ATLANTA (WAOK/CNN)-On “PowerTalk” with Lorraine Jacques-White Monday, Janice Mathis host of Sister’s In Law contacted Attorney Benjamin Crump regarding the death of Kendrick Johnson.
The body of Johnson, 17, was found Jan. 11 in south Georgia, inside of a rolled up wrestling mat in his high school gymnasium. Lowndes County sheriff’s investigators concluded that Johnson died in a freak accident — falling head first into an upright mat and becoming trapped. Johnson’s family, however, believes he was killed and has been pressuring authorities into taking a second look at the case.
The family has enlisted the help of Tallahassee, Fla.-based Attorney Benjamin Crump. Best known as the lawyer who helped focus national attention on the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 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 said in a phone interview. “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.”
School officials found Johnson’s body in the gym after his parents reported him missing the night before. He was stuck upside down in the middle of a wrestling mat that had been rolled up and propped up right behind bleachers.
The death of Kendrick Johnson was devastating enough for his parents. Then came the doubts about investigators’ conclusion that their son’s death was an accident.
The parents discovered that their son’s internal organs had been removed and his skull and body were stuffed with newspaper when they won a court order to have a second autopsy performed on their son. Crump also told “Powertalk” in another recent report that all Kendrick’s finger nails were removed before burial. This new information added to the parent’s anguish and further fueled their skepticism of the official findings.
“We have been let down again,” his father, Kenneth Johnson, told CNN. “When we buried Kendrick, we thought we were burying Kendrick, not half of Kendrick.”
During an autopsy, internal organs are removed and examined before being returned for burial. But when Dr. Bill Anderson, the private pathologist who conducted the second autopsy, opened up the teen’s remains, the brain, heart, lungs, liver and other viscera were missing. Every organ from the pelvis to the skull was gone.
“I’m not sure at this point who did not return the organs to the body,” Anderson said. “But I know when we got the body, the organs were not there.”
Two entities had custody of Kendrick Johnson’s body after his death — the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the first autopsy in January; and the Harrington Funeral Home in Valdosta, which handled the teen’s embalming and burial.
Stuffing a body with old newsprint and department-store circulars — “like he was a garbage can,” as Jacquelyn Johnson put it — isn’t exactly standard practice in forensic pathology or the mortician’s trade. Vernie Fountain, the founder of a Missouri embalming school, called it “not consistent with the standards of care” in the industry. Dr. Gregory Schmunk, the president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, told CNN, “I have never heard of this practice.”
Organs are typically placed in a plastic bag, which is then put back into the body cavity after an autopsy.
In addition Attorney Crump gave “Powertalk” listeners exclusive insight on Kendrick Johnson being a star athlete and him dating a white girl. Powertalk host Lorraine Jacques White said, “This may be something investigators can look into.”
Speculation around the case includes reports that back in 2011, Kendrick Johnson was involved in a fight with another young white male who attended the same school as Johnson. Johnson perhaps won the fight. The young white boy’s family then reportedly invited Johnson to their home to fight again but Johnson never responded. After that incident Kendrick was killed. This information was apparently sent to the Sheriff’s department in Valdosta, Ga and is in the Sheriff’s investigative reports.
The family of Kendrick Johnson is also lobbying for the release of surveillance tape from the gymnasium that may show who was in the gym at the time of Johnson’s death.
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