While continuing the search for answers into their son’s death, the parents of Kendrick Johnson were dealt another heavy blow.
On Thursday, a judge ordered Kenneth and Jackie Johnson to pay the legal fees of Brian and Brandon Bell, the brothers they accused of killing their son in a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit filed last year.
The decision was handed down by Lowndes County Superior Court Judge Richard Porter, who said he spent “considerable time” reviewing the motions for reimbursement, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports.
Johnson’s body was discovered in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia on Jan. 11, 2013. While his parents suspected foul play from the beginning, a state medical examiner ruled that the 17-year-old died from positional asphyxia after he became stuck in the mat. It’s presumed he was reaching for a gym shoe at the time. However, a second autopsy performed by a private pathologist determined the teen’s death was caused by blunt force trauma.
Johnson’s parents have been searching for answers ever since. According to Atlanta Black Star, the Johnsons hired Florida-based attorney Benjamin Crump in October 2013 to investigate their son’s mysterious death. Crump rose to fame after representing the family of Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Soon after, the grieving parents filed a lawsuit against the Harrington Funeral Home after discovering their son had been buried without his internal organs and his body stuffed with newspaper.
A break in Johnson’s death investigation came when authorities finally subpoenaed Brian and Brandon Bell, the brothers alleged to have murdered the Valdosta teen. The Bells’ parents were subpoenaed as well because their father worked for the FBI. However, the boys were cleared of any wrongdoing on account of a solid alibi and school surveillance footage.
That’s when the Johnsons filed their $10 million lawsuit, accusing 39 defendants — including law enforcement officials and three former classmates — of conspiring to cover up their son’s death. The suit was ultimately dropped in March 2016.
The Johnsons’ ultimate blow came when the Department of Justice announced that there would be no criminal charges filed in their son’s death.
“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.”
The Johnsons’ fight for justice has been an uphill battle, to say the least.
“There’s no stopping because of what they keep throwing at us,” Jackie Johnson told Valdosta’s WTXL. “That’s all it is. It’s something that they keep trying to throw us to silence us, but we — my husband and I — will not be silenced — not when it comes to our son.
“We know he was killed at Lowndes High School,” she continued. “It’s time for somebody to be held responsible and take accountability to what has been done at that schoolhouse.”
Karen Bell, the mother of Brian and Brandon Bell, expressed joy over Judge Porter’s recent decision.
“I’m satisfied with the ruling and looking forward to our counterclaim against the Johnsons,” she told the AJC Thursday.
According to the AJC, the Bells’ countersuit, alleging slander and libel, seeks up to $1 million in damages.
A court hearing determining how much the Johnsons will be required to pay is set for Thursday. The Bells, the Lowndes County sheriff and Lowndes County school system all filed motions for reimbursement, which total a whopping $900,000, the AJC reports.
The school system also issued this statement regarding the compensation of legal fees:
“The Lowndes County School System defendants are pleased with today’s ruling in the Superior Court of Lowndes County granting their motion for attorneys’ fees in the three cases filed by the Johnsons against them. Any further comment will be reserved pending the outcome of the hearings to determine the specific amount of attorneys’ fees awarded.”