Prosecutor: Too soon to determine how football player died

Updated: December 16, 2008, 3:36 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

A Mississippi county district attorney met Monday with the family of a prep football star whose death of a gunshot wound -- which police initially said was self-inflicted -- has drawn the attention of the state chapter of the NAACP.

According to multiple media reports in Mississippi, George County district attorney Tony Lawrence met with the family of running back Billey Joe Johnson Jr., who died Dec. 8 during a traffic stop in Lucedale, about 40 miles northwest of Mobile, Ala.

In a statement issued Monday, Lawrence cautioned that it was too early to determine how Johnson, a highly-touted running back, had died.

"It is too early in the process and therefore, impossible, to conclude anything as to the manner of death," Lawrence said. "We cannot conclude anything until forensic testing is complete. At this time, we have not received a final autopsy report or any other report from the many forensic tests that were performed. Further, the investigation will include information and witnesses relevant to the shooting, some of which still need to be interviewed."

"This is an ongoing investigation, and I caution members of the community to avoid rumors and speculation and let the independent investigation proceed to a conclusion," Lawrence said, according to the Hattiesburg American.

But the state chapter of the NAACP said its own investigation had determined that Johnson did not commit suicide. Curley Clark, the group's vice president, said the organization would have a second, independent autopsy performed on Johnson's body, with results expected to be announced later this week.

Clark said the NAACP's findings did not preclude the possibility that the shooting was an accident. But he said that based on interviews with people who knew Johnson and on physical evidence, there was nothing to suggest Johnson was in the state of mind to kill himself.

"At this point, nothing is concrete until the results of the autopsies have been made known," Clark said, according to The Mississippi Press of Pascagoula.

Police said the junior tailback apparently shot himself during a traffic stop in the early morning hours of Dec. 8, after a deputy walked back to the patrol car to run a license check.

"I [asked] for his drivers license and advised him to have a seat in his vehicle while I check his license out," the deputy who made the traffic stop wrote in a report, which Lawrence released Monday.

"When I went back to my vehicle I picked up the radio to call it in and heard a gun shot and glass breaking," the deputy, Joey Sullivan, wrote in the report. "I looked up and the black male fell on the ground, and the gun he had in his hand fell on top of him. I called dispatch and advised them that the subject had shot himself to send me some help."

Johnson rushed for more than 4,000 yards in his high school career. He reportedly had scholarship offers from universities including Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Oregon.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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