Gregory Johnson, Jr. was allegedly found dead on November 22, 2008 in the SJSU Sigma Chi fraternity house where he lived; members of the fraternity claimed to have found his body in the basement, hanging in a sitting position with his legs in front of him with a heavy-duty extension cord tied around his neck. Below is a list of things that have led his family to believe his death needs to be reinvestigated as a murder:
Gregory stood at a height of 6-foot-2 and weighed 185 lbs.; the distance between the basement floor and water pipe from which he was allegedly found hanging measured out to 5 feet, 10 inches.
Gregory’s mother (Denise Johnson) was not notified of his death until several hours had already passed; students, grief counselors, and university administration were notified of Gregory’s death before Denise ever received a call.
Denise was notified of her son’s death by Clearlake, CA police officers that showed up to her house. Denise claims she felt intimidated because one officer had his hand on his gun and kept asking if the family was going to drive down to San Jose that night. Fearing for their safety, Denise and Gregory Sr. did not leave Clearlake, CA until the next morning.
Gregory’s body had no marking on his neck to suggest strangulation, which is odd considering police reports stated he had been hanging for nearly 2 hours before his body was discovered.
When Denise Johnson arrived at the Sigma Chi fraternity house around 1:30pm on November 23, the basement smelled like Pine-Sol because somebody had already disinfected the crime scene. The Grand Master of the fraternity was also already at the house when the Johnson family arrived. The house was filled with fraternity boys who Denise Johnson believed were looking for a fight—Denise remembers seeing a police riot squad van parked at the house when they arrived.
One of Gregory’s fraternity brothers lied to the evidence collector and tampered with Gregory’s belongings. Members of the fraternity told the evidence collector a cell phone at the site did not belong to Gregory, so it was left behind. Gregory’s sister-in-law recognized the phone and frat members acknowledged that the phone belonged to Gregory, before handing it over to the family.
When Gregory’s sister-in-law went through the phone later that night, she found that all of Gregory’s pictures had been deleted and somebody had attempted to call his voicemail at 8:30pm on Nov 22, several hours after he was allegedly found dead.
The Santa Clara County coroner’s office refused to let the Johnson family view/ID Gregory’s body; they stated that the fraternity brother who found Gregory dead had already ID’d his body. The coroner’s office told Mrs. Johnson that she needed to raise a few thousand dollars ASAP to have Gregory’s body sent to Clearlake, CA, or else they would cremate his body.
When Gregory’s body finally arrived at the funeral home nearly two weeks after his death, Denise Johnson discovered a 6-inch crack in the back of his head, from which brain matter was still oozing. This injury was not mentioned in the incomplete autopsy report that the Johnsons received. Gregory’s neck was also broken.
The FBI reviewed the case, considering it a possible hate crime. The 300+ page report the FBI generate was escalated to Washington DC. After filing multiple requests under the FOIA, Denise Johnson only received copies of the first few pages of the report due to “matters of national security.”
SJSUPD Officer Fritz Van Der Hoek was one of the first officers to respond to the call about Gregory’s suicide; Van Der Hoek was also at the scene when Antonio Guzman Lopez was shot in the back. According to witness statements, Van Der Hoek may have been the shooter, but SJSUPD is preventing the footage from being released.
SJPD Officer Ryan Dote was also at the Sigma Chi fraternity house when police responded to a call about Gregory’s suicide. SJPD has denied that any SJ officers were at the scene, but former independent police auditor LaDoris Cordell has provided documents proving that Officer Dote and other SJPD officers were present. Officer Dote was also involved in the Feb 2015 fatal shooting of Phillip Watkins, an unarmed African-American male who was shot in the back by police officers who were responding to a 911 call for a mental health crisis.
The Johnson family filed a lawsuit pro-per in Feb 2015, hoping the courts would force SJSUPD and the coroner’s office to release all documents from the investigation to the Johnson family; this lawsuit was thrown out due to statute of limitations.
The Johnson family believes SJSU covered up Gregory’s death because his fraternity included boys from wealthy and influential families. Gregory was close friends with a fraternity member whose father was in a leadership position at the company Monster Energy drinks. According to Mrs. Johnson, Gregory’s friend deleted all pictures of him and Gregory after Gregory’s death. They had recently gone on a vacation with a group of friends—all the pictures from this vacation were deleted.
An independent autopsy can help prove that Gregory did not die by strangulation from suicide.
Denise Johnson is calling on California and federal authorities to re-open this investigation, release the full FBI report with no information withheld, release the full police reports, and reveal the details of this murder that have been kept from her since 2008.