BELLE GLADE, Fla. (AP) – Martin Luther King III investigated the hanging of a black man on Saturday by talking with family members and other residents of a rural farming community that has become divided over the death.

Authorities ruled that Feraris “Ray” Golden killed himself, but rumors in Belle Glade persist that he was murdered. King said that “many of us do not believe that it was suicide,” but also called for healing in the community.

“We’re not trying to inflict pain on anyone. We’re just seeking the truth because a family has been victimized by a hanging, perhaps a lynching,” King said during a prayer breakfast with local ministers. “We need to determine if that is factual.”

After spending eight hours with Golden’s family, local ministers and residents, King said the rumors in the community warrant more investigation but he declined to cite any new evidence in the case.

King is president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil-rights group co-founded by his father.

King said many people believe that Golden had marks on his head when he died, that his hands were tied behind his back when his body was found May 28 and that he would have been unable to climb a tree on a rainy night in a drunken stupor.

Autopsy photos, however, showed only a single bruise around Golden’s neck, and video from the first police car arriving at the scene showed Golden’s arms dangling at his sides, not tied.

The medical examiner said Golden had a blood-alcohol level more than four times the legal limit for driving and traces of cocaine in his system. Testimony showed Golden to be a troubled, unemployed father of four who was behind in his child-support payments and frequently joked about killing himself. Relatives also acknowledged the bedsheet used as a noose came from Golden’s home.

Golden’s stepfather has said he believed suicide was “possible,” but his mother, Bernice Golden, has remained resolute that her son would not take his own life.

Last month the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the hanging, noting the pervasive rumors. The commission criticized police for automatically treating the Golden’s death as a suicide and for failing to investigate some rumors, such as one that Golden was killed for dating the daughter of a white police officer.

King said many in Belle Glade, about 40 miles west of West Palm Beach, were intimidated by police and did not come forward with information that could have disproved the suicide ruling. About half of the town’s 15,000 residents are black and many are poor.

“Even if there was a suicide, there’s a sickness in the community. Something is wrong in a community to create a climate where a young man would take his life,” King said.

State Rep. James “Hank” Harper said the concerns over Golden’s death point to deeper problems.

“As long as you have the white community saying everything is wonderful and there’s no racism and that they don’t believe there’s a problem, and you have the black community saying there is a problem, you will not find harmony,” said Harper, a Democrat who represents the area.

AP-ES-09-13-03 1944EDT

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