Yesterday I posted about this case, where popular Valdosta GA football player Kendrick Johnson was found dead about two years ago in a rolled-up gym mat. His death was declared accidental, with much obvious skulduggery, evidence tampering, and other clear indications of corruption. Johnson’s family filed suit, declaring that fellow student Branden Bell had a long-running conflict with their son; Bell’s father is a local FBI agent, with connections to all the law enforcement personnel in the area. The case stalled until last month, when Federal agents raided Bell’s and his father’s home, as well as the local sheriff’s office, clearly searching for evidence of tampering.
WSB-TV then posted interviews with Bell and his brother Brian, both of whom came forth on their own to speak about the case with reporters. Which is… wow. Today, I’m going to listen to Branden Bell. His brief (0:48) interview focuses on several issues:
- He answers “No, sir” to reporter Mark Winne when Winne asks him if he had anything to do with any witness tampering or obstruction. He’s at least superficially persuasive.
- Winne follows up with “Is it possible you said something to somebody?” Bell, a little more comfortable, says, “Once the marshals investigate, as the FBI has done, they will find that their evidence will be… none.” Hard to say if he’s been coached here. He’s calm, even-toned.
- Winne asks the same question; Bell says “There was no witness tampering on my behalf whatsoever, nor my family’s, because we have nothing to hide. And the truth always comes out.”
- Winne says, “You’re confident that syllable you’ve told us will stand up to the light of the evidence gathered in the Federal investigation?” Bell says, confidently, “Yes, sir.”
Nothing about Bell is obviously shifty: he looks like Central Casting got a call for White Stoner Bro from Mid-Sized Georgia City, and went with it. Clean stoner, though; not grubby. [Note: I’m talking about his general impression physically, not what he does.] Winne is weirdly emotional, as I mentioned yesterday, and actually talks more than Bell. If this ever becomes a novel (the title will be Positional Asphyxiation) then the trope of the reporter getting too close to the story needs to be front and center.
Let’s go through these four points the very short interview makes. Bell’s first answer could easily be fully true even if there has been obstruction and tampering. Why would he need to have anything to do with it? Other people would take care of him even if he didn’t ask. His second answer… it sounds like something memorized, but it could just as easily be a fairly articulate guy who kind of ran out of words on camera. It happens. But right there, he puts in “as the FBI has done”, we have to keep in mind that his father is an FBI agent. Do we really expect that an FBI investigation was going to reveal something criminal about their own agent, if there were something to be found.
Third answer is the sketchiest, because it sounds the most rehearsed. None whatsoever? The truth always comes out? This is not how a 19yo talks, typically; but of course, the case has almost certainly been discussed around him, so it’s not at all implausible he’s picked up the phrasing from there. Fourth one is just repeating himself.
So IMHO there’s not a lot about this interview that glows red with suspicion. He acquits himself well against some leading questions from a reporter who spends too much time talking and not enough listening. The one thing that really stands out, though, is the “as the FBI has done”. That’s his dad he’s talking about, but WSB doesn’t want to foreground that fact.
Tomorrow, we’ll parse what his brother Brian has to say.