Two Georgia brothers under investigation in the death of a classmate found in a rolled-up gym mat spoke out for the first time to insist they’re innocent.
Brian and Branden Bell were named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Kendrick Johnson, 17, whose body was found stuck upside down inside the mat at Lowndes High School a day after he went missing in January 2013.
The Bells, of Valdosta, have not been charged but are the subjects of a federal civil rights and grand jury investigation into the death. Brian Bell lost a football scholarship to Florida State University after he was named in the lawsuit. He is now a freshman player at the University of Akron.
“I want everyone to know the truth,” Branden Bell told WSBTV in his first media interview. “They can ridicule me and they can say whatever they want. But in the end, the truth will prevail and everybody will find me and my brother are innocent and have always been innocent.”
Johnson’s death was ruled an accident by local authorities, who claimed that he reached into the mat to retrieve his shoe, got stuck and asphyxiated.
Branden said he was on a bus to a wrestling match at the time of the incident, while Brian said he was in class.
But Johnson’s parents said they suspect foul play, claiming that he was bullied and beaten over a previous fight with Brian before being stuffed in the mat.
“They were given an explanation I imagine every one of your viewers sat scratching their heads, imagining, well, how could that be?” the Johnson family attorney, Chevene King, said.