Kendrick Johnson and the coming battle of expert witnesses regarding cause of death

November 10, 2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Good evening:

Although I have been away all day attending to various matters, my mind has never strayed far from Kendrick Johnson and the coming battle of experts regarding whether his death was accidental, which is the medical examiner’s opinion, or a homicide, which is the opinion held by the forensic pathologist Kendrick’s parents retained to determine Kendrick’s cause of death after his body was exhumed. The outcome of this battle will determine if the inquiry into his death will turn into a criminal investigation in search of a suspect or suspects to be charged and prosecuted or be closed on the ground that it was a tragic accident and not a homicide.

If the medical examiner loses the battle of the experts, I doubt the United States Attorney will prosecute the case because he lacks jurisdiction to prosecute a murder case unless it was a hate crime, which is the same barrier that the Department of Justice is facing in deciding whether to prosecute George Zimmerman. I think an independent special prosecutor will have to be appointed to replace the current prosecutor because his objectivity will have been been compromised by the position he took backing the medical examiner. I believe the same is true for the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that employed the medical examiner and endorsed his conclusions. To say that a lot is riding on the outcome of the battle of the experts is a vast understatement.

Without discovery, I cannot predict the outcome. Nevertheless, I know a lot about autopsies and how they are conducted, so I can provide you with an accurate idea of what to expect and a preview of the coming battle.

Right now the dispute appears to concern whether Kendrick sustained a blunt force traumatic injury to the right side of his neck. The forensic pathologist retained by Kendrick’s family concluded that he did and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s medical examiner apparently did not find such an injury. He and the GBI have reviewed the report of the second autopsy and they have issued statements saying they stand by his original report.

The dispute likely will be about the detection of subcutaneous bruising in an African American male. Bruising is easier to see on a white person because the skin is a lighter color. The darker the skin, the more difficult it is to spot bruising. In any case where blunt force trauma is suspected, it’s a good idea to cut into the skin with a scalpel and visually examine the tissue beneath the skin for evidence of broken blood vessels. If you find it, the next thing to do is to photograph what you found and attempt to determine the boundaries and shape of the bruised area. Then section the tissue and prepare slides for viewing with a microscope.

Although the medical examiner’s office did the right thing to section organ tissue on slides for preservation and viewing, he may have screwed up by not doing the same thing with Kendrick Johnson’s neck tissue. This will likely be the hotly disputed issue with the medical examiner claiming that the so-called evidence of blunt trauma was really due to a post mortem impact or an advanced state of decomposition, or both.

The loss of Kendrick’s internal organs is inexcusable. If the medical examiner was responsible, that will severely hurt his credibility

The manner in which he conducted the autopsy will be fair game. You will want to check and see if he followed standard operating procedure. For example, the body must first be placed on butcher paper to prevent the loss of trace evidence and then x-rayed to spot bullets, assorted shrapnel and the like, objects in pockets and broken bones.

Then the body must be visually examined and photographed from head to foot, face up and face down, before the clothes are removed and visually examined for evidence of an injury, such as a bullet hole, puncture or cutting and bleeding. Underwear should be examined for ejaculate and discharge. Clothing should be dried if wet and packaged in brown paper bags sealed with the exhibit number, date and initials of the person who packaged the article written across the seal. This is done to document chain of custody and to discourage tampering.

The photographic process is repeated after the clothes have been removed with special attention given to any injuries, including bruising.

It’s vitally important to follow this procedure during every autopsy to avoid missing something important. Nothing should be assumed and every possibility must be considered before it is ruled out.

The failure to spot a significant injury, even if it did not actually cause death, is inexcusable and is the sort of mistake that could result in an erroneous conclusion such as accidental death due to positional asphyxiation instead of a homicide committed by blunt force trauma to the neck disabling the victim followed by rolling the victim up in a mat and stowing it in an upright position with the victim upside down inducing death by positional asphyxiation.

Right now we have a battle between two forensic pathologists. No doubt each side will attempt to sign-up at least one and possibly several experts who will support the conclusion reached by its expert. Does this mean we are likely to hear from Dr. Vincent DiMaio again?

I sincerely hope not, but only time will tell.

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New information revealed in Kendrick Johnson case

October 29, 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Good morning:

I have new information to report in the Kendrick Johnson case.

CBS Atlanta hosted a show yesterday called Powertalk with Mrs. Lorraine Jacques-White reporting. Attorney Benjamin Crump called in to the show to report new developments in the investigation of Kendrick’s death.

He said Kendrick had been dating a white girl at the school in 2011. He got into a fight with a white boy at the school and apparently won the fight. Although the article does not say what the fight was about, I get the impression that it may have had something to do with Kendrick dating the white girl.

The white boy was unwilling to let the matter drop and challenged him to another fight to take place at the white boy’s house. Kendrick declined.

The white boy’s father or mother may be a police official.

Kendrick’s death occurred not long after that.

This report is similar to information provided by a commenter here several weeks ago when I first wrote about this case. The person said Kendrick was dating a white girl who had been dating the son of the Sheriff of Lowndes County.

