Hearing could prove costly for parents of teen found dead in gym mat

The parents of Kendrick Johnson are due in court today for a hearing that could cost them nearly $1 million.

Last week, a Valdosta judge ordered Kenneth and Jackie Johnson to pay the legal fees of defendants — including brothers Brian and Branden Bell, whom they allege killed Kendrick — named in a wrongful death lawsuit the family withdrew in March. Kendrick Johnson’s body was discovered in a rolled-up mat on Jan. 11, 2013, in the old gymnasium at Lowndes High School.

Local and state investigators concluded the 17-year-old died accidentally but the Johnsons have contended they were covering for the Bells. Two months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice closed its investigation into the case, announcing it was unable to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” Kendrick met with foul play.

Tuesday’s hearing, expected to continue through the week, could cost the Johnsons $900,000 if Lowndes Superior Court Judge Richard Porter orders them to pay the full amount requested by the defendants named in the first wrongful death suit. Lawyers for the Bells argued the suit was frivolous and without merit. Kenneth Johnson admitted they had no evidence the Bells killed his son, according to court documents.

“We will not let them silence us about our son’s murder,” Jackie Johnson told radio talk show host Roland Martin on Monday. “I know my son wouldn’t have tried to crawl into the mat.”

Last week, the Johnsons doubled down on their claim the Bell brothers killed their son, filing a new lawsuit in U.S. District Court that implicates nearly 40 local and state officials in a conspiracy to “illegally cover up the true cause of death.”

According to the suit, the Bells and at least one accomplice ambushed and killed Kendrick in the old gym, then notified their father, FBI agent Rick Bell, who, along with Lowndes County’s sheriff and school superintendent, staged the murder to look like an accident. Eyewitnesses, back by video surveillance footage, place the Bell brothers away from the gym at the time of Kendrick’s death.

“We’re going to take this case all the way through,” Jackie Johnson said Monday. “We’re going to keep pushing. We’re going to find out exactly who killed Kendrick Johnson.”

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