The parents of Kendrick Johnson are finally getting Georgia authorities to take a second look at the death of their son, which was initially ruled an accident by Lowndes County authorities. The teen athlete, 17, was found inside of a rolled-up wrestling mat in a Valdosta, GA, high school gym. Sheriff’s investigators concluded that Johnson was suffocated as he wriggled into the center of the rolled-up mat to retrieve a sneaker.
Not only does it seem it a little odd that a young athlete could somehow asphyxiate himself inside of a wrestling mat, other details have emerged to cast doubt on the autopsy conclusion of “positional asphyxia,” a finding that is supported by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Due to the many unanswered questions in this case, Kendrick’s body was exhumed this summer so that a second autopsy could be performed by a private pathologist, whose findings were vastly different from those of Georgia officials. The private pathologist concluded that Kendrick did not die of “positional asphyxiation,” but rather of non-accidental blunt force trauma. To add to the mystery surrounding Kendrick’s death, the second autopsy revealed that Kendrick’s brain, heart, lungs, liver, and other viscera were missing from the first autopsy and that newspaper had been used to fill his body.
Crime scene photos show a large amount of blood next to Kendrick’s sneaker as well as blood splatter on the toe of one sneaker and on a wall of the gym. No explanation has been forthcoming as to how or why blood was found at the scene of an accidental asphyxiation.
Further examination of the investigation reveals a high level of ineptitude by responding police officers, who likely contaminated the crime scene. The clothes that Kendrick was wearing at the time of his death are nowhere to be found, as well as the nail clippings that could certainly provide DNA evidence of an attacker. Along with the missing clothes and nail clippings is missing common sense by authorities. Said Johnson family attorney Benjamin Crump, “If you are trying to get a shoe out of a rolled up mat, where do you get trauma in your head?”
Where indeed? In an effort to answer this question as well as the many others that remain in this case, a federal prosecutor in Georgia announced on Thursday that he will conduct a formal review of the case. This announcement by U.S. Attorney Michael Moore took place one day after a judge, at the request of Kendrick’s parents, ordered all surveillance video that has been reviewed by authorities involved in this case to be released. Although the gym has a video camera that points directly at the corner in which Kendrick was found, school officials have to date refused to release the gym surveillance footage because they do not have consent from other minors pictured in the video. Moore also added that the FBI will conduct any criminal investigation that he feels is warranted by the evidence.
Recognizing that information pertinent to the investigation has been withheld by Lowndes County officials, Kendrick’s family has also petitioned for a coroner’s inquest into his death. Kendrick’s father, Kenneth Johnson, remains convinced that both the school and the sheriff’s department are covering up what they believe is a clear case of murder.
By Jennifer Pfalz