The parents of a Georgia teenager found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat and their attorney must pay more than $292,000 in legal fees to dozens of people they accused of foul play in a lawsuit that was later dropped, a judge ruled. The body of Kendrick Johnson, 17, of Valdosta was found in 2013 by classmates at Lowndes High School. Sheriff's investigators concluded Johnson died in a freak accident, stuck upside-down and unable to breathe while trying to retrieve a shoe that fell inside the upright mat. But Johnson's parents have long insisted he was murdered. Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson filed a 2015 lawsuit accusing two brothers of killing their son. They also said law enforcement and school officials covered up the crime. The Johnsons dropped the suit last year.
The 39 defendants they had sued asked the judge to order the family to pay their attorney fees and related court costs, the AP reports. They initially said they were owed about $850,000. Superior Court Judge Richard Porter had the lawyers take a closer look at their billings. In a ruling Monday, he ordered the Johnsons and their attorney, Chevene King, to pay $292,105. He cited sworn depositions in which attorneys questioned Johnson's parents in October 2015. "Their testimony shows that they had no evidence to support their claims that the [brothers] killed Johnson or that any of the other defendants engaged in a conspiracy to conceal the cause or manner of Johnson's death," Porter wrote. The judge's order also holds the Johnsons' attorney responsible for filing a "groundless" lawsuit and taking actions to delay rulings in the case. (Read more lawsuit stories.)