AFRICANGLOBE – Nearly 10 months after their son died, the parents of Kendrick Johnson are finally getting what they’ve been asking for: another investigation into the teen’s mysterious death in the gym of Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia.
Michael Moore, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, said Thursday that federal authorities will investigate the circumstances behind the death of Johnson, whose bloody body was found inside a rolled-up gym mat on January 11.
Johnson’s family suspects the 17-year-old was murdered and that someone has tried to cover up evidence in the case.
While warning his jurisdiction is limited as a federal prosecutor, Moore said that after lengthy review of evidence collected by authorities and the family’s own investigator that “sufficient basis exists” to warrant a formal review of the facts.
Should evidence gathered in the investigation warrant criminal or civil rights charges, he said he would recommend them.
“I will follow the facts wherever they lead. My objective is to discover the truth,” he said.
In addition to suspicions of a coverup, the family’s lawyer has also raised civil rights concerns, questioning whether officials in the predominantly White county took the investigation of an African-American teenager’s death seriously enough. Authorities claim they did.
“We’re happy that a fresh pair of eyes is starting to look at Kendrick’s case,” said Kendrick’s father, Kenneth Johnson. “We’re just waiting on the truth to really come out.”
Legal analyst Sunny Hostin called the announcement “a significant development for this family and this case.”
“Now you have the resources of the federal government, in particular the FBI,” she said. “With that type of resources directed at this investigation, there will be more answers to be found.”
The announcement comes a day after a judge granted the family access to surveillance images and investigative files related to the case, which the Lowndes County sheriff’s office had declared accidental.
The media has been reporting on the case for months, uncovering new details of the teen’s death and raising questions about the sheriff’s office handling of the case.
Among other things, the media obtained death-scene images that led outside exerts to question the official explanation that Kendrick had suffocated reaching for a sneaker.
“His parents never accepted this explanation that he climbed into a wrestling mat got stuck and died. It flew in the face of all common sense,” Benjamin Crump, a family attorney, told reporters.
“This is a murder-mystery and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he said.
A Mysterious Death
Authorities found Kendrick Johnson’s body on January 11, wedged into a rolled-up wrestling mat in the high school gym.
Crime scene imagery — a 15-minute video and nearly 700 photos taken by sheriff’s investigators — show his body clad in jeans and layered orange and white T-shirts.
His face was bloated with pooled blood, some of which had poured out of his body, soaking his dreadlocks and spilling onto the floor.
Within 24 hours of finding the body, Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine announced that investigators had no reason to suspect foul play in the death.
On Thursday, Prine’s attorney said that the sheriff welcomes Moore’s decision to review the case, and will continue to cooperate “in every way.”
“We appreciate Mr. Moore’s interest in these tragic circumstances and applaud his urging of the community to come forward with facts and evidence rather than feelings or opinions, no matter how sincere they may be,” said attorney James Elliott.
“While Sheriff Prine has every confidence that his office’s investigation was handled with the necessary diligence to assure that all leads were examined and exhausted, he welcomes the U. S. Attorney’s further review of the case,” the attorney said.
But a former FBI agent contacted to review the materials questioned those conclusions.
Harold Copus, now a private investigator, questioned how authorities handled evidence in the case, including blood smears found on a nearby wall they said were unrelated to the case.
Copus also questioned the handling of a pair of gym shoes that had a substance that appeared to be blood on them.
Investigators said that the shoes weren’t collected as evidence because the substance was not blood.