Computer of hanged black teenager at issue Family fears tampering in suicide inquiry

Sunday, July 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JACKSON, Miss. – A computer owned by a black teenager found hanging in his front yard is the source of a fight between the victim's family, who believe the teen was lynched, and authorities, who want to find out if the computer contains a suicide note.

Raynard Johnson was found hanging from a pecan tree June 16 near the front door of his home hours after showing family members how to use the new computer.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and family members say that and other events prove the 17-year-old honor student was not depressed and contemplating suicide. They think he was lynched because of his relationship with two young white women.

Two autopsies – one commissioned by the family – concluded Raynard's injuries were consistent with suicide.

District Attorney Buddy McDonald said Thursday that the family has refused a request by authorities to turn over the computer. He said his office would rather work with the family to obtain it than seek a search warrant to seize it.

Raynard's mother, Maria Johnson, said she would let the FBI look at the computer in the house, but she will not turn it over to anyone.

"They are insisting there's something on that computer. There is no suicide note. He hadn't even had it 12 hours before he was killed," she said. "I'm not going to let them go in and put something into it."

Mr. Jackson has lobbied for a federal investigation since local and state authorities ruled the death a suicide. He and the Johnson family met with Attorney General Janet Reno in Washington last week. Mr. Jackson said he was satisfied with Ms. Reno's assurances that the FBI would follow every lead in the case.

A girlfriend of Raynard told police that the night of the suicide she had told him she was in love with someone else. Raynard's mother said Friday that her son found the girl attractive but did not love her. Mr. Jackson has dismissed the girl's statement as a "small piece of the case" and questioned her credibility.