A federal judge has dismissed the wrongful death suit filed by the parents of a South Georgia teen found dead in a rolled-up gym mat in 2013.
U.S. District Court Judge Louis W. Sands Sr. dismissed the case on Wednesday, June 14, citing Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson’s negligence in failing to serve the defendants with their amended lawsuit in a timely manner, CNN reported. In a federal court order, Sands also pointed to the Johnsons’ tardiness in filing for an extension and their legal counsel’s ignorance of a recent law change.
“The Court has already recognized that Plaintiffs did not complete service within the first ninety days because of counsel’s ignorance of a 2015 change to Rule 4(m), which reduced the number of days to complete service from 120 to 90,” he wrote. “The record is replete with evidence that Plaintiffs attempted to complete service in this action, but because of alleged non-compliance with the federal rules and other problems, they were unable to ever adequately do so.”
The judge’s decision comes nearly four years after multiple court filings by the Johnsons after their son, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, was discovered inside a rolled gym mat at Lowndes County High School in Valdosta, Ga. Suspecting foul play and a massive coverup in their son’s death, the teen’s parents filed a $100-million wrongful death suit in January 2015. In it, they named their son’s former schoolmates Branden Bell, Brian Bell and their father, FBI Special Agent Rick Bell, as defendants.
The Bells have denied any role in the teen’s death.
“We’re pleased to see the case dismissed once again,” said lawyer Patrick T. O’Connor, who represents the Bell family. “The case was meritless from the beginning and has now been dismissed twice.”
A state autopsy determined that Johnson’s death was an accident, but his parents still questioned the nature of his demise. In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to prove foul play in the teen’s death.
While Sands’ decision is yet another setback in the Johnsons’ quest for justice, Atlanta’s 11 Alive reported that because the court order was filed without prejudice, the parents can try the case again.