New information in Billey Joe Johnson case raises more questions

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - It's one day before football star Billey Joe Johnson will be laid to rest, and his death is still a mystery.

"This investigation will be an exhaustive search for the truth," said District Attorney Tony Lawrence.

Lawrence released one possible clue in that search at a press conference Friday. It's a new incident report and police radio logs from the morning Johnson died.

The new report tells Lucedale Police Sgt. James O'Neal's account of his response to a reported attempted robbery. The victim, whose name isn't being released because she is a minor, identified Johnson as the would-be burglar.  The report says officers were on the scene by 5:40 AM, the same time Sheriff's Department radio logs say Johnson died from a gunshot wound.

O'Neal wrote that he began escorting the victim and her mother, who police radio logs identify as Ester Parker, to file charges against Johnson. He said he was called to assist at another scene, the Benndale Carpet parking lot, where gunshots had been fired.

When he arrived to assist a Sheriff's Deputy, Billey Joe Johnson was dead.

O'Neal wrote in the report, "I approached the scene and observed a black male, identified as the suspect Billey Joe Johnson, lying on the ground outside the driver's side door with a shotgun lying on top of him and blood on the ground around his head. He was lying on his back, his head away from the truck. The shotgun was lying on his body with the barrel pointing in the direction of his head. I called dispatch and verified the tag number of the vehicle as being registered to the truck and suspect reported at the scene of the attempted break-in."

Lawrence says this new report is only part of the investigation which is still ongoing.  He has released all the information that he is allowed by law to release.

But the NAACP is releasing a few more possible clues into the death of the football star.  Jackson County NAACP President Curley Clark is working closely with the independent investigation the organization is conducting. Clark believes the information in the police reports don't tell the whole story about the burglary victim, who can't be identified because she is a minor.

"There was a report of a break in, but the party that reported the breakin was someone who had been romantically involved in Billey Joe," Clark said.

He also said he believes the romantic relationship between the two could have caused trouble in the past for Johnson.

The NAACP is also questioning the manner of Johnson's death.  The organization has ruled out suicide as a possibility, although all police accounts of the incident that have been released suggest Johnson shot himself.

"The report that the deputy gave never mentioned Billey Joe being a suspect. Never mentioned the vehicle being a part of something that he was looking for. The explanation that was given was the reason why he stopped the vehicle of which he said he didn't know who was in it, was because the vehicle ran a red light and a stop sign," said Clark. "So something is not adding up here."

Clark says the NAACP's investigation is still ongoing, and they are still in the process of verifying some information.  The organization is also conducting an independent autopsy.  Those results, as well as the results of the official autopsy, have not yet been released.  Lawrence welcomes the results from the NAACP's independent autopsy.

"I encourage them to get a second autopsy. We want a second autopsy," said Lawrence.  "Give me two forensic pathologists' brains on this case. The more the better."

Clark hopes the NAACP's entire investigation will be taken into account.

"I'm just glad that the NAACP is able to hopefully provide some support that will speed the process along," said Clark.  "And I'm hoping that the information that we are able to get will help the DA in his assessment."

Both Clark and Lawrence ask the public to wait for the facts to surface before jumping to any conclusions.

"I know there has been a lot of speculation and concern from the public about this case. I can't stress this enough that there is no timetable on the search for the truth," said Lawrence. "Testing takes time, the Mississippi Crime Lab is working as fast as they possibly can. So this investigation has to progress at a pace that is in accord with scientific principal."

Lawrence promises to investigate this case to the fullest.

"I think in the end everyone will realize that every stone we can think of has been overturned in this case," Lawrence said.