After 3 Years, DOJ Announces No Federal Charges in the Death of Kendrick Johnson

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17-year-old Kendrick Johnson. Photo courtesy of CBS News.
17-year-old Kendrick Johnson. Photo courtesy of CBS News.

After a three-year-long investigation into the mysterious death of Kendrick Johnson, the Department of Justice says there’s isn’t enough evidence to prove foul play in the teen’s death.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, authorities announced Monday there would be no criminal charges filed in the death of the 17-year-old boy.

“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 Justice Department read. “Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed without the filing of federal criminal charges.”

On January 11, 2013, Johnson was found deceased in a rolled up gym mat at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia. His parents, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, suspected foul play from the start and have been searching for answers ever since.

Acting U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon expressed her deepest sympathies to Johnson’s family and friends, as the law wasn’t able to give them the closure they were looking for. ”

According to the DOJ, investigators interviewed roughly 100 people, read through “tens of thousands of e-mails and text messages,” and scoured surveillance footage from the high school, but still turned up with nothing.

“We cannot imagine the pain of their loss, or the depths of their sorrow,” Rendon said. “We regret that we were unable to provide them with more definitive answers about Kendrick’s tragic death.”

Johnson’s parents are set to meet with prosecutors this afternoon at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Macon, Georgia, the AJC reports. All while authorities have called their son’s death an accident, they suspect he was murdered.

According to Atlanta Black Star, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson hired Florida-based attorney Bejamin Crump in October 2013 to investigate their son’s mysterious death. Crump rose to fame after representing the family of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old fatally shot by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in 2012.

“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.”

The Johnsons later filed a lawsuit against the Harrington Funeral Home, accusing the business of purposely disposing of their son’s organs in order to obstruct the investigation into his death, Atlanta Black Star reported. It was discovered that Johnson had been buried without his internal organs and his body stuffed with newspaper.

“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.

A break in the case came when authorities subpoenaed the students Johnson’s parents suspected of murdering their son: Brian and Branden Bell. The Bells’ mother and father, who works for the FBI, were subpoenaed as well, per Atlanta Black Star.

After the Bells were cleared of any wrongdoing, Johnson’s parents filed another lawsuit in January 2015. The $10 million civil suit was brought against 39 people accused of concealing their son’s death — including law enforcement officials at all three levels as well as three former classmates.

“Defendants from the various law enforcement agencies deliberately and maliciously mishandled the subject investigation in such a way that anyone who might ever be charged with Kendrick’s death would never be convicted,” the lawsuit says.”

The Johnsons ultimately dropped their suit a year later, with plans of refiling in the near future.

“We understand the federal investigation is ongoing and this gives us an opportunity to strengthen our case,” Johnson family lawyer Chevene King told CNN. “We certainly want to take advantage of the additional time.”

 

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