‘Happy That Somebody Else Saw’: Jury Rejects Finding That Black Teen Shot In the Head At House Party Died by Suicide After Family Questioned the Conclusion for Weeks

A jury found after a coroner’s inquest on Friday, July 31, that a 19-year-old Black man who died at a house party in rural Missouri died of foul play and not suicide.

Derontae Martin suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head and was found on April 25 in the attic of a home near Fredericktown that belonged to a man who had made bigoted posts on social media. Other partygoers had claimed Martin died by suicide, but his family has questioned those accounts, as well as the results of an initial autopsy which found Martin died by suicide.

On Friday, a six-person jury heard testimony from 20 people at the Madison County Courthouse and decided Martin’s death was the result of violence, not suicide after about two hours of deliberation.

The jury had to chose between four options, including violence, suicide, accident, or natural causes.

Derontae Martin suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head and was found on April 25 in the attic of a home near Fredericktown that belonged to a man who had made bigoted posts on social media. (Photo: KMOV YouTube screenshot)

“I am happy that somebody else saw,” Kimberley Lotts, Martin’s grandmother, said in the courtroom. “Glory to God. I could just shout. But we got a long way to go, so we’ll just keep on praying and keep on trusting in the Lord.”

Madison County Prosecutor M. Dwight Robbins declined to comment after the hearing and it’s not clear how the case will move forward, the Daily Journal reported.

James Wade, the middle-aged man who owns the home where Martin was found, has not been charged with any crime. Wade, who has defended the Confederate flag on Facebook and mocked people with accents, has denied killing Martin.

On the night of April 24, Martin went to a party for James Wade’s 18-year-old daughter at that family’s home, which is in an area that’s about 95 percent white. Madison County Sheriff’s deputies and EMTs were called to the home at around 3 a.m. on April 25, and Martin was discovered dead in the attic after Wade advised them of Martin’s location.

An initial autopsy finding was Martin had shot himself in the head, but did not say how he’d gotten the gun or who owned the weapon.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol reviewed Madison County’s investigation and concurred with the suicide finding. Partygoers also claimed Martin had died by suicide.

Ericka Lotts, Martin’s mother, said in May that she believed someone had shot her son. She said Martin was right-handed yet his arm was broken and in a cast at the time.

Lotts hired a pathologist to complete a second autopsy, which found in May that the gun was held from two to three feet away from Martin when he was shot, as the wound did not have the tell-tale indicators of being self-inflicted.

“There are no findings on my examination of a contact gunshot wound or a near contact gunshot wound or a near gunshot wound or close or even intermediate,” said Dr. Jane Turner, a former pathologist for the St. Louis Medical Examiner’s Office.

Dr. Russell Deidiker, the pathologist who performed the initial autopsy, had said Martin died due to a gunshot wound fired at close contact to his head. He testified Friday and said the diameter of the soot wound around the gunshot wound on Martin’s left temple indicated the gun was fired at near contact. When asked about the results of he second autopsy, Deidiker said that it was performed after Martin’s body was cleaned so his opinion was not changed. Toxicology results showed Martin had drugs in his system.

Witnesses have said that Martin was acting paranoid at the party, and suggested Wade or other partygoers may have been involved in his death.

One witness, Zachary Graham, said he saw Martin holding a gun to his head and witnessed Martin shoot himself, but another witness, Phillip Lawler, said Wade made comments about disliking Black people and that the man had admitted that he had shot Martin. Other witnesses said Martin told them he had a gun for protection and expressed concern about a particular person showing up at the party.

Martin’s mother says she doesn’t know what to make of all the different accounts she’s heard about what happened that night.

“All I do know is that somebody shot him,” Lotts said.

Back to top