Valdosta Daily Times

January 18, 2014

Funeral home cleared in KJ case

Adam Floyd
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — The funeral home that prepared Kendrick Johnson’s body for public viewing and burial by reportedly stuffing his body cavity with newspapers and other filler material to replace internal organs removed during an autopsy did not break state law, the Georgia Board of Funeral Service has concluded.

But the board also said in a letter to the Johnson family the Harrington Funeral Home’s decision to replace the autopsied organs with newspapers is not considered “best practice” for embalming.

The board, in a report released Thursday, said filling a body cavity “is a necessary preparation to present a deceased body for public viewing,”  adding, however, that there are other materials “more acceptable than newspaper” for that purpose.

The state agency investigated the funeral home’s handling of Johnson’s body after the family complained to the state about discovering the newspapers when the body was exhumed for a second autopsy. The papers replaced the deceased’s heart, lungs and other internal organs.

Johnson, 17, was found lifeless in a rolled up wrestling mat in the old gym at Lowndes High School a year ago. An investigation by the sheriff’s office and an autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded his death was a freak accident; that he had become trapped upside down in the six-foot tall mat while reaching for an athletic shoe.

Johnson’s parents, Jacquelyn and Kenneth Johnson, believe their son was a victim of wrongdoing, possibly murder, and a cover-up. They have been pressing for reopening the investigation into his death. The FBI, at the direction of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has been investigating the case in recent weeks.

Roy Copeland, an attorney for Harrington, said the funeral home was “certainly happy” with the funeral board’s finding that it did nothing illegal in embalming Johnson’s body.

“The reputation of Mr. Harrington in the community, and the reputation of the funeral home is outstanding,” said Copeland.

Antonio Harrington, the funeral home’s director, said he was baffled by concern over the handling of Johnson’s body. He said 90 percent of funeral homes use shredded newspaper in embalming procedures.

“Newspaper is a practice that has been used for years,” said Harrington, “Shredded paper, cotton and sawdust are used to restore normalcy to the body (for public viewing). Very few use sawdust. The majority use paper.”

“Personally, I have no ill will towards the family. I pray for them,” added Harrington, “We’ve done nothing wrong. It was a hurtful thing. It hurt my family, and we are glad our name has been cleared.”