Valdosta teen’s family sues funeral home

By Adrienne Moore, Weekend anchor, reporter, amoore@wjxt.com
Elizabeth Berry, Evening assignment manager, beth@wjxt.com
Published On: Feb 05 2014 10:04:42 PM EST
Updated On: Feb 05 2014 10:13:52 PM EST

An initial autopsy ruled Kendrick Johnson accidentally suffocated in the mat.  A second autopsy,
conducted by a pathologist hired by Johnson's family, found he died from a blow to the neck.

VALDOSTA, Ga. -

Channel 4 has learned about new developments in the case of a Valdosta teenager found dead in his high school gym last year.

Kendrick Johnson’s family filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the funeral home that handled their son’s body when he was found rolled up in a wrestling mat in Lowndes County.

The lawsuit alleges Harrington Funeral Home "intentionally, willfully and secretly desecrated the remains" of the Johnsons son. It also claims that not only did the funeral home mishandle the 17-year-old's organs, it disposed of them to stymie the investigation into the cause of his death.

"They say this was designed to deceive and perpetrate a fraud to make it more difficult to determine the cause and manner of death in this case,” said CNN correspondent Victor Blackwell. 

Blackwell has been following Johnson’s story since the beginning. He spoke with Johnson’s family Wednesday about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also mentions the clothing that Kendrick Johnson was wearing when he was found there on Jan. 11, 2013, clothes that disappeared.

"DNA, hair samples, there could be some clues on those clothes that could support what the Johnsons believe, which is that this was not an accident,” said Blackwell. "Mrs. Johnson said the only thing that keeps her going from day to day is the push to get answers."

The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office ruled Johnson's death an accident, but his parents believe he was murdered.

A second autopsy was conducted after a long court battle and found the teen's organs had been replaced with newspaper, which according to a state board in Georgia, is not illegal.

"The explanation the owner of the funeral home, Antonio  Harrington, gave in a letter that he wrote to the family's attorney says the organs were destroyed through some natural process because of the position of the body," said CNN Correspondent, Victor Blackwell. "Essentially, because the body of Kendrick Johnson was found upside down, his organs were destroyed.”

The U.S. Attorney and FBI is still investigating the case, but neither agency would provide any update on the case or comment on the lawsuit.

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