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Kendrick Johnson family holds rally after filing complaint about missing organs

From Devon Sayers and Victor Blackwell CNN | 12/11/2013, 2:55 p.m.
The parents of Kendrick Johnson, whose death this year created a mystery that has gripped a South Georgia town, held ...
A rally is held at the Georgia State Capitol for Kendrick Johnson on Wednesday, December 11, 2013. Photo by Devon Sayers/CNN.

The parents of Kendrick Johnson, whose death this year created a mystery that has gripped a South Georgia town, held a rally at the state Capitol on Wednesday, a day after filing a complaint with the state about the handling of their son's body.

The "Who Killed K.J." rally had several scheduled speakers, according to a news release from the Johnson family, but the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Joseph Lowery -- both of whom were slated to address the demonstrators, the family said -- never spoke. That didn't stop more than 100 protesters from assembling at the Capitol before noon.

Johnson was found dead in a rolled-up gym mat at his high school in Valdosta, Georgia, on January 11. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted an autopsy and ruled the death accidental, but his family questioned the ruling and had his body exhumed for a second autopsy.

At the second autopsy, it was discovered that his organs were missing and his body cavity was filled with newspapers, contrary to industry practice.

The family's complaint, filed Tuesday with the Georgia Board of Funeral Service, a division of the secretary of state's office, alleges that Harrington Funeral Home mishandled Johnson's body and specifically accuses director Antonio Harrington of helping obscure the teen's cause of death.

However, the funeral home's attorney, Roy Copeland, said in an October letter to CNN that coroner Bill Watson has already stated that "the accusations and innuendo regarding Mr. Harrington's involvement in the disposition of young Mr. Johnson's internal organs are baseless."

According to "The Principles and Practices of Embalming," a sentence of which was included in an October letter Copeland sent to CNN, when the organs have been removed in an autopsy, the person handling the body should dry the cavity, "dusting it with hardening compound or embalming powder and then filling it with dry, clean sawdust or cotton mixed with a small quantity of hardening compound or embalming powder."

Copeland conceded at a November interview that newspaper was not listed, but he added, "nor is it precluded as one type of foreign substance that may be introduced into a body for purposes of building it up for public display."

Gov. Nathan Deal's office did not respond to questions about whether Deal had faith in the local investigation into Johnson's death or the subsequent GBI autopsy. Asked whether Deal would call for a special investigation, spokeswoman Sasha Dlugolenski said, "We have been told that the U.S. Attorney's Office is looking into the case.

"This is such a tragedy, and we extend our deepest sympathy to this young man's family and friends. It is our hope that the U.S. Attorney's Office will be able to shed some light on the situation."

Michael Moore, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, said in October that federal authorities would investigate the circumstances behind Johnson's death.

The family's complaint alleges that when Johnson's body was exhumed for a second autopsy, "all of our son's inner organs, including his brain, were missing." CNN was the first to report the development in October.