Justice: 'No Criminal Act' in Miss. Hanging

ByMichael J. Sniffen

W A S H I N G T O N, Feb. 1, 2001 -- The Justice Department's civil rights division concluded today there was no criminal act in the hanging last summer of a black Mississippi teenager, which local authorities ruled a suicide.

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and the family of 17-year-old Raynard Johnson had argued that local authorities moved too quickly to rule out the possibility the youth was lynched by people who disapproved of his friendships with white girls in the rural community of Kokomo, Miss.

But a three-paragraph statement from the Justice Department said, "Despite the tragic nature of this event, the evidence about Mr. Johnson's death obtained and reviewed by the Department of Justice does not suggest that a criminal act occurred."

The department said it explored "every avenue of inquiry," including interviewing numerous witnesses and enlisting the aid of multiple forensic experts. It also reviewed "all available physical evidence" and findings of a medical examiner hired by the Johnson family.

"There are no other avenues left to consider," the department concluded. It noted that the Mississippi attorney general, the Mississippi Highway Patrol, the 15th Circuit Court district attorney and the Marion County sheriff reached the same conclusion after separate investigations.

The youth was found hanged last June 16 in the front yard of his Kokomo home.

Two autopsies, including the one commissioned by the family, found no evidence of a struggle. Authorities have said Johnson's girlfriend broke up with him shortly before he was found.

Last August, Jackson said his investigators identified at least 15 people who could have had something to do with Johnson's death. He did not name them.

Lewis Myers, an attorney for Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said four of the 15 people "within 90 days had a physical or verbal confrontation when the life of Raynard Johnson was threatened."

Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore said state and local investigators had tracked down every lead received from Johnson's family and Jackson's organization.

The federal investigation was conducted by the civil rights division, the U.S. attorney's office for the southern district of Mississippi and the FBI.

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