The Kendrick Johnson mystery enters its fifth year

Updated: Jan. 10, 2018 at 3:47 PM EST
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The Kendrick Johnson case is still a source of debate (Source: Family)
The Kendrick Johnson case is still a source of debate (Source: Family)
Kendrick Johnson's parents (Source: WALB)
Kendrick Johnson's parents (Source: WALB)
Sheriff Chris Prine (Source: Lowndes Co. Sheriff)
Sheriff Chris Prine (Source: Lowndes Co. Sheriff)

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - On Friday morning, January 11, 2013, the body of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found inside Lowndes County High School's old gymnasium, and the school was immediately locked down.

The circumstances of his death have been a source of conjecture, gossip, allegations, and lawsuits ever since.

Chris Prine, who was then Lowndes County Sheriff, said the cause of death was not known, but an autopsy would be conducted on Monday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

That autopsy ruled Johnson cause of death as "accidental, positional asphyxia." But Johnson's parents, Jackie and Kenneth Johnson, didn't believe it, and paid for their own autopsy, which concluded that the cause of death was blunt force trauma.

Authorities said that Johnson's body showed no injuries when it was found inside a rolled-up tumbling mat in the old gym. The family has contested that claim since day one. Investigators speculated that the teen went into the rolled up mat to retrieve a shoe, and could not get out.

They say Johnson was last seen Thursday after 4th period walking toward the gym.

Sheriff Chris Prine issued this statement-

An autopsy was completed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Medical Examiner's Office today. During that exam, no indications of injury that would have caused the death of Kendrick Johnson were found.

Additional testing will be completed in the near future in an attempt to determine the exact cause of death.

During the investigation, investigators have learned that Kendrick Johnson went into the gymnasium and appears to have climbed on top of the mats which were standing upright.

At some point Kendrick Johnson either reached into the center of one of the rolled mats or fell into the center opening of the mat and became lodged. Investigators found no signs of a struggle having taken place.

Investigators with the Sheriff's Office have and will continue to interview students and friends who may be able to provide information.

Johnson's father Kenneth said the family reported their son missing to Lowndes County authorities late Thursday night, January 10, many hours before his body was found.

In the coming weeks and months there were vigils, and even protests that authorities were conducting a cover-up of the real story of the teen's death.

In May, a Thomas County person was investigated for posting a Facebook status which threatened to use an AR-15 to kill Sheriff Prine over the handling of the Kendrick Johnson case.

The family sought a court order to exhume Kendrick's body for another autopsy, and in June, it was exhumed, from Sunset Hills Cemetery in Valdosta, and the autopsy undertaken, in Ocala, Florida.

His parents asked why the autopsy report did not mention bruising to Johnson's chin that responding paramedics put in their initial report

"We also anticipate that there may be evidence that his death was a cover-up. Or at least the fact that he died as a result of something other than an accident," said the family's attorney, Chevene King, at the time.

The Georgia State Conference NAACP, and community leaders joined the of Johnson family in a rally to demand a criminal investigation on Saturday, September 14 at the Lowndes Co. Judicial Administrative Building

In October, The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council posted a $10,000 reward for information "leading to the arrest and conviction of Johnson's killer." The reward money was never paid.

Two weeks later, a judge ordered the release of school surveillance video along with other investigative documents, more than 10 months after Johnson was found dead.

Just days later, then U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said the FBI will help the family find out how Kendrick Johnson died.

In March of 2014, The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office says an anonymous email detailing a confession to killing Kendrick Johnson is a hoax, submitted by a juvenile.

Two months later, Jackie and Kenneth Johnson filed a lawsuit against the Lowndes County School System. They claimed the district was negligent and failed to protect their son from harassment and bullying which they say led to his death. In July they named the school board in a similar suit.

Also in July, Dalton Chauncey went to the sheriff and said he had been present during a conversation in which two people said that they caused the death of Kendrick Johnson. He was arrested for making a false statement to police, after he admitted that he had fabricated the story to boast. Dalton Chauncey also clarified the two persons who he vaguely identified were fabricated and do not exist.

In January 2015, seven Members of the Kendrick Johnson family were found guilty of obstruction for blocking people from entering the Lowndes County Judicial Complex on April 25th, 2013.  They were sentenced to a year each, suspended, as long as they are not arrested again within the next year.

The Johnsons sued numerous people over the next two years, and they were counter-sued in turn.  In March of 2016, The Johnsons withdrew a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit. The next month, the former defendants went to court seeking more than $850,000 in attorney's fees.

In October, Bobby Worthy filed a legal complaint saying that Judge Richard Porter, who presided over the Johnson case, fell asleep at least six times throughout various trial dates, and showed favoritism to eight white defense attorneys.

In June of 2017, Albany Federal Court Judge W. Louis Sands dismissed the Johnson's $100 million wrongful death lawsuit.

In July, Johnson family filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court in Bibb County, officials in Lowndes County to former classmates of Johnson. The suit claims that the defendants worked together to 'cover up' Johnson's death.

The following month, the parents of Kendrick Johnson and their counsel, Albany lawyer Chevene B. King, Jr., were ordered by a judge to pay nearly $300,000 in attorney fees to those they accused of killing their son and the parties they claimed "covered it up."

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