On Thursday, October 10, CNN reported that the Georgia Secretary of State office has launched an official investigation to determine what happened to Kendrick Johnson's organs and why his body was stuffed with newspaper.
A spokeswoman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told CNN the agency conducted the initial autopsy and that “the organs were placed in Johnson’s body, the body was closed, then the body was released to the funeral home.”
However, the Valdosta-based funeral home's management is saying something very different.
The owner, Antonio Harrington, wrote a letter to their family’s attorney claiming the organs were not in the teen when the remains were received.
Harrington's letter stated that the organs “were destroyed through natural process” because of the manner in which the teen died and “discarded by the prosector before the body was sent back to Valdosta.”
A prosector is one who dissects cadavers for anatomical instruction or pathological examination.
The initial autopsy was performed by the GBI's Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft and her final autopsy report was released on May 2 despite the actual autopsy was done on January 14.
If Harrington Funeral Home stands by their story, do they have knowledge of a third-party who may have been involved which would shed more light to this investigation?
U.S. Attorney of the Middle District of Georgia, Michael Moore, said he urged anyone with information about Johnson's death to contact his office.
Johnson's body was seen briefly by Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson on Friday, January 11, and Johnson's body had been laying out on the Old Gymnasium floor for hours on a warm January day. Eventually, it was sent to the (non-GBI) Chris Prine-controlled Valdosta-Lowndes Crime Lab instead of being immediately sent to Macon's GBI lab which has a medical examiner.
Lowndes County doesn't have a medical examiner. The GBI office in Thomasville--led by Special Agent Steve Turner-- doesn't have a medical examiner. However, the investigators from the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, GBI-Thomaville and other local agencies came to a conclusion that Kendrick Johnson died due to a freak accident-- on the same day the Lowndes County High School student was found--January 11, 2013.
The Valdosta Daily Times went with the Lowndes Co. Sheriff's Office 'theory' --discounting the elected coroner--and it was printed on the front page of their newspaper. This is well documented.
However, why was Kendrick Johnson's body allowed to stay in Valdosta over the weekend (January 11-14) at the Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Lab? Who authorized this and why?
After being ruled an accident, why wasn't Kendrick Johnson's body released to the next of kin within 24 hours which would have been Saturday, January 12? According to the state law, if ruled an accident, the body must be released unless there is a written statement detailing foul play.
On a side note, the emergence of the Valdosta-Crime Regional Crime Lab is a result of former Republican Governor Sonny Perdue closing down the GBI crime lab in nearby Moultrie in Colquitt County a few years back.
The Moultrie office is open again; however there are no medical examiners who can perform autopsies.
Bill Watson has been critical of the Lowndes Sheriff's Office in regard to the Kendrick Johnson case. Watson's predecessor, Walter Wacter expressed concern in 2008 over the Moultrie GBI crime lab closing and not having a medical examiner(s) on site to assist in autopsies.
Wacter said the following to the Valdosta Daily Times:
" It would be a lot more cost and time effective for Lowndes County if the Moultrie lab remains open and another medical examiner is hired. If our citizens would call the legislators and ask them to keep the crime labs open, it could make a difference."
There were efforts to close the Moultrie lab as early as 2007 when the lab lost is medical examiner despite public complaints from many South Georgia state legislators to keep the GBI lab open, but it appears State Sen. Tim Golden from Valdosta wasn't one of those legislators who publicly complain about the loss of the Moultrie GBI lab.
In 2008, the Moultrie lab was first put on notice that their lab was slated to be closed. In 2010, money was allocated by the General Assembly to keep the Moultrie GBI crime Lab open, but was rebuffed by former Republican Governor Sonny Perdue.
According to WALB-TV, the following was reported in 2010: The closing of Moultrie's Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab means offices that currently send their evidence there will now have to send it all the way to Macon, essentially doubling Macon's case load overnight and backlogging the justice system.