Markus Lanieux Jr., a 22-year-old man from Kenner who was found dead in early September while in state custody at the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center in Cottonport, died by hanging, according to a preliminary report provided by the Avoyelles Parish Coroner. Prison staff found Lanieux hanging from a bedsheet, cut him down and attempted to resuscitate him but their efforts were unsuccessful.

After a father’s life sentence for fleeing a traffic stop, his son dies in prison

Markus Lanieux Jr. died Sept. 7 while in state custody at the Raymond Laborde Correctional Center in Cottonport.

The report, which was conducted by Parish Forensics, a private company in Broussard, appears to confirm what prison officials have maintained all along, that Lanieux died of an “apparent suicide.” A full autopsy report will not be ready for several months, said Jessica Bryant, chief assistant coroner for Avoyelles Parish.

Lanieux, who was sentenced to 25 years in June after pleading guilty to armed robbery, computer fraud and possessing a weapon as a convicted felon, had been at the prison for less than three weeks prior to his death, his family said. His father, Markus Lanieux, Sr., is serving a life sentence at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel and was the subject of a joint report on Sept. 8 by Verite News and ProPublica. Lanieux Jr. died the day before that story was published. 

Family members have expressed doubts that Lanieux died by suicide. But preliminary results of an independent autopsy the family commissioned appear to align with Parish Forensics’ findings. . 

That autopsy was conducted by Dr. Roger Mitchell, chair of pathology at Howard University College of Medicine and consultant with the Know Your Rights Camp, a nonprofit founded by Colin Kaepernick that provides free autopsies to people whose family members have died while in law enforcement custody

Mitchell did not respond to requests for comment, but the Lanieux family shared the results of the report, which noted abrasions on Lanieux’s neck that are consistent with a hanging. Mitchell told the family that he could not finalize his report until he received the coroner’s full autopsy report, a toxicology report and photos and surveillance footage from the scene of Lanieux’s death. 

His autopsy was also limited as Lanieux’s body had already been embalmed by the time he received it, which prevented Mitchell from drawing liquids to determine if there were drugs present in his system. In addition, a neckbone that would provide evidence as to whether Lanieux hanged himself had been removed during the official autopsy. (It is oftentimes common for medical examiners to maintain possession of this bone in cases involving hangings, Mitchell told the family.)

Lanieux’s mother, Sheletha LeBranch, said neither the coroner’s report nor Mitchell’s findings have provided the answers the family is looking for. They still have questions as to how Lanieux was able to die by suicide while he was being housed in disciplinary segregation, a secure unit separate from the prison’s general population that is supposed to be a heavily monitored section of the facility.

The family’s doubts surrounding the prison’s investigation were further exacerbated the week after Lanieux’s death, when his brother, Patrick LeBranch Jr., went to view his body at the Richardson Funeral Home of Jefferson in River Ridge. That was when the funeral director handed him a large plastic bag with the word, “EVIDENCE,” on the front. It was inside Lanieux’s body bag when he was delivered to the funeral home and contained the blanket he allegedly used to hang himself.

The Louisiana Department of Corrections acknowledged that the evidence should not have been sent to the funeral home with Lanieux’s body, but indicated the blame lies with the Avoyelles Parish Coroner, Parish Forensics; or Aymond Mortuary in Ville Platte, which was responsible for the transportation of Lanieux’s body. Neither Parish Forensics nor Aymond Mortuary responded to multiple emails and messages left by phone with their employees.

LeBranch said the remaining questions surrounding her son’s death have made it impossible for her to make peace with the loss. 

“I’ve had panic attacks. I’m constantly thinking about him,” LeBranch said of her son. “I can’t work because I fall into a mood and have to leave. I’m not eating. It’s this unknown that is really bothering me.”

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Before coming to Verite, Richard A. Webster spent the past two and a half years as a member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. He investigated allegations of abuse against the Jefferson Parish...