Kendrick Johnson Death: No Charges Will Be Filed In The 2013 Gym Mat Death

Kendrick Johnson’s family will not be getting the closure they hoped for after the U.S. Justice Department announced today that they would not be filing any charges in the bizarre 2013 death. Citing insufficient evidence, the Justice Department released a statement.

“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,”

Johnson’s death raised a number of questions after he died under particularly strange circumstances. On January 11, 2013, his body was found inside a rolled up gym mat at his high school in Valdosta, Georgia. The medical examiner concluded that Johnson’s cause of death was “positional asphyxiation” meaning he was stuck upside down in a position that left him unable to breathe. Police concluded that the accident likely happened when he reached into the mat to grab a shoe that had fallen in.

Kendrick Johnson’s family has believed from the beginning that their son’s death was no accident, and they pointed out that homicide was not ruled out, it just could not be proven conclusively. The bizarre case has had many people questioning whether the death was truly accidental. To start with, the police theory is that Johnson fell into the mat shortly after 1:00 p.m. on January 10, 2013, after he went to retrieve his running shoes. His parents note a couple of issues with that theory, the first being that the opening of the mat was 14 inches, where Johnson’s shoulders were easily 19 inches wide. In addition, another class started 14 minutes after the last confirmed sighting of Johnson in the gym, there were students playing basketball in the gym that afternoon, and there was a color guard practice in the gym that night. If Johnson fell into the mat at the time the police stated, why did no one hear him yelling for help or see his legs sticking out of the mat at any point that day?

Other puzzling issues include the fact that the coroner was not called to the school until six hours after the police arrived, despite Georgia law which says that authorities must immediately inform the coroner when a body is discovered. The coroner released a scathing report of the way the entire case was handled, saying that information necessary for his investigation was withheld.

In addition, Johnson’s grandfather wanted to see his grandson’s body, and Georgia law states that the body must be released within 24 hours unless there is suspected foul play. His grandfather was denied access with no official reason given, and when Johnson’s father was finally allowed in to see his son, his observations varied greatly with the final autopsy report in terms of injuries his son had sustained. When the body was finally released to the family, his clothing was mysteriously missing again in contradiction with Georgia law that states that items found with the body must be released to the family. The family believes that the clothing could have had crucial evidence on it.

Unfortunately, the family’s pain didn’t end there. They exhumed Kendrick Johnson’s body in order to conduct a second independent autopsy and Dr. William R. Anderson, the pathologist the family hired to conduct the autopsy, discovered that Johnson’s organs were missing and that his body had been stuffed with newspaper. The pathologist also found hemorrhaging on the right side of the neck, leading him to conclude that Johnson died from blunt force trauma near his carotid artery and that the fatal blow was not accidental.

The last major issue raised in Johnson’s death revolves around the school’s surveillance videos. When the first images from the videos were released, they had time stamps on them, but the videos released contained no time stamps. Johnson’s family also raised concerns regarding the quality of the video that reportedly shows the area where he died, as compared to the video from the other 36 cameras. The family believes that the footage was altered in some way since the only blurry, distorted portions were the two-hour window during which it is suspected that Johnson died.

While the criminal investigations into Kendrick Johnson’s death may be over, the family intends to revive two lawsuits they had previously withdrawn. They believe that the feds know that Johnson was murdered but that they simply lack the evidence to proceed and are hoping to obtain the truth and justice through civil court.

[Photo by Russ Bynum, AP Images]