Kendrick Johnson murder case update: lawsuits taint the search for the truth, answers to 2013 questions
The Kendrick Johnson death remains a mystery, shrouded in confusion with no charges filed while lawsuits are dismissed and new ones filed.
The Lowndes High School student was found dead, upside down in a stored gym mat back on Jan. 11, 2013. Initially the autopsy ruled the 17-year-old’s death was an accident.
As the family protests, seeks more legal counsel, the U.S. Justice Department announced there would be no federal charges against anyone in the case back in June.
In March, a state lawsuit by the Johnson family for $100 million against dozens of defendants, including the Lowndes County sheriff, was dropped.
A judge ordered the Johnsons to pay attorney’s fees for city and county officials named in the lawsuit. The amount is $850,ooo in fees and another $1 million for defamation.
In August, the family filed a federal lawsuit against 42 defendants claiming civil rights violations.
While this sounds like a moment when many would tell the family to move on, let go back and review some facts as we pray for this family:
“Initial autopsy results led officials to proclaim that the teen’s tragic death was an accident, possibly caused by a piece of clothing falling inside the rolled mats and Johnson failing to make it out of the mats after trying to retrieve it. ” – Jan, 2013.
“Analyzing the theory of this young, vibrant athlete getting wrapped up in a mat, on his own, and suffocating is an “apalling” theory says Jackie Johnson.” – end of Jan. 2013 as the school and police dismiss the investigation.
APRIL, three months later, autopsy PENDING, family organizes protests.
The GBI’s preliminary autopsy report shows no sign of injury. But the final report still hasn’t been completed.
“We’re still waiting the final facts and to close it out prematurely and to make a premature decision would just be totally wrong, and we wouldn’t be doing justice to the family, to the community, or to ourselves as a law enforcement agency,” said Lt. Stryde Jones, Lowndes Co. Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s department has submitted more samples from the crime scene to be DNA tested. Which means the autopsy report could be delayed even longer.
“We certainly would like to get it as fast as anybody but we don’t know when the GBI will be able to complete this testing,” said Jones.
THE CORONER RAISES MORE QUESTIONS – APRIL, 2013
Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson has been in contact with the GBI regarding Kendrick’s autopsy, he said. But the Coroner hasn’t enjoyed the same level of cooperation from the sheriff’s office as the GBI, said Watson, who also stated he wasn’t contacted when Kendrick’s body was first discovered.
The Office of the Sheriff and the Office of the Coroner are two separate positions, so critics are asking why is the Lowndes Sheriff’s Department handling evidence to be given to the GBI?
Watson provides further insight about his relationship with the Lowndes County Sheriffs’ Office to the Valdosta Times’ April 11 story.
“You may not want me on your crime scene, but it’s a law. It’s not something you can change your mind about.”
Early photos of Kendrick’s body show lacerations and bruising, but it was the Sheriff, not the coroner who proclaimed the death an accident.
How does a kid get lacerations inside of a gym mat searching for a shoe or piece of clothing?
Days later, Bill Watson then came forward with this to say: “I just think the whole thing was handled wrong…We should have never been told that there was no foul play.”
The coroner’s initial notification was approximately 6 hours after the boy’s body was discovered.
“Well it compromises my investigation one hundred percent,” Watson said. “I don’t know what the county did when they got there on the scene. The body had been moved. The scene, in my opinion, had been compromised.”
“That should let everyone know that something really is wrong with this picture,” Kenneth Johnson, Kendrick’s Father, was quoted as saying. “We want answers and we want justice.”
The answers never came, just more confusion.
“I’m not sure at this point who did not return the organs to the body,” Bill Anderson said at the time. “But I know when we got the body, the organs were not there.”
Anderson is the private pathologist who conducted the second autopsy. He claims he opened the teen’s remains and discovered the brain, heart, lungs, liver and other viscera were missing. Every organ from the pelvis to the skull was gone.
GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang told CNN that after the initial autopsy, “the organs were placed in Johnson’s body, the body was closed, then the body was released to the funeral home.” That’s normal practice, Lang said.
Stuffing a body with old newsprint and department-store circulars — “like he was a garbage can,” as Jacquelyn Johnson put it — isn’t exactly standard practice in forensic pathology or the mortician’s trade. Vernie Fountain, the founder of a Missouri embalming school, called it “not consistent with the standards of care” in the industry. And Dr. Gregory Schmunk, the president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, told CNN, “I have never heard of this practice.”
This was in October, within the same year of the teen’s death.
It’s easy to read and see stories of lawsuits, protests, arrests, accusations, but the FACT REMAINS, these statements from the initial review will continue to keep a veil of mystery over Kendrick Johnson’s death.
While there is more than can be said, more confusion with edit video footage and possible witnesses, we are hopeful in prayer the family eventually finds solace and peace.