New autopsy: Teen's death caused by "apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma"
Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found headfirst in a rolled-up gym mat at high school
Georgia law enforcement said his death was accidental, caused by positional asphyxia
Kendrick's family demanded outside exam after law enforcement findings
Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat at his high school in January, died as the result of “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma,” according to a newly released, independent autopsy report.
The report, obtained exclusively Tuesday by CNN, directly contradicts the finding of an autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that determined that Johnson’s death was the result of positional asphyxia. The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office determined that his death was accidental.
Johnson, 17 and an athlete, was found January 11 headfirst in a rolled wrestling mat at a Lowndes County High School gym in Valdosta, Georgia.
Inconsistencies in official reports on the condition of Kendrick’s body have led the family and community to question the official cause of his death.
The family’s attorney, Chevene King, has sent the independent autopsy report to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the U.S . Attorney for Georgia’s Middle District and Lowndes County Coroner for review.
The coroner can call a coroner’s inquest, a process that resembles a grand jury proceeding. After reviewing evidence and testimony, a jury would decide the cause of death, although the findings alone would have no civil or criminal consequences.
“Coroner’s inquests are not something you do every day. I cannot tell you the last time a coroner’s inquest was done in this office,” Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson said.
“I want to do the right thing by the people and the county and all concerned; I’m just not sure we have enough information. I’m not about to refute anybody’s findings because I’m not a doctor,” said Watson.
On May 1, a judge granted the Johnsons’ request to exhume their son’s body for the purposes of a conducting an independent autopsy at their expense.
That autopsy, conducted June 15, found blunt force trauma to the right neck and soft tissues, “consistent with inflicted injury.” It was conducted by Dr. William R. Anderson with Forensic Dimensions in Heathrow, Florida.
“This is unexplained – most very, very likely inflicted, as opposed to something he caused himself, inflicted by another – and therefore needs to be investigated as an open homicide investigation,” Anderson said.
“I’ve never had a case that I can recall where the prosecution actually was told that this may well be a homicide – the prosecution being the state, the police and so forth – and then they didn’t bother prosecuting. It’s mystifying,” he added.
Anderson’s finding supports the narrative of the initial patient care report, written by EMTs with the South Georgia Medical Center Mobile Healthcare Service on January 11, the day Johnson’s body was discovered. That report said, “bruising noted to the right side jaw.”
However, a January 25 report by the Valdosta - Lowndes County Regional Crime Laboratory cited “no signs of blunt force trauma on Johnson’s face or body.”
The autopsy results released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation May 2 identified “no significant injuries.”
A spokesperson for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the agency stands by its report after reviewing the findings of the independent autopsy.
U.S. Attorney Michael Moore is reviewing the case but has not launched a formal investigation.
“We’ve been working on this for some time,” he said. “I’m sure at the appropriate time, I’ll speak with his pathologist.”
“There are some members of the community that question the result,” Moore continued. “I want to make sure members of the community and the family and everyone involved has confidence in my work and my decision.”
The spokesperson for Civil Rights Division has not yet responded to questions about the new report.