Bowley said she would have agreed to an independent autopsy if Bul Mabil had just asked, and she would have preferred the family to have a conversation rather than having to go to court.  

Multiple times, Ross asked Bowley if she would agree to make the results of the state’s autopsy public and to allow an independent autopsy on Mabil’s body.

“I have no reason not to,” Bowley replied. 

In court filings, Bul Mabil argued he should be considered the next of kin who can make decisions about his brother’s body rather than his brother’s wife. Wu said the state law is clear that a surviving spouse takes precedence as next of kin over siblings and other descendants. 

After the hearing, Ross said her questions highlight how there is no Mississippi case law that defines who counts as a surviving spouse. In other states, she found that courts have ruled that an estranged or separated spouse does not count as next of kin. 

A motion by Capitol Police and the State Crime Lab filed late last week asks the judge to dismiss the temporary restraining order and lawsuit complaint. 

Thomas said he plans to issue an order Thursday to address pending motions and issues raised in the hearing, and he said he will release a separate order addressing Bowley’s request to be added as a plaintiff. 

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