Billey Joe Johnson Jr. dreamed of graduating high school, going to college and one day playing pro football. On a cold December morning in 2008, that future was shattered. His story is a reckoning of justice in America.

Billey Joe Johnson wearing the red and gold uniform of his high school football team, the Rebels.
Billey Joe Johnson Jr. Credit: Courtesy of the Johnson family

Chapter 1: The Promise

Billey Joe Johnson’s family has lived with suspicion and doubt since authorities first told them he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a traffic stop with a White sheriff’s deputy. They never believed law enforcement thoroughly investigated what happened. While on a reporting trip 10 years ago, Reveal host Al Letson made a promise: to investigate his death and pursue the Johnsons’ unanswered questions.

Billey Joe Johnson Sr., background, comforts his wife, Annette, who holds a photo of their son.
Billey Joe Johnson Sr. (background) comforts his wife, Annette, outside the George County Justice Court in Hattiesburg, Miss., on Feb. 12, 2009, after a jury announced that the death of the couple’s son Billey Joe Johnson Jr. was self-inflicted but unintentional. Credit: Matt Bush/The Hattiesburg American/Associated Press

Chapter 2: The Aftermath

On the morning of Billey Joe Johnson’s death, crime scene tape separates the Johnsons from their son’s body. Their shaky faith in the criminal justice system buckles as authorities fail to follow up on inconsistencies in the official story.

Flowers adorn Billey Joe Johnson’s grave. Credit: Imani Khayyam for Reveal

Chapter 3: The Autopsy

The Mississippi medical examiner’s office is a “mess” when Billey Joe Johnson dies. There’s no state medical examiner, and Mississippi outsources Johnson’s autopsy to a group from Tennessee. The pathologist who conducts his autopsy comes to one conclusion; the U.S. Department of Justice comes to another.

Former Special Agent Joel Wallace (left) talks to Reveal host Al Letson. Credit: Jonathan Jones/Reveal

Chapter 4: The Investigator

Special Agent Joel Wallace, a Black detective with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, works with the George County district attorney’s office questioning witnesses and reviewing evidence. When he finds out what Reveal has uncovered, he begins to wonder whether Billey Joe Johnson’s case should be reopened.

Billey Joe Johnson Jr. and Hannah Hollinghead first started dating in ninth grade. On the left is Johnson in a high school yearbook. On the right is the couple at their 10th grade prom. Credit: Courtesy of the Johnson family

Chapter 5: Star Crossed

Billey Joe Johnson was a Black boy dating a White girl. And that made the story behind his death even more complicated.

The Johnson family stands in front of an old oak tree.
The Johnson family: Eddie (from left), India, Tiffanie and Billey Joe Sr. Credit: Imani Khayyam for Reveal

Chapter 6: Mississippi Justice

Billey Joe Johnson’s friends say he was pulled over by police dozens of times. Community members had accused police of racially profiling Black people. So when Billey Joe died, questions were raised about police interactions with him.

Billey Joe Johnson Jr. smiles broadly at the camera.
Billey Joe Johnson Jr. Credit: Courtesy of the Johnson family

Chapter 7: Reasonable Doubt

The final episode of Mississippi Goddam shares new revelations that cast doubt on the official story that Billey Joe Johnson accidentally killed himself.

Case Files

Dig into crucial investigation documents and files about the death of Billey Joe Johnson Jr.


Original music for the podcast is by Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. Listen to the soundtrack on Bandcamp.


Edward R. Murrow Awards
2022 winner, excellence in diversity, equity and inclusion for network radio

Peabody Awards
2022 finalist, podcast/radio

Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards
2022 winner, radio

Investigative Reporters & Editors
2021 winner, large audio


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Al Letson

Host and series reporter

Al Letson is an accomplished playwright, screenwriter and journalist. As a journalist, he’s been awarded three Peabodys and an Emmy. His theater work has appeared Off-Broadway and on stages across the country. Letson has worked on several TV projects with various networks, including AMC and Hulu. He continues to write, develop and tell new stories for both broadcast and live audiences. Letson first learned about Billey Joe Johnson’s death in 2011 and has worked to tell his story since then.

