Valdosta Daily Times

November 24, 2013

Rumors addressed in KJ case

Online posts bring denials from Johnson’s mother

Adam Floyd
The Associated Press

VALDOSTA — Editor’s Note

This is the final of four stories reviewing the investigative case file of Kendrick Johnson, the Lowndes High School student whose lifeless body was found Jan. 11 in a rolled wrestling mat in the school’s old gymnasium. Today’s report addresses rumors that stemmed from an online article about possible suspects in Johnson’s death, provides details on a second autopsy conducted at the Johnson family’s request, and tells what’s next in the disputed death case.

An online magazine report five days ago that two white brothers were interviewed as possible suspects in the death of black teenager Kendrick Johnson has been labeled a “bunch of lies” by Johnson’s mother.

The report was posted Nov. 18 on Ebony.com, the website of Ebony magazine, one of the oldest African-American publications in the country.

The report said the brothers were interviewed by authorities because they had altercations with Johnson and had tweeted about him after his body was found Jan. 11 in a rolled up wrestling mat in the Lowndes County High School’s old gymnasium.

But Jaquelyn Johnson, Kendrick’s mother, disavowed the report on her Twitter account two days after it appeared, saying the author of the Ebony article and a private detective quoted in it were exploiting her son’s death for financial gain.

The author, Fred Rosen, was described by Ebony as a veteran investigative reporter and true crime author. Ebony said the private detective, Beau Webster, was employed by the Johnson family.

Mrs. Johnson said neither of them are part of the family’s effort to get to the truth of her son’s death, and that the names of the brothers in the article were bogus.

The Ebony.com story identified the brothers as Chris and Clark Martin, sons of an FBI agent, and said they were students at Lowndes County High School. But school officials said no students by those names were enrolled last year or this year.

Previous Ebony.com stories on Johnson’s death have used pseudonyms for actual student names but there was no indication that was the case this time.

Yet the brothers’ real names have been published on other media sites in connection with students sought out for interviews by investigators. Sheriff’s Lt. Stryde Jones said it was determined one of the brothers was out of town for an athletic event the day Johnson went missing and the other brother was in class at the other end of the school campus at the time Johnson was last seen.

The Ebony.com article referenced a portion of the official investigative case file that mentions an altercation between Johnson and another football player on the team bus. But it doesn’t note that the altercation occurred a year before Johnson died.

The strange circumstances surrounding the disputed death of Kendrick Johnson more than 10 months ago has generated widespread media interest, unconfirmed reports and rumors galore.

His body was found head first in a rolled, upright wrestling mat in a corner of the gym about 21 hours after he was observed entering the gym on a surveillance camera at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 10.

Investigators for the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and a state autopsy concluded he died of positional asphyxia from being upside down for an extended period after he got trapped in the mat while reaching for a sneaker. This despite the determination the hole in the rolled mat was 14 inches and his shoulder spread was 19 inches.

Johnson’s parents are certain their son was murdered, causing the U.S. Attorney in Macon to reopen the investigation into the case, including a review of the findings of the sheriff’s office and the state coroner’s office.



Second Autopsy

Among other items, federal investigators will compare the official state autopsy with a second one performed five months after Johnson’s death by a private pathologist hired by the youth’s family.

Johnson’s body was exhumed June 14 and Dr. William R. Anderson, a forensic pathologist with Forensic Dimensions in Heathrow, Fla., conducted his autopsy the next day. His findings contradicted the state autopsy conducted four days after Johnson’s death.

Anderson’s report, dated Sept. 15, stated the body showed evidence of blunt force trauma to the right side of the neck, “findings not consistent with positional asphyxia.”  Anderson said Johnson appeared to be a victim of homicide and not an accidental death.

Anderson’s analysis of Johnson’s organs was conducted using microscopic slides of tissue sample created during the state autopsy.

In contradiction, a  CNN report has claimed that, during the second autopsy, it was discovered Kendrick’s organs were not present and that his body had been stuffed with newspapers.

The Harrington Funeral Home disputed the CNN report, and Harrington’s attorney, Roy Copeland, released a letter to The Times stating the funeral home had no involvement in “the disposition of this young man’s internal organs.”

Sherry Lang  of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the original autopsy, said Kendrick’s organs were put in plastic bags and placed inside the body cavity following the autopsy by GBI pathologist Dr. Gaffney-Kraft.

Anderson’s report stated the organs removed at the initial autopsy were not present with the body, but he did not indicate he opened the body cavity for inspection nor did he provide details of how the body was embalmed.

Repeated requests to the family’s lawyers to allow The Times access to the photos reportedly showing “sales flyers and newspapers” in Kendrick’s body cavity, as reported by CNN, have gone unanswered. The lawyers  have also not replied to the paper’s request to conduct an interview with pathologist Anderson.



What’s next?

Kenneth Johnson, Kendrick’s father, has said he will not rest the family’s inquiry until he’s convinced the truth of what happened to his son comes out.

The Johnson family is asking to see the original computer hard drives from the school’s surveillance system and not the copies provided by authorities.

The family is also asking for a coroner’s inquest into the handling of the case.

So far no lawsuits have been filed against the school system, the sheriff’s office or other local authorities. But that remains a possibility given the parents adamant belief that foul play led to their son’s death.

For now, though, the focus is on U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore and his federal investigation. He’s said his objective is to solve the mystery surrounding Johnson’s death by doing “everything in my power to answer the questions that exist in this case, or as many as we can.”

Moore’s set no timetable for his inquiry. He’s also said there will be no public comments on his work until the investigation is completed.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine has said he welcomes the federal review and stands by his office’s investigation and the state autopsy findings that Johnson’s death was a freak accident.