VALDOSTA, Ga. - Seven relatives of Kendrick Johnson, the Georgia teen found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat in his high school two years ago, were convicted Wednesday of unlawfully blocking access to government property when they held a protest in April 2013, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.
Johnson's parents, Jacquelyn and Kenneth Johnson, along with 5 other family members, were arrested following the protest in which they allegedly blocked access to the entrance of the Lowndes County Judicial Complex.
CNN reports a judge sentenced them to 12 months in jail but suspended the sentence, so they will not spend time behind bars and will instead be placed on probation.
Chevene King, a lawyer for the Johnson family, has said the protest was part of an effort to obtain official findings pertaining to the death of the 17-year-old Johnson.
"It wasn't until seven days after that protest that the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department released the investigative file of the teen's death," said King.
The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office ruled Johnson's January 10, 2013 death was a freak accident, saying he fell head-first into an upright mat in the gymnasium at Lowndes High School while trying to retrieve a shoe, and became trapped. An autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agreed, citing asphyxiation as the cause of death.
Johnson's family, however, insisted there was foul play involved and had their son's body exhumed for a second autopsy. It was then that a private pathologist concluded the teen died of blunt force trauma to the neck and said his organs were missing and the teen's body had been stuffed with newspaper.
Since then, Johnson's family and their attorneys have zeroed in on two brothers - the sons of a local FBI agent - who the family contends were on campus when Johnson was last seen alive, and who they say had motive to harm their son since one of the brothers had previously been in a fight with Johnson on a school bus about a year before his death.
The Lowndes County Sheriff's Department has stood by its finding that Johnson's death was accidental and maintains at least one of the brothers was not on campus when Johnson was last seen alive, and the other was in another part of the building. No charges have been brought in the case.
The mother of the two brothers implicated by the Johnson family said in an article published by the Valdosta Daily Times on Wednesday that her family has been subjected to undue bullying and harassment in person and online due to the rumors.
"The day after Kendrick's body was found, his family was on the courthouse steps accusing a kid who had an altercation with him more than a year earlier," said Karen Bell. "They were accusing my 15-year-old child without any evidence whatsoever. It's been two years, and there still is no evidence that anyone was involved, but it's been their agenda since day one. Investigators have concluded that my younger son is accounted for every minute of the day on school surveillance and that my older son was not even at school when Kendrick was last seen."
In October 2013, U.S. Attorney Michael Moore initiated a federal probe into Johnson's death. A grand jury was hearing evidence in the case.
Bell told the Valdosta Daily Times that her sons have not appeared before the grand jury hearing the case nor have they spoken with the FBI.
Johnson's parents have several lawsuits pending related to their son's death. Earlier this month, they filed a $100 million lawsuit alleging the local FBI agent encouraged his sons to "violently assault" the teen, leading to his death. The suit names a total of 38 defendants, including several officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Valdosta Police Department, the city of Valdosta, the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department and the Lowndes County School District, all of whom the parents allege conspired to cover-up their son's murder.
Bell described the suit to the Valdosta Daily Times as "frivolous and without factual merit."