Maybe now Johnson’s family will get some answers.
“This is a real-life murder mystery where these parents sent their child to school with a book bag and he was returned to them in a body bag,” Crump told the Associated Press. “They brought me in to make sure this is not able to be swept under the rug in small-town Georgia and they never get justice for their child.”
Johnson, 17, was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat on January 11 at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia. His face was bloated and filled with blood.
State medical examiners said Johnson suffocated but offered no explanation for how Johnson ended up smothered and bloody in a wrestling mat.
There were no details, no witnesses, no clues. Police ruled Johnson’s death an accident and say the case is closed.
The Johnsons’ request for a criminal investigation has been denied by the Justice Department, which said that there was insufficient evidence to support the investigation. Crump wants to formally change Kendrick’s death from accidental to homicide.
“We’re going to have to look at getting the courts involved,” said Crump, who represented the Martin family after unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death last year by George Zimmerman. In July, Zimmerman was found not guilty.
Meanwhile, Crump is taking the Johnson case just in time.
A 15-minute video and nearly 700 photos taken by sheriff’s investigators in Lowndes County that were obtained by CNN, tell a different story of how Johnson died.
“I don’t believe this was an accident. I think this young man met with foul play,” Harold Copus, a former FBI agent now an Atlanta private investigator, told CNN.
It’s unconscionable that after nine months police closed the case during a questionable investigation. At best, it’s sloppy investigative work. At worse, could it be a cover-up?
CNN reported that a pair of orange-and-black gym shoes found a few yards from Johnson’s body had a substance that looked like blood on them, but investigators told CNN the stains weren’t blood — and so the shoes were not collected as potential evidence.
So who owned the gym shoes? The shoes could be a critical clue in the investigation.
Copus said he can’t explain how investigators handled items found around the gym.
“If you’re running a crime scene, then you’re going to say ‘That’s potential evidence. Obviously, we’re going to check this out and find out who does it belong to,’ ” he told CNN.
Adding to the family’s agony is another devastating development: Kendrick’s organs were removed during an autopsy, but his body and skull were stuffed with newspaper before burial.
“We have been let down again,” Kenneth Johnson, Kendrick’s father, told CNN. “When we buried Kendrick, we thought we were burying Kendrick, not half of Kendrick.”
Two agencies handled Kendrick Johnson’s body after his death — the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the first autopsy in January; and the Harrington Funeral Home in Valdosta.
But nobody is taking responsibility for Kendrick’s missing organs.
“It’s unbearable, just about,” Jacquelyn Johnson, Kendrick’s mother, told CNN, adding that stuffing her son’s body with old newspapers was “like he was a garbage can.”
Lowndes High School administration officials have refused to release video of Johnson’s last moments at the school. CNN reported that no students, teachers or administrators noticed that Johnson was missing from his classes until his father worried that he did not return home after school.
The Georgia county coroner, Bill Watson, admitted that the county’s sheriff’s department did not notify him about Johnson’s death on January 11. It is unclear how long it took for the sheriff’s department to notify Watson, or if any evidence was removed or tampered with.
Kenneth Johnson, said the investigation is shady.
“They know something happened in that gym, and they don’t want it to come out,” he said.
What happened to Kendrick Johnson? Will we ever know? Even though police investigators quickly closed the case, I still believe somebody knows something – and somebody saw something.
There are still more questions than answers.
“Someone murdered him,” Johnson said. “They should be in jail.”
This so-called investigation is a travesty. The Johnson family needs closure — but they also deserve to know the truth.