The saga of Kendrick Johnson‘s family is far from over, as the family just filed a lawsuit against the south Georgia funeral home that handled his body, claiming that the business purposely disposed of his organs to thwart the investigation into the teen’s death.
The lawsuit accuses Harrington Funeral Home in Valdosta, Ga., with committing negligence and fraud.
After investigating the funeral home handling Kendrick’s remains, the Georgia Secretary of State concluded last month that the funeral home “didn’t violate any rules.”
But back in November, Sherry Lang, spokeswoman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, was quoted as saying in “every single autopsy [conducted at the GBI], the internal organs are returned to the body cavity.”
Currently, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia still has an open investigation into Kendrick’s death.
The question of how Kendrick died, which has consumed his family since the 17-year-old athlete was found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat in January, took a troubling turn when his parents revealed that their son was buried without his internal organs and his body was filled with newspaper.
The parents believe he was killed, and they hired Tallahassee, Fla.-based attorney Benjamin Crump, who rose to prominence representing the family of slain teenager Trayvon Martin. Crump has pursued several civil-rights cases against law enforcement agencies.
“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.”
After the body of Kendrick was found Jan. 11, Lowndes County sheriff’s investigators concluded that he died in a freak accident, falling head first into an upright mat and becoming trapped. But Kendrick’s family never believed that.
His parents made their gruesome discovery when Kendrick’s body was exhumed over the summer for a second autopsy.
“I feel outraged about them stuffing my son’s body with newspaper,” Jacquelyn Johnson said.
Crump said the discovery raises questions about why Kendrick’s organs were missing and couldn’t be examined in the follow-up autopsy.
“When you think about it logically, it seems to be some kind of conspiracy to conceal the truth about what happened to Kendrick and who did it to him,” Crump said.
Sheriff Chris Prine has said he suspected Kendrick became trapped trying to retrieve a shoe that fell into the center of the large, rolled mat, and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner concluded that he died from positional asphyxia when he got stuck and couldn’t breathe.
But after Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson hired Dr. William R. Anderson to provide a second opinion, the private pathologist presented a four-page report of his findings Aug. 15 saying he detected hemorrhaging on the right side of Kendrick’s neck. Anderson concluded the teenager died from blunt force trauma near his carotid artery and that the fatal blow appeared to be non-accidental.
Anderson also revealed that most of his internal organs were missing and the body cavity was filled with newspaper.
“This lawsuit challenges the morally despicable, fraudulent, unlawful and unfair business practices” of Harrington Funeral Home, the court document states.
Antonio Harrington “intentionally, willfully and secretly” desecrated Kendrick’s remains, the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit alleges that the fraud was intended to mislead and make it difficult to establish the manner and cause of death.
The lawsuit alleges that Harrington not only was aware that organs were missing, but “actively undertook measures to dispose of said organs in an effort to interfere” with the investigation.