Miss. football star’s family wants another probe

Published 12:47 am Sunday, March 1, 2009

Prosecutors say they have turned over investigation files on the death of star Mississippi high school football player Billey Joe Johnson Jr. to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Assistant district attorney Brice Wiggins in George County says the files were given to federal authorities at the request of Johnson’s family.

“It included all the witnesses that testified (before the grand jury), including some witnesses the family wanted to testify. It contained all relevant information people brought forward and the grand jury report,” Wiggins said.

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Sheila Wilbanks, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Jackson, said Friday that she could not confirm or deny an investigation was under way. The FBI had no immediate comment Friday.

Johnson’s family on Thursday said they will ask state and federal officials to investigate the 17-year-old’s death. A grand jury earlier this month concluded that Johnson accidentally shot and killed himself with his own shotgun during a traffic stop on Dec. 8.

“We’re not accepting that,” said Veronica Fairley, a cousin who organized a news conference on the George County Court House lawn Thursday. “We’re going as far as we have to go, if we have to take it to the (state) capitol, the governor or Washington.”

Johnson, a junior at southern Mississippi’s George County High School, died of a wound to the left side of his head on Dec. 8 after a deputy pulled him over for running a red light. After an initial investigation, authorities said the wound was self-inflicted.

The grand jury, after listening to 30 witnesses and looking at forensic evidence for weeks, concurred, saying the teen accidentally shot himself. The report said no evidence, including DNA, indicated the deputy who pulled Johnson over had fired the shotgun and that no other people were involved in the shooting.

District Attorney Tony Lawrence, who oversaw the investigation, said the Johnson family could ask the U.S. attorney or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the case.

“I don’t have a problem with the family pursuing that,” Lawrence said. “I’ve often said the more heads we have looking at this, the better.”