Kendrick Johnson‘s harrowing death remains an open wound for his family eight years later.
On Tuesday, Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk shared his decision regarding why he wanted to take the investigation into his hands as a means of restorative justice for the Johnson family. “It’s been eight long years,” Johnson’s mother, Jacquelyn, told CNN. “I’m feeling hopeful.”
Paulk has already began conducting interviews and plans to pick up where the Department of Justice left off, before they opted to pass on filing charges in 2016.
“My plan is to see if there are any discrepancies between the reports,” said Paulk, who is leading the investigation.
Paulk came out of retirement in 2017 lead the investigation, concerned that more needed to be revealed in the case.
“If there’s questions — and they’re legitimate — I need to know the answers myself. The only way I’m going to know is to look at the evidence myself,” Paulk said.
In 2019 Paulk filed a request with the Department of Justice asking investigators to hand over information regarding the case, but his request was declined. However in November 2020, federal investigators changed their mind after visiting with the Johnsons.
Paulk said his office received 17 boxes of written and electronic evidence from the federal investigation. The investigation is expected to take place over six months.
Johnson, a 17-year-old student at Lowndes High School, was found dead in a rolled up gym mat on January 11, 2013.
While local investigators ruled that his death was an accident, Johnson’s family believed there was more to the story.
His family maintained their suspicions around his death and questioned the positioning of his body after he was found upside down, as well as students and administrators who made the gruesome discovery.
After an autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations ruled Johnson died from asphyxiation, Johnsons’ family hired a private examiner who concluded that he died from blunt force trauma to the neck.
Johnson’s parents also sustained a lengthy and expensive legal battle after they filed a $100M civil suit in 2015.
The last striking blow in the case was handed to Johnson’s parents in 2016 after they were ordered to pay the legal fees of the defendants, amounting to almost $300,000.
The family re-filed their civil suit in 2019, claiming that their son’s “organs, clothes and brain were disposed of to interfere with law enforcement’s investigation,” WALB reports.
In light of all they have been through, the Johnsons just want to find a conclusion and peace.
“We’re not asking for any favors. We’re not asking for anybody to lie for us. We just want the truth to come out,” said Johnson’s father, Kenneth.
“I’m hoping that he does the right thing,” he continued in reference to Paulk. “I just hope that the truth comes out.”