A federal prosecutor said Thursday that he is conducting a formal review of the evidence in the death of a Georgia teenager who was found dead inside of a rolled up wrestling mat in his high school gym.
U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said he’s launching a federal investigation into the death of Valdosta high school student Kendrick Johnson. The 17 year-old was found dead on Jan. 11. Moore said he will ask the FBI to conduct a criminal civil rights investigation into Johnson’s death if he uncovers sufficient evidence.
At a news conference in Macon, Moore said many people have expressed concerns, fears and opinions about Johnson’s death.
"But at this time, what we need are people with facts and knowledge surrounding the death of Mr. Johnson to present those to us. Facts, not feelings or opinions, no matter how sincere they may be, are the basis of a legal investigation."
In addition to reviewing the previous investigation by the Lowndes County sheriff’s office, The Associated Press reports Moore will also review two autopsies done on Johnson, along with other evidence including photos and videos. Moore also says he’s met with investigators and attorneys for Johnson’s family.
“I will follow the facts wherever they lead,” said Moore. “My objective is to discover the truth and I believe that can only be done by gathering all the evidence and relevant information surrounding Mr. