Nearly ten years after the killing of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, authorities and his family is no closer to the resolution they want. After reopening Johnson’s case last year, Lowndes Co. Sheriff Ashley Paulk offered a reward of $500,000 for any information that leads to an arrest and conviction for Johnson’s alleged murder.
Paulk’s offer of a reward comes after Johnson’s parents recently expressed their displeasure with his findings in the case. He told a local news station that he had been called a “liar” and because Johnson’s parents continue to claim their son was murdered.
Last week, the sheriff released a 16-page report finding no evidence of “foul play” affirming prior findings in the case. According to a copy of the report uploaded by local news WCTV, Paulk dismissed the idea of a cover-up or any conspiracy theories at the beginning of the report.
“Any person who looks at this case objectively would know that it would be impossible to conceal any evidence due to the involvement of so many agencies and investigators,” Paulk wrote. “The FBI states unequivocally in its investigation that there was no cover-up or conspiracy — letter of 12/23/2014.”
Paulk also stated that he found it “disturbing” that the case became a “witch hunt” after the original determination of no “foul play” was made. Speaking with local news, Paulk also seems to insinuate that a woman Department of Justice employee may have improperly influenced an earlier stage of the investigation.
He maintains that Johnson likely got stuck in the gym mats and suffocated while trying to retrieve personal items, possibly his shoes. According to Paulk’s investigation, the students commonly stored items in this area.
Toward the end of his report, the sheriff noted several issues that disturbed him about the case. Among the problems he cited was the former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia allegedly on a first-name basis with a reporter at Ebony Magazine and a defamation lawsuit by the family of two of the accused students. As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Johnson Publishing settled with the family in 2020 for $500,000.
It’s unclear why Paulk decided to raise these particular issues in his review of the evidence. His report further claims that there was attempted coercion in the case with a text message in evidence telling someone to lie in their testimony. According to Paulk, the person telling the witness to lie was never questioned.
But for Johnson’s parents and many supporters, despite every insistence that Johnson’s death was an accident, the basic facts just simply don’t add up. The report’s findings that seem to suggest unethical (and possibly illegal) behavior on behalf of those supporting the Johnson family could be upsetting to read.
Speaking with a local CBS46 in Atlanta, Kenneth Johnson said he was not surprised the sheriff came to the conclusion he did. In his brief remarks, Kenneth Johnson said the sheriff’s department had a history of covering up deaths, citing the case of Willie James Williams.
Paulk was previously cleared in a civil suit arising from Williams’ death while in custody in 1998. Williams. At the time, Williams’ family accused Paulk of failing to render medical aid.
As of now, the Johnson family is no closer to having the answers they seek. The tragic story has also inspired a documentary, “Finding Kendrick Johnson,” directed by Jason Pollock and narrated by actress Jennifer Lewis. The documentary premiered last year on STARZ and raised several questions about what really happened in that high school gymnasium.
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