VALDOSTA — Documents and cell phone records obtained by The Valdosta Daily Times Thursday cast a cloud over a YouTube video released by Kendrick Johnson's family, claiming a Lowndes High School wrestler had no alibi at the time of the teenager's death.
The video released Tuesday morning on behalf of KJ's parents claims a member of the school’s wrestling team had motive to harm the teen and was on campus at the time Johnson was last seen on surveillance video entering the school’s old gym.
The Times obtained a weigh-in report of the wrestler implicated in the video and the private phone records of a Lowndes High wrestling coach.
The coach's cell phone records show he received an incoming call while in Cordele at 1:53 p.m. Cordele is approximately 85 miles north of Lowndes High School, indicating that the wrestling team had left Lowndes High School more than an hour earlier.
The school system's attorney confirmed to The Times the cell phone records did belong to a Lowndes High wrestling coach and the coach said all students scheduled to attend the event left at the same time.
The weigh-in report of the wrestler implicated in the video, who is the oldest son of local FBI agent Rick Bell, dated Jan. 10, 2013, lists his weight as 170.5 lbs. and is signed by a Lowndes High coach and a GHSA head official.
Turner said the weigh-in time for the event was 4 p.m.
The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating the claim that the wrestling bus did not leave after the first lunch session, but the cell phone records and weigh-in report indicate the team was, as previously reported, traveling to the 6-A State Dual Championships wrestling match in Macon at the time of the incident, and not on the Lowndes campus.
Johnson’s body was found upside down in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School in January 2013. A state autopsy ruled the 17-year-old’s death accidental. The Johnson family insists their son died of foul play.
Johnson is last seen on school surveillance video at 1:28 p.m. when he enters the old gym where the mats are stored.
At the press conference Tuesday morning prior to the release of the video on YouTube, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson’s attorney, Chevene King, read a prepared statement in which he said the parents had “ learned the school’s wrestling team had not left campus for a tournament the afternoon their son went missing, as previously thought.”
Following the press conference, Clennon King, Chevene’s brother and documentary filmmaker, emailed the video link to members of the media. Clennon narrates the video that shows images of local FBI agent Rick Bell and his two sons, although the face of the younger son is blurred.
Other media reported earlier this month Bell and his sons were “targets” of a grand jury investigation into Johnson’s death.
The video released Tuesday claimed the wrestling team did not leave until well after school had been dismissed and the older Bell son may have had a motive to harm Johnson due to an altercation between Johnson and his younger brother a year prior.
During the press conference, King referred to what he described as a “travel log” which listed 4 p.m. as the departure time of the wrestling trip.
However, the document is labeled a “trip request,” and The Times has learned that the form was filled out by a wrestling coach weeks before the trip occurred. Warren Turner, attorney for Lowndes County Schools, said the form does not document the bus’ movements.
According to Turner, the listed time indicates the start of the event in Macon and not a departure time. Turner said the coach filled out the form the same way for all the trips and that the actual departure time was determined closer to the day of the event after personally speaking with the bus driver. However, that time is not indicated on the form.
On the day of the event, the wrestling team took the school’s first lunch session which lasts from 11:32 a.m. to 12:02 p.m. on Thursdays, said Turner. The team and coaches then boarded a bus and left for Macon, Turner said.
Chevene King spoke with The Times during a phone interview Tuesday and said private investigators had interviewed a wrestling team member who claimed to have stood in line with Kendrick during first lunch before boarding the bus with the team. The video King released on behalf of the Johnsons makes the same claim.
A Times reporter asked King if that same student then boarded the bus at 4 p.m., and King said he was “not in a position” to answer that question. King also was unable to state what grade the student was in at the time.
Rick and Karen Bell declined to comment for this story. In August, the Bells filed a $5 million lawsuit against the publisher of Ebony Magazine and author Frederic Rosen for alleged libelous and slanderous statements made about their sons in connection with the Kendrick Johnson case.