It's been nearly nine months since the baffling death of 24-year-old Jelani Brinson, who disappeared and whose body was found a week later in a shallow pond on an Anoka golf course.
The cause of death has stumped authorities -- there were no signs of injury, foul play or a cause such as heart attack -- but the Anoka County sheriff said Wednesday that based on autopsy results, he believes Brinson's body was moved to the pond before a golfer found it on April 25. The county medical examiner concluded that Brinson did not drown, so police believe he was dead before his body entered the pond.
Brinson was last seen on the evening of April 17, a Friday, at an Anoka house in the 600 block of Kennedy Street about 1,500 feet from the pond. Sheriff Bruce Andersohn said that three men were with Brinson at the house and they told police he was there for about five minutes and then abruptly left.
Andersohn and other officers spoke at a news conference Wednesday, where they were joined by relatives of Brinson who asked for the public's help.
"I am just hopeful that someone knows something and comes forward and finds it in their heart to tell what happened," said his mother, Dr. Alyce Hamilton. "If it was an accident, it was an accident," she said. "We just want some closure."
The sheriff said authorities thought the people at the house knew more than they were telling police. "They gave us very little information that helped us," he said.
He described them as persons of interest, but not suspects.
The case is "pretty rare," Andersohn said. "In most death cases, you have a good idea of what took place. In this case, we don't have that."
Sheriff's detective Daniel Douglas noted that Brinson's hat and one of his tennis shoes were found by one of the three people in a yard across the street from the house where they and Brinson had gathered. The house was searched the following Monday, but nothing useful was found, Douglas said. He said he suspects Brinson died that Friday night or the next day, April 18, when his mother reported him missing.
"He was a very normal young man, not involved in any criminal activity" or gangs, Douglas said.
Brinson, who lived in Minneapolis and worked at a Twin Cities cell-phone store, had a daughter, Zion, who is now 18 months old.
Anoka Police Chief Phil Johanson said two rewards have been offered for information leading to a resolution of the case, one for $5,000 from an anonymous donor and one for $500 from the Anoka Anti-Crime Commission.
After Brinson disappeared, dozens of friends and relatives searched the area and found his other tennis shoe near a pipe business yard. Search dogs followed a scent about 1.5 miles along railroad tracks to a spot 100 feet behind the Outpost Bar in Ramsey. But bar surveillance video showed nobody his family recognized.
The mystery is underscored by the autopsy, which listed the cause of death as undetermined. Brinson's body bore no signs of beating or trauma when it was found floating in a pond at Greenhaven Golf Course near Main Street and Hwy. 10, investigators said. The medical examiner's office found no drugs or alcohol.
The autopsy was publicly released in August. At Wednesday's news conference, Douglas said police hadn't earlier disclosed their belief that the body was moved because they wanted to talk to the three men about it. But with no other leads, they decided to release that information while seeking public help. Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's office at 763-427-1212.
Brinson's father, Donnie Brinson, who also was at the news conference, said he cared for his son's daughter the night Jelani disappeared. Donnie Brinson, who is divorced from Alyce Hamilton, said his son was a God-fearing man who tried to win others to Jesus. "To think that the son leaves before you do, that's hard to take," he said.
Zion's mother, Dena Anderson, was among those who searched for Brinson in April. She said she discovered she was pregnant with their second child a day before Brinson's body was found. She named their baby boy, born last month, Jelani Donte Brinson Jr.
The couple, who met in high school, lived apart, but Brinson helped care for Zion, Anderson said. They had talked about marriage, but Brinson wanted to make sure he was ready to be sure they never divorced. "He wanted to make sure he was ready to be a good father and husband," she said.
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658