Kansas City Chiefs fans' deaths: Families threatening to sue each other face 'hell of a hurdle,' lawyer says

As an investigation drags on, families of three dead Kansas City Chiefs fans and the party host whose backyard is where the men were found are threatening lawsuits against each other. But attorneys told Fox News Digital that either case would be difficult to win in court.

David Harrington, 37, Clayton McGeeney, 36, and Ricky Johnson, 38, were discovered frozen and dead behind friend Jordan Willis’ home Jan. 9, two days after they watched the Chiefs play the Los Angeles Chargers.

As the men’s families await answers about their loved ones’ deaths, Harrington’s family intends to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

“There will be a wrongful death lawsuit, and a private investigator will more than likely be part of that,” Jon Harrington told People.


David Harrington, Clayton McGeeney and Ricky Johnson were found dead outside their friend’s Kansas City home Jan. 9, 2024. (Ricky Johnson/Facebook)

Tony Kagay, an attorney representing McGeeney’s mother and fiancée, told Fox News Digital his clients are also “exploring civil lawsuit options.”

A source close to Willis told Fox News Digital March 11 the HIV scientist, who has since moved out of his Kansas City home and spent a stint in rehab, “has been left with no choice but to consider slander and defamation suits against these families, friends and significant others who have baselessly accused him in a smear campaign on every public forum willing to give them a platform to blame and point fingers.”

The source said Willis “looks forward to having the opportunity to be able to clear his name.”

But attorney Daniel Miller, a former prosecutor in Platte County, Missouri, told Fox News Digital he wouldn’t take on either case.

“It’s a hell of a hurdle. I wouldn’t represent [Willis] for anything [in this case]. I don’t represent people for defamation anyway. You’re going to have to have a Johnny Depp-level defamation case, and then you have to find someone you can collect against.”

Fred Tecce, a former federal prosecutor and current attorney based in New York, told Fox News Digital “anybody with a couple hundred dollars can file a lawsuit,” but that “filing a lawsuit and winning a lawsuit are two different things.”

“Could they technically file a wrongful death lawsuit? Yes,” Tecce said. “[But they would] have to show that somebody did something that was wrong, and that wrong caused a harm. It’s causation. It’s not that they died. You have to show that what they did caused the death.”


HIV scientist Jordan Willis, 38, checked himself into a rehab center after his three friends were found dead in his backyard Jan. 9, 2024. (GitHub)

Although preliminary autopsy results released to family members showed the presence of marijuana, cocaine and fentanyl in the dead men’s systems, it is unclear what caused their deaths.

“[The results] show that there’s more than one type of drug in their system,” Tecce said. “In order to charge the homeowner, you’d have to show … did they get [all the drugs in their systems] from the homeowner? If they only got one, there’s a reasonable doubt as to whether the other drugs killed them.”

Jon Harrington, left, and his son David. (Provided by Jon Harrington)

Previously, experts have told Fox News Digital that hypothermia combined with drugs the men may have ingested likely caused their deaths.

James Roswold of Kansas City Accident Injury Attorneys told Fox News Digital that, based on currently available information, he “doesn’t see any facts to support a wrongful death claim.”

Even if Willis or Alex Lee, the fifth man who was in the house on the night of the Chiefs game, provided or sold the drugs, it would still be “a challenge to pin any blame from one to another.”

“Let’s say we have consenting adults [that] all know what [they’re] getting into — they all voluntarily and knowingly take [drugs,]” Roswold said. “It’s going to be a challenge to pin any blame from one to another, [unless] one person has superior knowledge of what’s in those drugs or where it’s coming from.”


An exterior view of the backyard and porch of Jordan Willis’ home in Kansas City, Mo., Jan. 26, 2024. The bodies of Willis’ three friends – Ricky Johnson, Clayton McGeeney and David Harrington – were found in the backyard. (DWS for Fox News Digital)

If the men ingested the drugs that killed them unknowingly, however, the odds of a successful wrongful death lawsuit would increase.

“We can go with the crazy scenario where they don’t know at all and somebody spikes the punch bowl. Game on, wrongful death,” Roswold said. “In terms of the sale, illegal versus legal drugs, I’m going to have to tread lightly, but the wrongful death aspect of it focuses on knowing or unknown ingestion of drugs.”

Previously, the three men’s families have suggested to Fox News Digital and other outlets that Willis played an active role in their sons’ deaths. Johnson’s father told Fox News Digital he “believed [Willis] drugged them, dragged them outside and waited two days to call police.”

Johnson’s mother said she feared HIV scientist Willis had “concocted” something to kill her sons, while Harrington’s father told Fox News Digital he and his son’s mother were “convinced that Jordan Willis played a part in this somehow” and they “just [hadn’t] figured out how yet.”


Family and friends of Clayton McGeeney, left, David Harrington, center, and Ricky Johnson are clamoring for answers after the three men inexplicably died in freezing temperatures outside their friend’s Kansas City, Mo., home. (Facebook)

One of McGeeney’s cousins told the New York Post that Willis was nicknamed “the chemist” in high school for making drug cocktails, a claim that a source close to Willis has told Fox News Digital is entirely false.

“Every good he’s done in his life has been overshadowed by him becoming the scapegoat for their deaths without any evidence,” the source told Fox News Digital Tuesday. “His livelihood has been affected. … This has been a witch hunt in a series of constantly shifting stories without any proof and none of them are true.”

Willis moved out of his home and spent a stint in rehab soon after the deaths made headlines, and a source close to him told Fox News Digital Willis is deeply “depressed” over the “constant speculation.”

But, likewise, a defamation lawsuit in this case would be difficult to win, attorneys say.

“Opinions are free speech, and they are fair game. They are not subject to defamation actions with very few exceptions,” Roswold said. “[These accusations] are stated as opinion[s], which puts any kind of statement on way shakier ground in terms of being actionable.

Jordan Willis is detained on a porch in video captured by a neighbor Jan. 9 Video

“[But] if I had a client in this situation and I had an opportunity to advise them before making such a statement, I would be like, ‘You’re starting to tread on thin ice,'” Roswold added. “You don’t have that opportunity oftentimes to counsel people in a highly emotional state.”

A defamation case could also open Willis up to more scrutiny that he may not want to shoulder, Miller said, even if he was found innocent in a criminal case in the men’s deaths.

“He’s going to have to prove that’s false – that he did not give them drugs, and he did not bring them out into the backyard to die,” Miller said. “Does Willis really want to go there? He can open up something he really doesn’t want to open. He does look funny.”

Tecce said that, in the case of either threatened lawsuit, he didn’t see “any assets by any of these people that would warrant the amount of expenditure it would take to bring a lawsuit.”

Dr. Siegel on Chiefs fans' toxicology report: Poly-drug situation becoming a ‘huge epidemic’ in US Video

But in some cases, Roswold pointed out, it’s not about the monetary verdict.

“Bringing a claim against somebody who is responsible for the death of another person … you’re doing something in honor of the person who has lost their life. That’s always a personal consideration,” Roswold said. “If you succeed [in a defamation suit or a wrongful death suit], you’ve proven … something that would be in the court of public opinion, you would see that these people had done wrong.”

Each attorney said it is important for the families and attorneys involved to wait for more facts to emerge in the case.

“If I were the prosecutor — and I was the prosecutor for 17 years — I would look under every rock and bleed every turnip dry until I was sure that I had nothing to get on Willis or if I found who supplied the drugs,” Miller said. “Whether they did this to themselves or not, it’s terrible that it happened to them.”

Christina Coulter is a U.S. and World reporter for Fox News Digital. Email story tips to [email protected].

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