Family Raises Questions About Death of Imprisoned US Man in Philippines
Family members of 42-year-old filmmaker and humanitarian Jesse Phinney are raising questions about his death last month while he was in custody in the Philippines.
Phinney, originally from Boston, allegedly hanged himself with his belt in his prison cell after he was arrested on suspicion of child trafficking, according to law enforcement in the Philippines.
Phinney's family doesn't believe that explanation, and they claim they aren't getting the help they need from the U.S. government to get to the bottom of his death.
Molly Phinney Baskette, Phinney's sister, told Leland Vittert on "America's News HQ" that they want to know what really happened to Phinney when he was brought to the detention center for questioning.
"We know - because we know our brother and other facts that have come out after the event - that he would never have taken his own life," she said. "So we believe that he was murdered, and we want to know who was responsible and how it happened."
Baskette said they have the final report from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippines' equivalent of the FBI, and there was no evidence that Phinney was engaged in human trafficking or child abuse.
She said that Phinney had been living in the Philippines for about a year and had been working on building sustainable housing for poor communities.
"He'd befriended this community of kids and parents where he lived, and was helping them out financially, taking them to school sometimes. And I think the optics on that were really bad," Baskette said.
She noted that human trafficking is a problem in the Philippines, and Phinney's family and friends believe that somebody assumed he was guilty and killed him.
She revealed that she was contacted by some of the children that Phinney was helping, and they have given emotional written and video testimony to help clear his name.
Baskette said they are having an independent autopsy done in the U.S., and the initial finding of the forensic pathologist was that Phinney's death is not "100-percent consistent with suicide."
She said they want to raise awareness to encourage the State Department to put pressure on the NBI to launch an internal investigation into Phinney's death.
"That's what we're hoping for, and we're so grateful to be able to tell his story for you here today."