Kendrick Johnson was a 17-year-old student at Lowndes High School when he was found dead in the school gym Jan. 11, 2013. Photo provided by the Johnson family’s attorney, Chevene King.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Third autopsy claims foul play in Valdosta gym mat death case

Results from a third autopsy conducted on the body of Kendrick Johnson — the second performed at the behest of Johnson’s parents — have been released, contradicting an earlier conclusion that the 17-year-old’s death was accidental. But the new autopsy’s impact is likely to be minimal, as a lengthy federal investigation already concluded there was no evidence of foul play.

Johnson, the Lowndes High School sophomore whose body was found in a rolled-up gym mat nearly six years ago, died from non-accidental blunt force trauma between his neck and abdomen, the third autopsy concludes. That mirrors the findings from the first autopsy, paid for by Kendrick’s parents, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, who once again hired William Anderson to examine their son’s body.  


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The state medical examiner’s office found the cause of death to be “positional asphyxia,” meaning he became trapped in a position that caused him to suffocate. That finding led the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office to classify Johnson’s death as an accident. A review of the autopsies commissioned by federal investigators determined the GBI’s autopsy was more credible.

 But the Johnsons have never accepted the official line. 

“Kendrick KJ Johnson WAS MURDERED but we already knew that,” Jackie Johnson wrote on Facebook Friday morning.

Jackie and Kenny Johnson (center) speak to the crowd during a “Who Killed K.J.” rally for their son Kendrick Johnson in front of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Dec. 11, 2013. On the left is Benjamin Crump, the family’s co-counsel at the time. PHIL SKINNER / PSKINNER@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Johnsons remain convinced their son was killed by brothers Brian and Branden Bell, sons of a local FBI agent. Video evidence showed the Bells were nowhere near the old gymnasium of Lowndes High when Johnson was last seen alive.

State and local investigators believe he got stuck inside the large, rolled-up gym mat, presumably reaching for a pair of sneakers. A lengthy federal investigation followed.

In 2016, the Justice Department concluded there was “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.”

Subsequent civil lawsuits filed by the Johnsons alleged a vast conspiracy and cover-up that included an FBI agent, a former sheriff and Lowndes County’s school superintendent.

The Johnsons were ordered last year to pay attorney’s fees to multiple defendants named in one of their suits. The judge in the case accused the Johnsons and their attorney, Chevene King, of fabricating evidence to support their claims.

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