The parents of a South Georgia sophomore whose body was found in a rolled-up gym mat more than five years ago, say they will exhume their son’s body a second time to prove his death was no accident.
Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber confirmed Kendrick Johnson’s family has asked for and received permission to dig up the corpse at 5 p.m. Friday.
They plan an autopsy — which will be the third conducted on Johnson since his body was discovered in Lowndes High School on Jan. 11, 2013.
“Lord to have to disturb his resting peace breaks my heart into so many pieces but it has to be done,” Kendrick’s mother, Jackie Johnson, wrote on her Facebook page.
“The worst part is to have to bury him a third time like another whole funeral and he’s leaving us again.”
The Johnsons remain convinced their son was murdered by brothers Brian and Branden Bell, sons of a local FBI agent. Video evidence showed that Brian and Branden Bell were nowhere near the old gymnasium of Lowndes High when Johnson was last seen.
State and local investigators concluded he suffocated after getting stuck inside the 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.
"Their testimony shows they had no evidence," Lowndes County Superior Court Senior Judge Richard Porter wrote.
Johnson has already undergone two autopsies. The first, conducted by the GBI, listed the cause of death as "accidental positional asphyxia."
A review of the autopsies commissioned by federal investigators determined the GBI’s autopsy was more credible.
It’s not clear who will be conducting the next autopsy and whether the results will be made available.
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