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'A Burden Like Hell': New Audio May Contain Confession In Kendrick Johnson’s Mysterious Death
“On that tape, you very clearly hear what appears to be a caucasian young male admitting — very tearful, very fearful — and stating twice that he knows that he’s going to get caught,” a family spokesperson said.
A recording that reportedly contains an emotional confession of an individual who may have been involved in the suspicious 2013 death of teenager Kendrick Johnson in Georgia is now being vetted by authorities, police said this week.
The origin and credibility of the recording — which was provided to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office after being purchased by Johnson’s family — are both now being investigated.
In 2013, Johnson’s body was found rolled up in a mat inside a Valdosta-area high school gymnasium. The 17-year-old’s death was ultimately ruled accidental and a medical examiner concluded the teen died from “positional asphyxia.” The case was closed nearly five years ago due to "insufficient evidence" supporting foul play, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Johnson’s family has long-suspected the teen was killed by classmates and theorized that their parents conspired with school and law enforcement officials to cover up his death. If authentic, the audio may be one of the first significant clues to emerge since the case’s reopening earlier this month by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.
Investigators declined to comment on what's said in the audio but confirmed they’re now tracking down the individual who allegedly sold the tape to Johnson’s mother.
“We’re actively hunting for the person that provided it,” Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk told Oxygen.com. “We have a good picture of him and a pretty good description. They purchased this from an individual and he did not give them his true name. We know that.”
The individual in question could face extortion charges if the recording is phony, Paulk said.
“If it is somebody just doing an extortion racket or a terrible hoax — it’s very, very cruel, and of course, if it is a hoax, we’ll deal with it very sternly,” Paulk said.
Forensic experts are conducting voice comparison analysis on the speaker captured in the recording. Paulk said it could take up to two weeks before results come back.
“We don’t know whether it’s credible or not,” he said. “I won’t deem it credible until I can look at the source, find out where [he] got it from.”
The recording hasn’t yet been made public. No further information was readily provided by law enforcement.
“It’s an active case so the contents of the recording or anything else, we’re not going to divulge right now,” Paulk said.
Johnson’s family, however, said they are confident the 25-second audio clip is authentic — and that it could lead to criminal charges in the case.
“On that tape, you very clearly hear what appears to be a caucasian young male admitting — very tearful, very fearful — and stating twice that he knows that he’s going to get caught,” Marcus Coleman, a spokesperson for the Johnson family, told Oxygen.com. “The emotions are reflective of one someone who has a burden like hell on their shoulders.”
Verifying the tape’s authenticity is “indispensable,” he added. Coleman didn’t speculate on the speaker’s identity but emphasized the voice sounded “younger in age.” He also claimed the tape’s unidentified seller, who supposedly sent the Johnsons “several texts” to orchestrate the purchase, is a white male. Coleman called for the individual’s immediate arrest.
“The Johnsons were extorted out of $1,000 for a tape that contains an individual admitting to their involvement,” he alleged. “Absolutely, they were extorted.”
In 2015, the Johnson family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against siblings Brian and Branden Bell, and another student, Ryan Hall, who they have said they suspect are to blame in the teenager's death.
County authorities are currently combing through a trove of boxes of evidence, including computer hard drives, documents, and other files relevant to the investigation.
“I’m going through everything myself,” Paulk said, estimating that the reopened investigation could last a minimum of six months.
“It’ll be a lot of work,” he explained. “I made a promise to the people I’d go through every piece of [evidence].”