FSU withdraws scholarship for recruit named in Kendrick Johnson suit

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned Florida State University has withdrawn its scholarship offer to Brian Bell, a star linebacker out of Lowndes High School whose name has surfaced in a federal probe of a classmate’s controversial death.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Kendrick Johnson's parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging an unnamed female lured their son into the old gym at Lowndes High where he was fatally beaten by Bell and his older brother. The siblings were acting at the behest of their father, FBI agent Rick Bell, according to the suit, which alleges a conspiracy implicating virtually everyone — including the GBI, local law enforcement and school officials — involved in the investigation into Johnson's death.

The brothers have not been charged with any crimes related to the death of their classmate.

Local and state investigators ruled Johnson’s death an accident; the U.S. Attorney based in Macon initiated his own probe more than a year ago.

Over the last several weeks, an intense lobbying campaign has been waged on social media to persuade FSU to withdraw its scholarship to Bell, 17, who committed to the ACC powerhouse last February. It’s unclear whether Ben Crump, the attorney for Johnson’s parents and an influential alum, may have personally interceded.

Valdosta civil rights leader Leigh Touchton told the AJC she was “completely deflated” after meeting last week with FSU president John Thrasher on Bell’s behalf. Attorneys for the Bell family and Randy McPherson, Brian’s football coach at Lowndes High, also attended the nearly two-hour meeting.

The day before that sitdown, McPherson said he was informed by FSU Head Football coach Jimbo Fisher that Thrasher and the school’s athletic director were forcing him to withdraw Bell’s scholarship.

“We thought we had made headway then they just threw cold water on it,” Touchton said. “We were advised this would not be a healthy environment for Brian Bell.”

McPherson said Fisher told him Friday that the scholarship was off the table.

As for Crump’s involvement, Touchton said the school’s legal counsel confirmed the attorney’s “powerful influence” on campus.

Crump did not respond to a request for comment.

Thrasher insisted Crump has no influence on his decision regarding Bell, Touchton said, though he did express concern over the school’s reputation.

Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winning-quarterback, Jameis Winston has been involved in a number of scandals that has put the university on the defensive. Last April, The New York Times reported Tallahassee police never obtained a DNA sample or even interviewed Winston after a woman brought rape charges against him.

An official FSU hearing, presided over by a retired Florida Supreme Court justice, cleared Winston of violating the student conduct code.

Asked about the Bell meeting, FSU associate athletic director Rob Wilson said the school “would not be able to comment at all regarding any prospective student-athlete.”

The Lowndes sheriff found that the Bell brothers had alibis that precluded any involvement in Johnson's death, including surveillance footage that revealed neither boy was near the gym where Johnson was last seen. Even though both were named in target letters by the U.S. Attorney investigating the case, no new evidence has been released linking them to the alleged crime.

“Why can’t they accept the truth as the truth?” Touchton said.

Bell’s parents and their attorneys declined comment on the decision by FSU. Their youngest son was heavily recruited and could still sign with another school.