Authorities Close Case In 2013 Death Of Kendrick Johnson After Second Investigation
“We knew what the outcome would be from the very beginning,” Johnson's father said.
January 27, 2022 at 9:20 pm
Local authorities in Valdosta, Georgia, have officially closed their investigation into the Jan. 2013 death of Kendrick Johnson, CNN reports.
The death of Johnson, who was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat upside down at Lowndes High School’s gymnasium, has been deemed a “weird accident,” according to County Sheriff Ashley Paulk.
Paulk told CNN that “there is nothing to substantiate a homicide” following a second investigation.
"Nothing criminal happened," he added.
Following Johnson’s death, investigators initially determined that the 17-year-old got stuck in the center of the mat while trying to retrieve a shoe.
Once the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded an autopsy, they ruled that Johnson’s death was accidental positional asphyxia.
Initial reports by investigators led to discrepancies concerning Johnson’s remains. However, Johnson’s parents believed their son’s death was not an accident but the result of a homicide.
Taking matters into their own hands, the family hired a pathologist to review the teen’s case. The autopsy revealed that Johnson’s death was "unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt-force trauma" to the neck.
Following the autopsy, a federal investigation was conducted by the United States Department of Justice.
The DOJ announced in 2016 that it would be closing the case due to "insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges."
"After extensive investigation into this tragic event, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people willfully violated Kendrick Johnson's civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime," the department said in a statement.
The case was later reopened, with Paulk leading the investigation. He requested the evidence collected during the federal investigation in April 2019 in order to reassess the circumstances. However, his efforts were met with pushback, as authorities chose not to comply.
The Johnson family intervened again in Nov. 2020 after meeting with federal investigators who granted their request for a re-examination, WCVB reports. Paulk was then permitted to use the evidence collected and start his own inspection.
Testimony from a grand jury and autopsy reports were used in Paulk’s 15-month-long investigation. He concluded that there was no “criminal action whatsoever,” opposing the family’s homicide theory.
"I am quite sure that there will still be a contingent that will believe there was foul play," Paulk described in the report. "I encourage everyone to study ALL the evidence in this file before forming an opinion."
In a statement to CNN, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia said, "the final conclusion in the Kendrick Johnson investigation was reached and announced in 2016 by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Ohio (USAO NDOH), which handled the matter.”
Kendrick’s mother, Jacqueline Johnson, told WSB-TV that she simply doesn’t trust how local authorities have handled her son’s case. Kendrick's father, Kenneth Johnson, said they have not had "faith" in Lowndes County.
“We knew what the outcome would be from the very beginning,” Kenneth, said, according to CNN.
"You can't do an investigation with the same investigators who covered it up. They're not going to uncover something that they covered up,” he said. "That doesn't make sense.”
Though not surprised by the concluded reports, Jacqueline wants the case to be reopened by federal investigators. Jacqueline said that Paulk hasn't communicated with the family since he reopened the investigation.
The Johnsons told CNN on Thursday that they will continue their fight to uncover the truth.