I do not yet consider this information to be established fact. I am going to need more verification.

I certainly do not believe he crawled down the tube opening in the mat to retrieve his athletic shoe, got stuck and asphyxiated by accident. That story is ridiculous.

However, if this new information is true, it could explain who killed Kendrick, why he killed him, and why the murder was covered up. I doubt the kid with the grudge and score to settle acted alone.

Hopefully, Benjamin Crump will solve this mystery soon.

I am not buying the school district’s argument that the videos from the CCTV cameras do not show anything because none of the cameras were aimed at the mat in which Kendrick’s body was found, but they cannot release the videos to confirm that claim because other students appear in them and they have not consented for the videos to be released.

There are ways to ghost out faces, so identities can be protected.

Lowndes County is looking incredibly corrupt and not doing well in the court of public opinion.

Time to stop playing hide-the-ball and let the chips fall where they may.


Coroner’s inquest demanded in Kendrick Johnson case

October 22, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Good afternoon:

We have a new development in the Kendrick Johnson case.

On behalf of Kendrick’s parents, Benjamin Crump is requesting a coroner’s inquest.

USA Today has the story:

The parents of Kendrick Johnson, the student-athlete found dead in a rolled-up gym mat, are petitioning a Georgia judge to order a coroner’s inquest into their son’s death, the couple’s lawyer said Tuesday.

Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson believe the surveillance video taken inside the Lowndes High School gym will show what happened to their son. So far, only a short clip of the video has been made public.

/snip

Crump said he believes the findings of an inquest would support the family’s belief that Johnson’s death was a homicide.

In a press conference Tuesday, lawyers said there are at least four video cameras in the gymnasium, one of which was aimed toward the corner where Kendrick’s body was found.

Officials have said they must wait for consent from other minors in the video before they can release it.

The U.S. attorney’s office has the video and is reviewing the case.

Georgia Statute § 45-16-27 (a)(1)(C) authorizes the Coroner of Lowndes County to conduct an inquest before a jury into Kendrick’s cause of death even though the Medical Examiner at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined that the cause of death was accidental due to positional asphyxiation.

This is a very interesting move that I fully support. Early on in the investigation, the Lowndes County Coroner protested the Sheriff’s failure to notify him immediately about the discovery of Kendrick’s body, which is required by law.


Kendrick Johnson was not alone in the gym

October 21, 2013

Monday, October 21, 2013

Good morning:

Kendrick Johnson was not alone in the gym.

Victor Blackwell, who has been doing a splendid job of covering the Kendrick Johnson case for CNN, explains how he reached that conclusion in this CNN video with Anderson Cooper

He explains why he wanted to view additional CCTV video:

Lieutenant Stride Jones, who has been the face of the investigation for the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department, at least for the media, and we have the official record from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation from the Medical Examiner’s office and they recount a conversation with Stride Jones on January 16th and here it is.

The decedent was seen on the school video going into the gym around 1300 hours alone. The video did not show any other children or staff in the gym with the decedent at that time.

Here’s what Stride Jones told the Valdosta Daily Times on May 4th.

He [Kendrick] comes down the hallway, and he essentially enters the gym. He’s following another kid. The first kid comes in and goes to the left. Kendrick goes in and off to the right where the mats are.

A clear discrepancy between those two statements.

Blackwell wrote this letter to the attorney who represents the school district asking the following question:

Are minors for whom Lowndes County has not received consent to release educational records depicted in the surveillance video recorded inside the Old Gym at Lowndes High School on January 10, 2013 between 1:09 pm and 1:20 pm?

He told Anderson Cooper that he received the following answer to his question:

We chose 1:09 pm because that is the time this picture was taken. In the response by the attorney for the school district. he writes, I answer your pointed question with, “Yes.” So confirmation that Kendrick was not alone in the gym.

We not only know that Kendrick was not alone, we know that Lieutenant Stride Jones lied about that on January 16th.


We shall overcome

October 12, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Good evening:

Crane and I were gone most of the day. Since we returned, we have been reading and talking about the awakening and renewed commitment to seek justice inspired by the shocking injustice in Kendrick Johnson’s case that so many of you have so clearly expressed.

We feel the same way and we intend to use this blog to not only seek justice for Trayvon, but to seek it for Jordan Davis, Kendrick Johnson, their grieving families and everyone else who has been denied their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a just and color blind society. Justice for Trayvon is the name and symbol of our quest.

In a comment this afternoon, Mary Davis said,

I know what happened in Trayvon’s case knocked the sails out of us, but we can’t stop now.

She is right and her comment got me thinking.

This is my answer.

The result in Trayvon’s case disappointed me, but it did not knock the sails out of me.

I have learned how to be patient doing death penalty work. In the Darrold Stenson case, for example, where material exculpatory evidence was withheld by the prosecution from me (I was defense counsel) resulting in a guilty verdict and a death sentence, the Washington State Supreme Court finally agreed with our argument and reversed the conviction and death sentence in the spring of 2012. The sentence was imposed in 1994, so justice took 18 years.

