The suspicious death of Kendrick Johnson, a Black teen whose body was found in a rolled-up mat in his school gym in 2013, is again under investigation, and a new development hints that a culprit in his death could be identified.
Since 17-year-old Johnson was found in a wrestling mat at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga., eight years ago, his family has maintained that there was foul play involved in his death—particularly since an autopsy they ordered from an independent pathologist found that Johnson died by homicide with “unexplained blunt force trauma” to his neck, as The Root previously reported. In comparison, a state autopsy declared that the teen died of “positional asphyxia,” and local and federal authorities said that Johnson died when he reached for a shoe in the center of the mat and accidentally slipped and got stuck. A wrongful death suit filed by the family was also dismissed.
But a new investigator who is re-looking into the case appears to be working with the family to follow leads. Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk told Fox 28 News last week that his office is now in possession of an audio recording purportedly of someone confessing to Johnson’s death.
The recording was obtained by the victim’s mother, Jacquelyn Johnson.
From Fox 28 News:
“They had a recording that they had actually purchased from an individual who said that it would be valuable as far as saying who possibly had committed a crime in KJ’s situation,” Sheriff Paulk said. “We’ll validate who the person is, was he really who he said he was, and find out where he got this information.”
The sheriff says it’s hard to predict when they will have any follow-up information regarding this recording.
But that they will use every resource to validate the recording and make sure it’s not any type of hoax.
“We’re going to verify who that person is, follow the chain of custody to see if it’s really something that’s true or truthful,” Sheriff Paulk said. “Or if it’s a very, very cruel hoax because if it’s a hoax, it’s really cruel to Mrs. Johnson.”
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It would indeed be cruel, as the family has doggedly sought a viable explanation for what happened to their son for “eight long years,” as his mother recently said.
Federal investigators have previously said “there was 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 crime,” leading the Justice Department to decline to file any charges in the Black teen’s confounding death.
Sheriff Paulk says he is holding off on releasing the audio recording to the public pending his office’s own investigation of it. We’ll continue to follow this story and hope that the Johnson family will finally get the full story behind their son’s death, as well as a semblance of justice.