NEW: Family members plead not guilty; seating jury could take all Monday, attorney says
Despite potential jail, fine, family has no intention of accepting plea deal, attorney says
Parents have staged, attended numerous protests since son's January 2013 death
Still seeking justice in their son’s death, Kendrick Johnson’s parents will face the justice system themselves Monday on misdemeanor charges related to a 2013 protest, their attorney said.
Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, along with five family members, each face a charge of interference with government property for allegedly blocking the entrance to the Lowndes County Courthouse in Valdosta, Georgia, and blocking access to the security checkpoint inside the building.
The demonstration was planned after Johnson’s parents became frustrated with the lack of information they’d received from local investigators regarding their son, who was found dead inside a rolled gym mat at his South Georgia high school in January 2013, attorney Chevene King said.
Footage published on YouTube shows authorities arresting family members who held hands, blocking a door to the courthouse. Another video posted to a Kendrick Johnson tribute page on Facebook shows family members later, inside the courthouse, joining hands in front of the checkpoint. The family and others can be heard chanting, “No justice, no peace,” as officers step in to arrest them.
The relatives, who call themselves the “KJ 7,” were arrested and released on bond in the April 25, 2013, incident, King said.
“It wasn’t until seven days after that protest that the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department released the investigative file of the teen’s death,” King said.
All seven have pleaded not guilty, and King said Monday that jury selection could take several hours, if not the entire day. Evidence will be presented immediately thereafter, he said.
Upon her release form jail, the same evening she was arrested, Jacquelyn Johnson told CNN affiliate WCTV, “I’m going to be right back out at the courthouse in the morning, ready to do it all over again, until we get justice.”
Each of the seven family members could face up to a year in prison, a $1,000 fine, or both.
There are no plans to entertain any potential plea deals, King told CNN.
In May 2013, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office announced it was closing its investigation into Johnson’s death after determining Johnson, 17, slipped into the mat while reaching for a shoe and got stuck. An autopsy completed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded Johnson died of accidental positional asphyxia.
Months later, a pathologist hired by the Johnsons conducted a second autopsy, found evidence of “unexplained, apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma” to the 17-year-old’s neck and concluded the death was a homicide.
In October 2013, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, Michael Moore, launched a federal investigation, which is ongoing.
Kendrick Johnson’s parents, who have been steadfast in their claim that their son’s death was no accident, filed a wide-ranging $100 million lawsuit earlier this month, claiming several former classmates beat their son to death inside the high school gym. The suit names 37 people, mostly members of local law enforcement, plus the city of Valdosta as defendants.
“We know who killed him. We just have to prove it,” Jacquelyn Johnson told CNN.
CNN’s Devon M. Sayers contributed to this report.