I am convinced that something far bigger than ourselves is dictating the direction and pace of events. Racism, corruption and injustice are rampant. Innocent people are being murdered and the perpetrators are not being held accountable.

Necessary change must happen but it cannot happen all at once.

Justice for Trayvon must necessarily be sought outside the legal system because the Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits a retrial and the prosecution is not going to appeal a case that it did not intend to win and cannot retry.

Justice for Trayvon will be found in the court of public opinion. I think this week’s episode of South Park capitalized on widespread interest in the case and the pervasive belief that George Zimmerman got away with murder. He did much to hang himself after the acquittal by swaggering around like the cowardly bully that he is. Result: he was portrayed as the government’s go-to weapon when it wants to silence a black troublemaker because he’s an expert at murdering black kids and getting away with it. However, he killed a white kid disguised in black face, so he was summarily executed in the electric chair.

Rather than offend our national sense of justice, which would have been the case if a majority of Americans believed he was a hero for defending himself against a crazed black thug who attempted to kill him, most people understood that the result of his trial would have been different if Trayvon were a white kid and they laughed at his execution on South Park.

I don’t believe anyone needed to have that explained to them.

I believe the only people who were offended by the show are the white right wing racists that make up the right wing hate machine.

I don’t know how the writers managed to pull that off in a nation of people shocked, dismayed, and still grieving about the injustice of the verdict, but they did.

And they mocked George Zimmerman and got us to laugh at him.

Nothing will bring back Trayvon Martin. I think a nation shocked by Trayvon’s death, the injustice of the verdict, and thoroughly disgusted with George Zimmerman is actually a better result than a conviction and life sentence.

George Zimmerman’s life will be a living hell, which is his just reward

Now we are witnessing a call for help to right a wrong in Valdosta, Georgia. Word is spreading like wildfire through the power of instant communication via the internet to reopen the investigation into Kendrick Johnson’s suspicious death. Experts in death investigation and forensics are stepping forward and speaking out. They are identifying the problems with the investigation and calling his death a homicide.

The cover-up is falling apart exposing yet another corrupt and incompetent local police department (the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office) and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which conducted the autopsy and reached the utterly ridiculous and indefensible conclusion that his death was accidental due to positional asphyxiation.

Unfortunately, during the long course of human history, most people have been far too willing to accept corruption and injustice as just the way it is, even when they, or someone they know, have been victimized. They felt too isolated and powerless to fight back. For example, more than 80 innocent defendants pled guilty to felonies they did not commit during the late 1990s and agreed to serve lengthy prison sentences without complaint. Every one of them was framed by corrupt members of the out-of-control Ramparts Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. At least one of them sustained multiple gunshot wounds for allegedly resisting arrest even though he submitted to arrest.

The horrible story unravelled when one of the rogue police officers was arrested for possessing cocaine in his locker. He snitched on his fellow officers in exchange for favorable treatment. Eventually the truth was revealed and all of the wrongful convictions were set aside.

Even though they were represented by counsel, not one of the more than 80 innocent defendants believed he had a realistic chance to be acquitted and not one of them was even willing to go to trial.

Tragically, corruption and injustice tend to thrive and be tolerated until some terrible tragedy occurs that so offends people that they finally say enough is enough.

George Zimmerman’s cold blooded execution of an innocent and unarmed Trayvon Martin screaming for help and his mother and begging for his life was such a tragedy. People all over the world were shocked and horrified. It brought us together here and it brought many others together at other sites. All of us watched the trial and we ultimately saw through the pretense of a serious prosecution. We have been changed forever by that experience.

Nine months after Zimmerman murdered Trayvon, we were horrified again when Michael Dunn murdered Jordan Davis at a gas station because Jordan refused to turn down the music he was listening to and did not show Dunn enough respect. Ironically, Dunn will be prosecuted by Angela Corey, the State Attorney who oversaw the failed prosecution of George Zimmerman and expressed satisfaction with the result.

We will be watching that trial and calling her out every time she fails to do something she should have done or does something she should not have done. I and others like me who are experienced trial lawyers will be watching every move she makes. She has a lot to prove and everything to lose. She will not get away with another lackluster effort to create the appearance of justice. We will call her out, if she allows another racist right wing nutcase like B-37 to get on the jury. We’ve seen the movie and we are familiar with the script. Never again.

And now we have Kendrick Johnson’s shocking case to grab our attention and galvanize us back into action.

Nothing will ever change unless we take action and make things change. Unfortunately, humans have to be shocked out of their generally passive and accepting everyday lives before they will come together, focus on solving a problem, and take action to git ‘r done. These three horrific cases are waking us up to what we must do to reclaim our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a just and color blind society. We cannot ignore these tragedies. We cannot shrug our shoulders and turn our backs on Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Kendrick Johnson and their grieving families because those three beautiful, young, and innocent children could just have easily been our children or even ourselves.

Justice for Trayvon is justice for everyone and we now have three crystal clear examples that racism is alive and well in this country and our criminal justice system is aiding and abetting it rather than producing just results.

I could no more ignore the message conveyed by these three tragedies than stop breathing.

By working together using the power of the internet to communicate, we can and we will make the mountains tremble.


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