What had been thought to be a recorded confession in the death of Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson turns out to be a fake, a law enforcement official investigating the case said last week, local station WALB reports.
Johnson, a 17-year-old Valdosta, Ga., basketball player was found rolled up in a mat at Lowndes High School in 2013. His death had been ruled accidental: the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department said he suffocated when he became lodged in the mat while trying to recover a pair of shoes. A federal probe came up with no definitive conclusions on how he died. But his parents had always believed he was the victim of foul play and had spent years pleading with authorities to examine the case further.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in a wrongful death lawsuit, the parents, Jackie and Kenneth Johnson, accused three of Johnson’s peers, brothers Brian and Branden Bell and another individual of causing their son’s death and also alleged that the school superintendent and the former sheriff Chris Pine after being asked by the Bells’ father, a former FBI agent. That lawsuit was later dismissed.
Video surveillance and witnesses apparently backed up their alibis, which say they were not near the gym where Johnson was last seen.
But in March the Johnsons came to Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk with a recording that they said they had paid $1,000 for which contained a male voice apparently confessing to killing the teenager. It was supposed to have been from the Bells’ second cousin.
“They are going to catch me anyway,” a voice purported to be Brian Bell said in the recording, the AJC reported. “I should’ve never done this. I was young and stupid. Kendrick didn’t deserve this, man.”
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But Paulk recognized the voice on the recording as a person who had been in jail several times for giving false confessions, according to the AJC. He told the Johnsons that they had likely been tricked and a few weeks later the individual who allegedly made the recordings admitted the confession was phony.
“This is a terrible hoax. This woman lost a child,” Paulk said, referring to Johnson’s mother. “I can’t believe somebody would even do this for any amount of money.” He also told the Valdosta Daily Times that his office has found no evidence that the Bells even have a second cousin.
The individual’s name is being withheld because of the investigation into Johnson’s death, which Paulk re-opened in March.
Meanwhile, the Johnsons have not answered any questions about the person who sold them the tape, Paulk said. Their spokesman Marcus Coleman said the family wants to conduct their own tests on the tape to determine its authenticity, saying he is not totally convinced it’s a ruse.
“The more eyes the better,” he said.
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