Why Kendrick Johnson’s death needs to be re-investigated

October 31, 2013

KendrickJohnson

***Scroll down for updates***

Imagine that your son would have turned 18 years old last week, if not for having passed away from mysterious circumstances nine months ago. Imagine buying a cake for him, even though you know he’s never going to be able to enjoy it with you. Imagine that police told you that your son died because he suffocated in a gym mat while trying to retrieve his shoe. Imagine that you have so many questions about how that could have happened, and police keep saying “case closed.” Imagine being so frustrated that no one will answer your questions, or listen to what you have to say.

That’s how Kendrick Johnson’s parents must feel.

If you haven’t heard about the death of Kendrick Johnson, a teenager from Valdosta, Georgia, it’s a controversial case that has been debated for months. There are so many elements of this story that don’t make sense and I truly believe that this case deserves another investigation at the very least.

On January 11, 2013, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found dead in his high school gymnasium, his body inside a rolled-up cheerleading mat. After a nearly fourth-month investigation, police declared his death an accident. Their theory was that Kendrick had climbed on top of one of the gym mats, and got stuck upside down in it while trying to reach for a shoe that had fallen inside. They told the family that the autopsy performed showed no evidence of foul play.

Kendrick’s family isn’t buying it, and they firmly believe that he was murdered. In June, a Lowndes County judge granted them permission to exhume their son’s body for a second autopsy. It was no doubt a difficult and sad day for the Johnson family when they had his body dug up from his grave. And it was no doubt a difficult and sad day when they heard the results from the second autopsy – that Kendrick died from “non-accidental blunt force trauma.” In other words, in this pathologist’s opinion, Kendrick had been murdered.

Getting this case re-opened isn’t as easy as you might think, however. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation still believes that Kendrick died from a tragic accident. They released a statement to CNN, saying, “We have complete confidence in our medical examiners and stand by our autopsy report.”

Today, the family is fighting to have Kendrick’s case re-opened, and as I stated before, I definitely think it’s worth getting another look at. Below are some of the arguments in favor of re-opening the investigation:

  • Kendrick’s family says they were told by police that there were no bruises on his face. However, the EMT report shows otherwise – bruising was noted on the right side of Kendrick’s jaw.
  • The coroner was called to the scene five hours after Kendrick’s body was found. Normal protocol states he should have been called as soon as police determined there was a dead body on the scene. The Lowndes County Coroner, Bill Watson, told CNN, “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.” Later, Watson sent an email to the CNN reporter who had interviewed him, asking him to destroy the interview.
  • In the EMT report, first responders wrote that they considered the scene a “crime scene.” They also noted the bruising on the right side of Kendrick’s jaw.
  • Florida pathologist Dr. William Anderson, who performed the independent autopsy for the Johnson family, said that the right side of Kendrick’s jaw was still in tact, meaning that it had never been inspected at the time of the first autopsy. Dr. Anderson told CNN that Kendrick took at least one blow to the neck and that he definitely considers it a homicide.
  • There were some items of evidentiary value located at the scene that were never taken into evidence by investigators. One of the items was a shoe that was located on the ground not far from the body. Kendrick’s parents say the shoe is not his. You can see what looks like blood drops on the shoe, but police claim that it is NOT blood, and admit they never took it into evidence.
  • A grey hooded sweatshirt was found on the floor by Kendrick’s body that also looked like it may have some blood on it. This sweatshirt was also never tested.
  • Perhaps one of the things I find most astounding is that there were about six drips of blood on a wall about 50 feet away from Kendrick’s body. Police confirm that the drops ARE blood, but say it isn’t Kendrick’s and that they aren’t sure who it belongs to. They don’t believe it has anything to do with the investigation, and say it doesn’t appear to be “fresh blood.” I think the blood is pretty apparent and I find it hard to believe that the gym wouldn’t have cleaned it up sooner, if it wasn’t “fresh.”
  • The mat that Kendrick allegedly got stuck in was about 6 feet tall. According to police, they believe he reached in to try and grab his shoe that was at the bottom. If the mat was 6 feet tall, how could he have thought his arms would reach the bottom?
  • According to the incident report, the center hole in the top of the rolled mat was about 14 inches in diameter, however, Kendrick’s shoulders spanned 19 inches across, making it nearly impossible for him to have fallen in and gotten stuck.
  • Police say they have surveillance video from the gym that shows Kendrick entering the gym at approximately 1:09 PM on January 10 (his body was found the next day), and shows other students walking in several minutes later. They will not release the video to the family or to the public, because they do not want the identities of the other minor students to be made public.

Below are some pics from the scene (Warning: Some of these are pretty graphic and might be disturbing). Click on a photo to enlarge it:

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In another bizarre twist to this case, it has been reported that when Dr. Anderson went to perform the second autopsy, all of Kendrick’s organs were missing and there was newspaper stuffed inside of his body where the organs would normally be. Dr. Anderson was able to determine the blunt force trauma from the bones and tissues, but in order to check for “positional asphyxia,” which was the first autopsy’s finding, the lungs would have needed to be present. They too, were missing from the body.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation told CNN that it returned all of the organs to the body before sending it to the funeral home for burial. However, someone is lying here, because the funeral home director apparently wrote a letter to the Johnson family, stating that he never received the organs.

So what really happened to Kendrick if it wasn’t a tragic accident? Was he murdered by a fellow student? Was it a prank gone wrong? There’s not enough info made public to speculate on either of those scenarios, but both are definitely worth looking into.

One thing is for sure – Kendrick’s family deserves more answers than what they’ve been given.

The Johnson family has submitted Dr. Anderson’s findings to the Lowndes County coroner, the GBI, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Justice Department is currently reviewing the case and has so far determined that they won’t investigate it as a civil rights violation, but they are still considering opening the case as a criminal investigation.

Last week, the attorney who pushed for an investigation into the Trayvon Martin case said he would join the fight into getting Kendrick’s case re-opened.

UPDATE: 10/31/13 1:01 PM

A big update was just announced today in this case.

Michael Moore, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, just announced that federal authorities will investigate the circumstances behind Kendrick’s death. Moore said that “sufficient basis exists” to warrant a formal review of the facts, and that his objective is to find out the truth about what happened to Kendrick.

This is fantastic news for Kendrick’s loved ones. Nothing will ever bring him back, but they deserve to know the truth.

I’ll update as this case progresses. Below is the press conference Moore held earlier today.

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