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October 31, 2013

Feds to review case of teen found dead in wrestling mat

VALDOSTA, Ga. — Federal prosecutors will conduct a formal review of the death of Kendrick Johnson, a 17-year-old who was found dead earlier this year inside rolled-up wrestling mats at his high school.

Michael Moore, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, made the announcement Thursday, a day after a state judge granted Johnson’s parents access to files – including school surveillance video – in the investigation into their son’s death, which local authorities had ruled accidental.

Johnson was found dead at Lowndes High School on Jan. 11, suspended upside-down and wedged inside a rolled-up gym mat. State and local officials have called Johnson’s death an accident, suggesting Johnson got stuck in the mat while reaching for a lost sneaker and suffocated.

But his family never accepted that story and has staged public demonstrations calling for an investigation. Their cause has received national attention, including from the likes of Rev. Al Sharpton, who visited Valdosta to lend support.

The files released Wednesday include hundreds of documents and nearly 2,000 hours of surveillance video, some of which show Johnson entering the gym where he was later found dead, but do not show him entering the wrestling mat, CNN reported.

Moore said that he is going into the review with "an open mind," and if sufficient evidence exists, he will ask the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate.

“We are one step closer to getting to the truth,” said Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Johnson's parents.

The family’s attorneys said they hoped the school surveillance videos will lead to alternate theories about what happened to Kendrick Johnson the day he died. In June, the Johnsons successfully petitioned to exhume the teen's body and hired a pathologist to perform a second autopsy. That doctor concluded the boy's death was the result of "unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt-force trauma."

Details for ths story were reported by The Valdosta (Ga.) Daily Times and CNN.

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