Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Murder, suicide, accident?

From AOL Sports:

Billey Joe Johnson was considered one of the top high school football recruits in Mississippi, as well as the country, until his shocking death early Monday morning.

Johnson, hailing from Jackson, Miss., rushed for more than 1,500 yards his last season, totaling over 4,000 for his career, and received scholarship offers from a number of major schools including Alabama, LSU and Mississippi as a top-rated recruit by both Scout and Rivals.

Johnson died of a (possibly self-inflicted) gun wound early Monday after being pulled by a sheriff's deputy.

It's not clear why 17-year-old Billey Joe Johnson was stopped in Lucedale, but authorities say the junior tailback shot himself with a shotgun after the deputy walked back to the patrol car to run a license check.

"The deputy was sitting in his patrol vehicle ... when he heard a gunshot and saw the victim laying on the ground by the driver's side door of the vehicle that Johnson was driving. A shotgun was lying on the victim," according to a statement from the George County Sheriff's Department.

Authorities would not immediately say whether they believed the shooting was a suicide or an accident.
The last portion of that quote is particularly perplexing, because it is hard to believe that Johnson would have attempted to pull a shotgun on police officers ...although equally confounding is the notion that Johnson would kill himself at what, according to all current reports, appears to be a basic traffic stop.

Nothing is ever certain, but this story appears to be so odd, at least in the manner of death, that it would be even more shocking if further details didn't at least emerge as to why the young man apparently panicked and pulled a gun that resulted in the tragic and early end to his life.

If you follow the link to this story and read the comments you will see that there are three theories as to what happened. One, he was murdered by the cop. Two, he accidentally shot himself while pulling the gun out of the car in order to shoot the cop. Three, he committed suicide because he feared that the cop would discover something that would ruin his chances of playing college ball, like drugs or other contraband. A variation on this last theory is that the stress of having all the expectations of family and friends (and himself) that he live up to his potential was weighing him down and he took the easy way out.

First, if the deputy had found any kind of contraband in the kid's car he would have cuffed him and put him in the back of the patrol car, not left him alone. Second, it is unlikely that the cop murdered the young man. There certainly are police out there who are capable of doing such a thing but it would have been hard to get an young athlete in superb physical condition to cooperate in administering a contact shotgun wound. There simply would be too many signs of a struggle.

However there is a problem with the theory that he shot himself, either intentionally or otherwise. When a person shoots himself the gun is seldom found still in his hand or on his body. The recoil coupled with the bodies reaction to being shot generally propels the gun away from the body.

Of course the fact that he was standing in contact or nearly in contact with the car could have limited how the body could have reacted to the gunshot.

I have little doubt that the investigation will paint a much clearer picture of what happened, in time. Until then I counsel against forming conclusions.