New developments in the death investigation of Kendrick Johnson have led authorities to familiar suspects and left more questions for the teen’s family. The sheriff of Lowndes County, Georgia, Ashley Paulk, who reopened Johnson’s case earlier this year, said an audio confession tape presented by family members turned out to be phony.
In 2013, the body of 17-year-old Johnson was found wrapped in a gym mat and his parents, Jackie and Kenneth Johnson, have continuously asserted that a group of students were involved in their son’s death.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Johnsons filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2015 in which they accused brothers Brian and Branden Bell and their friend of being involved in Kendrick’s death. The lawsuit claimed that the Bell brothers’ connection to law enforcement agencies was used to cover up Kendrick’s death. Members of the Bell family have denied the accusations.
Shortly after Paulk announced the case was being reopened, the Johnsons, along with their spokesperson, presented an audio tape recording in which a person can be heard saying, “They are going to catch me anyway. I should’ve never done this. I was young and stupid. Kendrick didn’t deserve this, man.” The male voice on the recording was advertised to be Brian Bell.
Kendrick’s parents told Paulk they were contacted by a man who claimed to be a second cousin of the Bell brothers and paid $1,000 to obtain the tape. At the time the Johnsons presented the tape, Paulk said he wasn’t aware the Bells had a second cousin –– which he later found out they don’t.
Sheriff Paulk said the man who gave the Johnsons the tape is a known liar. “He’s been [in jail] several times. What for? Giving false statements,” Paulk told the outlet.
Officers tracked down the man, whose identity has been withheld due to the ongoing probe, who gave the Johnsons the tape and arrested him. The man confessed that the recording was not authentic, Paulk said. The man also told authorities he didn’t act alone, but wouldn’t provide a name, only saying that the person who helped him is connected to the case.
“He’s a known liar, so who knows if he’s telling the truth,” Paulk said.
Paulk said the Johnsons have not answered questions about their interactions with the man who sold the tape to them, which would open the way for charges to be brought against the man. “It’s kind of unusual when the victims refuse to participate,” Paulk said.
Johnson family spokesman, Marcus Coleman said the family would like to do its own test of the tape to determine if it can be authenticated. “The more eyes the better,” Coleman said, adding that Kendrick’s mother was not convinced the audio was fake.
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