Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bondi confirms Dozier ruling is "adverse" to exhumation plans

Dozier School Cemetery
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) has confirmed that yesterday's court ruling denying a petition to dig up the Dozier School Cemetery in Marianna was "adverse"  (Please click here to read the story on the ruling).

In a prepared statement released last night from Tallahassee, Bondi indicated that her office would continue to look for another way forward in the matter:

I remain committed to assisting with the efforts to help resolve unanswered questions regarding deaths at the Dozier School for Boys. In light of today’s adverse ruling, we will be meeting with the interested parties and considering the next course of action to explore other avenues.

The Attorney General did not say when she would be meeting with "interested parties" nor did she indicate who those "interested parties" might be.  Her office did not meet with any "interested parties" in Marianna or Jackson County prior to filing the petition to dig up the graves on behalf of the Medical Examiner, Dr. Michael Hunter.

Nick Cox, a statewide prosecutor with Bondi's office, told representatives of Jackson County at a meeting after the Board of County Commissioners voted to intervene in the matter that unless a court order allowing the exhumations was issued, no exhumations would take place. 

Now, however, he appears to be hedging on that statement. When asked if he planned to honor his original commitment now that the order had been denied, he responded tersely: "Be glad to discuss with the community as we continue forward."

While Bondi's statement indicates that her office will "explore other avenues," her employee's statement clearly indicates a plan to "continue forward" despite the Judge's ruling.

The Attorney General's office has indicated in court filings that it has no evidence of wrongdoing in association with the graves at the known cemetery, which contains the remains of both students and employees who worked at the Florida Industrial School for Boys, now commonly known as Dozier School..

For a list of the students and employees known to be buried at the cemetery and their causes of death, please visit:

To read Judge Wright's entire order, please visit:$file/DozierMay24.pdf.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Judge Denies Petition to Exhume Graves at Dozier School

Dozier School Cemetery
Judge William Wright of the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit as denied a petition from Dr. Michael Hunter, Medical Examiner, for an order to exhume the graves at the Dozier School Cemetery.

The filing was entered late this afternoon. Please click here to read the entire ruling.

According to the order, the petition as prepared and filed on Dr. Hunter's behalf by the Attorney General's office, does not provide evidence that meets the threshold required in a civil matter.

In addition, Wright cautioned the Medical Examiner and Attorney General's office that procedures for the relocation of graves already are in place in Florida, but that they should be very aware of previous court rulings that the "sanctity of the grave is sacred."

At issue is the small cemetery at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. The cemetery itself is marked by a memorial, but the individual graves do not have headstones. While some have claimed that the cemetery contains the graves of individuals murdered by staff members at the school, the Medical Examiner and Attorney General's office both indicated in a recent court filing that they did not consider the exhumation of the graves to be part of a criminal investigation.

To support their request to exhume the graves, the petitioners filed with the court a copy of an interim report on the the cemetery prepared by the University of South Florida. Judge Wright today ruled that the report did not meet the level of evidence needed in a civil matter:

In this case, the Interim Report [i.e. USF] does not meet the threshold for an order allowing exhumation or autopsy in a civil case because it does not indicate what physical evidence is reasonably expected to be found or how it may prove the cause of death or the identity of the remains, and the family members have not been afforded due process because many of those persons have not been identified or contacted.

The judge also pointed out that while the Medical Examiner had requested an order so he would be protected from lawsuits, such an exhumation order would not, in fact, protect him:

...If there is a possibility of tort liability or a violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, an order from the Court granting the Petition will not protect the Medical Examiner from claims by persons with standing who have not been made parties to this action or who have not been afforded the due process rights of notice and opportunity to be heard.

He concluded by cautioning the State to "proceed with caution and pay heed to Currier v. Woodlawn Cemetery" which states:

"The quiet of the grave, the repose of the dead, are not lightly to be disturbed. Good and substantial reasons must be shown before disinterment is to be sanctioned."

The decision by Judge Wright places the responsibility for any further action squarely on the shoulders of the Medical Examiner and State Archaeologist and concludes that state officials had produced no evidence that would indicate the condition of the remains, whether a cause of death could be determined or whether it would even be possible to identify which individual was buried in which grave.

The Board of County Commissioners of Jackson County had intervened in the case to request that families with loved ones buried in the cemetery be notified before the graves were exhumed. The judge apparently agreed, ruling that failing to notify ALL families with loved ones buried at the cemetery before exhuming bodies would violate the due process rights of those families.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Interpretive Kiosk erected at Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail!

New Interpretive Kiosk at Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail

The first of a number of planned interpretive panels have gone up at the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail in Jackson County.

Located at 4057 Jacob Road (Highway 162) north of Marianna, the trail provides a beautiful one-half mile walk to historic and reportedly haunted Bellamy Bridge. Please note  that the entrance to Bellamy Bridge is no longer on Bellamy Bridge Road. Visitors must now enter from the new parking lot on Highway 162 (Jacob Road). It is on the left 1/10 of one mile west of the modern bridge over the Chipola River.

New Kiosk and the entrance to the Trail
The new interpretive kiosk is the first of eleven planned interpretive stations that are being placed as part of the marking of the new Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail, a driving tour of places in Jackson County with a connection to Florida's Spanish history. It features two panels, the first of which tells the story of the Bellamy Bridge area in Spanish Colonial times.

It was somewhere near Bellamy Bridge that Spanish explorer Marcos Delgado crossed the Chipola River in September 1686. Instructed to march northwest from Mission San Luis (present-day Tallahassee) to investigate reports of French intrusion in Spanish territory along the Mississippi River, Delgado crossed the Apalachicola River into Jackson County following a pathway that should be considered the real Old Spanish Trail.

Closer View of the new Kiosk, trail entrance in the background.
His journal mentions passing Mission San Carlos, which will also be a stop on the new Jackson County Spanish Heritage Trail, before passing on to Blue Springs , another stop on the new driving tour, and then turning north and west to the Chipola River in what is now the Bellamy Bridge vicinity. Delgado and his followers crossed the river before passing out of Jackson County near what is now Campbellton. He described seeing buffalo grazing not long after he crossed the river.

The Interpretive Panels in the new Kiosk
The kiosk also tells the story of the Battle of the Upper Chipola, an important battle of the First Seminole War. The fight took place in March 1818 between the U.S. allied Creek Brigade of Brig. Gen. William McIntosh and the Red Stick warriors of the chief Econchattimico ("Red Ground King). Econchattimico and his men were defeated and 20 of his men were killed while more than 150 other men, women and children were captured. According to Gen. McIntosh's report, the battle took place on the west side of the Chipola River about two miles below the forks of the creek where the river is formed. That would place its location as being somewhere in the vicinity of the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail, although the exact site of the battlefield has never been found.

Finally, of course, the new interpretive kiosk tells the story of the famed Ghost of Bellamy Bridge. It is said by many that the restless ghost of Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, a young woman who died during antebellum times, haunts Bellamy Bridge and its vicinity. Her story is deeply embedded in the culture and folklore of Florida and is a special part of Jackson County's history.

A special "ghost walk" to commemorate "The Night Elizabeth Died" will begin at the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail parking area at 7:30 p.m. (Central) on Saturday night, May 11th.  The public is invited and the guided tour and ghost story telling is absolutely free!  Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a flashlight and mosquito repellent if you come!

The new kiosk was funded by the Jackson County Tourist Development Council using money generated by a tax on hotel accommodations. No property tax dollars have been expended on the kiosk or the trail.

To learn more about the Bellamy Bridge Heritage Trail and to obtain directions, please visit You can read more about the Ghost of Bellamy Bridge at