NEW: Kendrick Johnson's family given suspended sentence, so they won't go to jail
Parents have staged or attended numerous protests since their son's January 2013 death
He was found dead inside a rolled gym mat at his high school; a federal investigation is ongoing
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.
State Court Judge Mark Mitchell sentenced them to 12 months in jail and suspended the sentence, so they will spend no more time behind bars and will not be placed on probation. They won’t be fined, either.
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.
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.
In May 2013, the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office announced it was closing its investigation into Johnson’s death after determining that 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 and found evidence of “unexplained, apparent nonaccidental blunt force trauma” to the 17-year-old’s neck. That pathologist 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.