Branden and Brian Bell, the brothers accused of involvement in the January 2013 death of Georgia teenager Kendrick Johnson, are speaking out for the first time since the 17-year-old’s body was found rolled up in a gym mat.
In an investigative report by WSB-TV Atlanta, the brothers, who are also sons of FBI agent Rick Bell, denied any wrongdoing in the teen’s death. Johnson was found dead in a rolled up gym mat at his high school in Valdosta, Georgia. The brothers (ages 18 and 20) were accused of tormenting and assaulting Johnson before his death. Medical examiners said he died by positional asphyxia, but an independent autopsy commissioned by his parents found “unexplained, apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma” to Johnson’s body.
Brian and Branden said they tried to grieve like the rest of their classmates, but were shocked to find out they were being accused of his death. Brian said he was in class at the time, while Branden alleges he was changing to prepare for a wrestling match out-of-town.
“We have nothing to hide. And the truth always comes out,’” Branden said. “I want everyone to know the truth. And they can ridicule me and they can say whatever they want, but in the end the truth will prevail. Me and my brother have been innocent and will always be innocent. Neither me or my family had anything to do with his (Johnson’s) death.”
At the time of Johnson’s death, students spoke with police, though the Bell brothers did not. Brian, who was on the varsity team with Johnson, had fought with the teenager on the school bus the year before.
The Bell family’s home in Valdosta was raided by U.S. Marshals, who took phones and emails to assist with the investigation into Johnson’s death. Branden addressed speculation about his alleged time with Johnson on the day he died. He was filmed on camera walking into the gym shortly after Johnson, but said he didn’t see him because he was weighing himself for the wrestling match. He also added the suspected blood on his shirt was just a printed logo.
Johnson’s family believes the Bells had something to do with their son’s murder; the young men were named along with county officials in their $100 million wrongful death suit against the state.
Branden and Brian maintain they aren’t racist, but friends told reporters their social media presence allegedly showed racially insensitive tweets.
No charges have been filed in Johnson’s death, however a federal investigation initiated in October 2013 by U.S. Attorney Michael Moore is ongoing.