Valdosta Daily Times

May 3, 2013

Justice for KJ

Autopsy rules student’s death accidental; family and supporters disagree

Quinten Plummer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — While an autopsy report released Thursday morning mirrored the sheriff’s office conclusion that a Lowndes High School student’s January death was accidental, demonstrators echoed the sentiments of the late Kendrick Johnson’s family outside the Lowndes County Board of Education that afternoon as the group called for a new investigation.

The autopsy report on Johnson was reviewed Thursday morning on a conference call between the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, the Lowndes County Coroner’s Office and the Southern District Attorney’s office, according to a release from Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine.

Based on the findings of the investigation, physical evidence, forensic sciences and the autopsy, the death of Kendrick Johnson has been ruled as an accident as a result of positional asphyxia, according to the release.

However, the Johnsons and their supporters made known their disbelief of the finding during Thursday’s rally.

Protesters marched from the intersection of St. Augustine Road and Norman Drive down to the board of education offices, bellowing chants of “Justice for K.J.” and “No Justice, No Peace,” as supporters have been doing for the past few weeks downtown.

Sheriff Prine and several deputies stood in front of the board of education, restricting protesters to the outskirts of the grounds and absorbing the incendiary accusations that were hurled their way over a bullhorn.

Roughly 16 weeks have passed since the student’s body was discovered inverted and wedged within wrestling mats in the school’s gym, but activist Stephen Green said that the group’s resolve to find justice for Johnson hasn’t wavered.

Green trekked down from Morehouse to rally with the Johnson supporters, along with harbingers from Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. Sharpton is scheduled to speak at a KJ rally Saturday at Valdosta’s Serenity Church.

“We’ve come down here today to let this sheriff and this county know, that courage will not skip this generation,” said Green. “We will not be silent if Lowndes County, Ga., is willing to go down as the Selma of our generation. We will not back down.”

Bobby Worth, founder of the Justice League Unite, Inc., traveled south to rally with the Johnson family and their supporters Thursday. He encouraged students to share any detail they could to pinpoint a murder, but he also asked students to take their protests a step further.

“If you go to Lowndes High School or if you have a buddy that's involved with that school,” said Worthy, “stand with us and withdraw from that system and let these people know. If you’re black, withdraw yourself. Be done with these people until they tell us who the murderer is, either in the sheriff’s department or the Lowndes County school system.”

Though passionate and assertive in their stated beliefs that Johnson was murdered, Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress said the group was extremely cooperative and that the police department was only on scene to facilitate a safe rally for demonstrators and passersby alike.

With the investigation closed, Prine disclosed more details on his office’s efforts during the investigation into Johnson’s death.

“Although not previously released, Sheriff Prine stated that this investigation was very extensive and included the completion of multiple forensic tests, including DNA samples collected from the scene and the interview of over 100 persons, including students, teachers and other people who were identified as the investigation progressed. Nothing learned during the investigation has indicated anything other than this was a tragic accident. Sheriff Prine continued to express his sorrow for the family and hopes that with the release of the investigative findings, including the medical findings, the family can find the answers they seek and begin the healing process.”

The Valdosta Daily Times submitted an Open Records Request Thursday for a copy of the autopsy report, and is anticipating the report to be released by the Sheriff’s Office today.