Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

September 4, 2013

Second autopsy returned in Kendrick Johnson case

Report claims non-accidental, blunt-force trauma

VALDOSTA — A second autopsy claims a 17-year-old student discovered earlier this year in Lowndes High School died from what’s being described as “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma,” according to information obtained Tuesday.

This finding contradicts the state’s original autopsy that ruled Kendrick Johnson’s death as accidental caused by positional asphyxia.

On Tuesday, Dr. William R. Anderson, the Ocala, Fla.-based pathologist hired by the Kendrick Johnson family and supporters to perform the second autopsy, told The Times he gave copies of his completed report to family and law-enforcement authorities last Friday.

Anderson said he would not elaborate on the findings, but did tell The Times that the second autopsy raises “issues of concern.”

The Times was unable to obtain a copy of the autopsy report Tuesday.

Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson received a copy of the second autopsy which he confirmed referenced non-accidental, blunt-force trauma; however, Watson said Tuesday that he stands by the original Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab autopsy that claimed Johnson’s death was accidental, caused by positional asphyxia, with no signs of blunt-force trauma.

Watson said he also has no reason to convene a coroner’s inquest because the state has

provided an accidental cause of death, which means there are no suspects. Having a cause and no suspects, there is no purpose of having an inquest, the coroner said, because there would be “no place for it to go.”

The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office also stands by the state’s original autopsy, said Sheriff’s Lt. Stryde Jones.

 In January, Kendrick “KJ” Johnson, 17, was found dead in the old Lowndes High gymnasium on the school campus. Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office proclaimed no foul play in the case on the same day as the teen’s body was discovered.

The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded that Johnson was alone in the gym, reached for a loose shoe and became trapped in a rolled-up wrestling-type mat, and died from being upside down for an extended period of time.

The state’s autopsy confirmed these findings and concluded the death was accidental.

The Johnson family and many supporters never agreed with the findings and continued rallying outside of the Lowndes County Judicial Complex in the months since the autopsy was returned. They believe based on the condition of Johnson’s body, especially the bloated nature of his head and face following the initial autopsy, that he was murdered.

In June, the family won a court order for Johnson’s body to be exhumed from Sunset Hill Cemetery for the second autopsy. Family and supporters have also requested the federal Justice Department investigate the case.  

 In addition to the daily gatherings downtown, there have also been rallies with hundreds of people in attendance. Al Sharpton visited Valdosta on one occasion to support the family.

The case has also attracted national media attention.

The Times approached Johnson relatives and supporters Tuesday afternoon at their downtown location, but they refused to comment.

The Times also requested a comment from the Lowndes County School System regarding the second autopsy, but Lowndes County School Superintendent Wes Taylor declined comment. Lynne Wilson, Lowndes County Schools public relations director, said the school system has not received an official report or any official notification of the new findings.

CNN reported Tuesday that U.S. Attorney Middle District of Georgia Michael J. Moore is reviewing the case but is not formally investigating the death.

Times staffers Brandon Powers, Kristin Finney and Dean Poling contributed to this report.

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