A recently-completed investigation found no evidence of a coverup in the 2013 death of Kendrick Johnson, who was found in a rolled-up mat at his Georgia high school.
The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office reopened Kendrick’s case last March. Upon releasing a 16-page synopsis report, sheriff Ashley Paulk told WCTV that he is “100 percent sure there was no foul play” based on the federal case documents he reviewed and interviews police conducted with people involved in the initial investigation.
“I do find it disturbing and unethical that this investigation seemed to turn into a ‘witch hunt’ after the FBI told the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia that they had found nothing criminal, and they consequently were closing the case,” Paulk wrote in the synopsis.
The latest report addresses several controversial topics at the center of Johnson’s death, including the teen’s autopsy, where his body was found, and cameras located at Lowndes High School. Paulk wrote that he reviewed 17 boxes of files from the FBI, Department of Justice, and local authorities while revisiting this case.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation previously determined Johnson’s death was accidental — despite two independent autopsies finding the teen died of non-accidental blunt force trauma. Lowndes County police said they believed Kendrick crawled into the mat to retrieve his shoes, became stuck, and continued to burrow into the mat until he became completely trapped and died.
In the recently-released report, Paulk scrutinized an amended report that was released two years after the Office of Armed Forces Medical Examiner found in August 2014 that Johnson died of positional asphyxia and listed his death as accidental. The amended report stated his cause and manner of death were undetermined.
However, Paulk claimed a woman with the Department of Justice and a man performing the autopsies had “developed a close relationship” — with at one point, the woman saying in an email, “I had to make him feel like a man so that he would be open to talking.”
Over the years, the Johnsons have publicly implicated brothers Brian and Branden Bell in Kendrick’s death. The three teens were classmates. The brothers’ father, Rick Bell, was an FBI special agent who ultimately resigned after his home was raided and searched for evidence, according to NBC.
When Johnson was exhumed for the first independent autopsy in June 2013, it was discovered that every organ from his pelvis to his skull, including his brain, heart, lungs, and liver, was gone and replaced with newspaper.
According to CNN, funeral director Antonio Harrington claimed the 17-year-old’s organs “were destroyed through [the] natural process” due to the position of his body when he died. He also stated the funeral home never had Johnson’s organs, saying they were “discarded by the prosecutor before the body was sent back to Valdosta” for burial.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that in October 2013, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told CBS that Johnson’s organs were returned to his body following the autopsy, as per protocol.
In the latest report, Paulk dispelled rumors that Johnson and the Bell brothers had any contact on the day Johnson died. He wrote that the FBI reviewed footage from 62 cameras on campus, and Johnson never crossed paths with the brothers.
Paulk noted that Branden Bell left campus an hour before Johnson vanished. Paulk also claimed a camera in the gymnasium — which apparently shows Johnson before his death — was realigned 13 months earlier. He said the camera needed to be adjusted after a basketball hit it.
“I am quite sure that there will still be a contingent that will believe there was foul play,” he wrote. “I encourage everyone to study ALL the evidence in this file before forming an opinion.”
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[Featured image: Kendrick Johnson/Contributed]