Valdosta Daily Times

Big Story AM

November 23, 2013

Where was Kendrick?

Mystery surrounds KJ’s whereabouts in hours before his death


VALDOSTA — Investigators asked the victim why he did not call authorities, and he stated that “he thought (the police) would think it was him who had killed Kendrick.” Investigators asked why he thought anyone would think he would have something to do with Kendrick’s death, and he responded by saying, “Man, how do they know all this and y’all don’t, y’all are supposed to be on top of your game.”

He told investigators that he did not know why people thought he had something to do with Johnson’s death and that he had “no problems” with him. The victim initially said he did not have a Facebook page but later admitted he did have one.

Chief Childress said Valdosta police interviewed a member of Kendrick Johnson’s family in reference to the assault and ruled the victim out as a suspect. Charges were never filed in the assault incident.

Significantly, the police investigation file contained information on the EMS report by the South Georgia Medical Center’s Mobile Healthcare Service following the 911 report of a dead body found Jan. 11 at Lowndes High.

The report names Kendrick L. Johnson as the patient and does not make note of any visible injuries or hemorrhaging. As for the cause of death, it was the “crew’s impression” that it was “cardiac arrest.”

The report notes that “bruising” can be seen on the right jaw, but it also documents “lividity and mottling” to the face and arms. Lividity occurs when the heart stops pumping and blood pools within vessels. When the blood escapes the vessels, bruising often results, according to medical experts.

The case file also contained an unsigned and undated report from Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson that was faxed to the sheriff’s office Jan. 15. A second signed and dated report exists, but it was not in the case file.

The first report includes limited information, but Watson does make a note that he was not notified by investigators until 3:45 p.m. on Jan. 11,  more than six hours after Johnson’s body was found.

Sheriff Chris Prine acknowledged Watson should have been notified earlier but that the delay was not unusual even though state law requires the coroner to declare the cause of death as soon as possible. Prine said there was little the coroner could do until investigators secured all of the evidence, including the body.

“It’s been kind of an understanding with all of the coroners from the surrounding counties,” said Prine. “Rather than sitting there in the parking lot waiting for us to finish, you just call them when you get to the body. And I swear to you no law-enforcement officer touched that body until the coroner got there and examined it.”

The coroner’s second report was made after the body was released to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for an official autopsy on Jan. 14. Watson signed and dated the report Jan. 22. He claimed the scene where Kendrick’s body was found “had been compromised and that there was no cooperation from law enforcement on the scene.”

He also stated the integrity of the investigation was compromised on Jan. 13 “by the opening of the sealed (body) bag and exhibiting the dead body to the father.”

Watson told The Times that while the scene where the body was found had been compromised, the conclusions of the investigators “didn’t leave anything out.”

Dr. Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft conducted an autopsy of Johnson’s body on Jan. 14 at the GBI State Crime Lab in Macon.

The autopsy found “congestive-decomposition changes of the head, neck, torso and upper extremities” and no injuries other than “superficial abrasions” on the right wrist and the “left distal fourth finger.” It noted that Johnson’s fingernails were “intact, trimmed and worn short” with “no obvious foreign body material present.” Social media has circulated rumors Kendrick’s fingernails had either been clipped or removed.

 Dr. Gaffney-Kraft’s concluded  that Kendrick died as the result of positional asphyxia “and that the manner of death was accidental.”

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    Editor’s Note
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