A second investigation into the death of Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson has been closed without any charges filed, a report released by Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk disclosed, according to CNN.
Johnson, 17, was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat in Lowndes County High School in 2013. And though the deceased teen’s parents have maintained their son was murdered by his schoolmates, Paulk labeled Johnson’s death as a “weird accident”, adding that “there is nothing to substantiate a homicide.”
“Nothing criminal happened,” he claimed.
The deceased teen’s death was ruled as an accident by Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office investigators months after his body was found. Officials concluded his cause of death was positional asphyxia as he allegedly fell and got stuck in the mat while he was attempting to recover a pair of sneakers. His case was subsequently closed. But Johnson’s parents have always been adamant their son was murdered as official reports into the state of his body were reportedly contradictory.
Following the first autopsy, Johnson’s family hired a private pathologist to conduct a second autopsy on their son. The private pathologist concluded Johnson died from “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma” to the right neck and soft tissues, CNN reported.
The independent autopsy also found that Johnson’s brain, heart, lungs, liver, and other organs were gone, while his parents also discovered his body was stuffed with newspapers prior to his burial. The funeral home that took over Johnson’s remains from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation claimed they did not receive his organs. The funeral homeowner said Johnson’s organs “were destroyed through natural process” as a result of his body positioning at the time of his death and “discarded by the prosecutor before the body was sent back to Valdosta.”
In 2013, the Justice Department announced it was going to launch a federal investigation into Johnson’s death. The case was, however, closed in 2016 after officials said they found “insufficient evidence to support federal criminal charges.”
“After extensive investigation into this tragic event, federal investigators determined that there is 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,” a statement from the department said.
As part of efforts to re-open the case, Johnson’s father and Paulk wrote a letter to the Justice Department in 2019 requesting evidence related to the case. And though they were initially denied, federal officials finally handed over 17 boxes of materials on the case, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Paulk said it took him 15 months to read “every page” of the files that were handed over, and he ultimately determined the reviewed files did not show “any criminal action whatsoever”, CNN reported.
“I am quite sure that there will still be a contingent that will believe there was foul play,” Paulk stated in the report that was released on Wednesday. “I encourage everyone to study ALL the evidence in this file before forming an opinion.”
Johnson’s parents, however, questioned the veracity of the investigation and report. “We have not had faith in Lowndes County. We knew what the outcome would be from the very beginning,” the deceased teen’s father, Kenneth Johnson told the news outlet.
“You can’t do an investigation with the same investigators who covered it up. They’re not going to uncover something that they covered up.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The deceased teen’s family also doubled down on their stance during a press conference at the sheriff’s department on Thursday. “Do not believe anything that this sheriff’s department tells you,” Kenneth Johnson said.
“I will fight as long as I have to, to uncover what happened to Kendrick Johnson.”