Jonathan Jones

Series reporter

Jonathan Jones is an investigative reporter and producer for Reveal and the lead investigative reporter for Mississippi Goddam. He has reported on death investigation systems, flawed forensic science, criminal justice and the wrongly convicted. His investigation into Firestone’s operations during the Liberian civil war for ProPublica and PBS Frontline won Emmy Awards for outstanding investigative journalism and outstanding research.

Kevin Sullivan

Series editor and executive producer

Kevin Sullivan was Reveal’s executive producer. In 2018, he launched an initiative to develop serial projects at Reveal, which resulted in 2020’s award-winning American Rehab and then Mississippi Goddam. Under his leadership, Reveal grew to air on more than 570 stations and garnered top journalism honors, including multiple Peabody, duPont, Edward R. Murrow and Third Coast awards.

Michael I Schiller

Series producer

Michael I Schiller is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His award-winning work spans animation, radio and documentary film. “The Dead Unknown,” a series he directed about the crisis of America’s unidentified dead, earned a national News and Documentary Emmy Award, a national Edward R. Murrow Award and national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award.

Jim Briggs

Senior sound designer, engineer and composer

Jim Briggs is one half of the team behind Mississippi Goddam’s music and intimate sound design. He has guided Reveal to numerous accolades and a signature sound including original scoring and data sonification. Mix credits include “99% Invisible,” “Marketplace,” “Radiolab” and several PBS television documentaries. A winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in sound, Briggs records ambient and psychedelic music under the name Decoded Forests.

Fernando Arruda

Sound designer, engineer and composer

Fernando Arruda has been mixing and making original soundtracks for Reveal since 2018 alongside Jim Briggs. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with awards, including Peabody, duPont, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations.

Steven Rascón

Production assistant

Steven Rascón produced and mixed stories for Mississippi Goddam. He also contributed to research. He assists the radio production team for Reveal’s weekly public radio show and podcast. His reporting has aired on KCRW, KQED and Capital Public Radio. He’s pursuing a master’s degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Sumi Aggarwal

Interim editor in chief and managing editor

Sumi Aggarwal oversaw Reveal’s editorial operations, as well as partnerships with other newsrooms. She assisted with launching Mississippi Goddam. Prior to joining Reveal, she was a producer at CBS News’ “60 Minutes” and worked at the “Today” show and Google. She has received numerous journalism awards, including several Emmys, duPont and RFK awards, and many others.

Amy Mostafa

Production manager

Amy Mostafa was Reveal’s production manager for the weekly broadcast show, podcast and serials. Mostafa helped launch Mississippi Goddam across newsroom platforms and worked on Reveal’s award-winning first serial, American Rehab. Mostafa’s audio reporting and production work has appeared nationally and across NPR affiliates KQED, KALW and AKPM.

Series digital editor: Nina Martin | Executive editor: Andrew Donohue | Digital producers: Sarah Mirk and Nikki Frick | Fact checker: Rosemarie Ho | Reporting and producing help: Ko Bragg, Melissa Lewis, Michael Montgomery and Laurel Hennen Vigil | Additional mixing and sound design: Claire Mullen, Najib Aminy, Brett Simpson and Ameeta Ganatra | Interim CEO: Annie Chabel | Special thanks: Katharine Mieszkowski, Alexis Hightower, Jen Chien, Esther Kaplan and Christa Scharfenberg

Mama Blue sang our theme song, which was written and composed by Nina Simone. Thanks to the Nina Simone estate and Music and Strategy. News and sports footage of Billey Joe Johnson courtesy of Gray Media Group Inc., WLOX-TV. Series photos by Imani Khayyam. Logo design by Joan Wong.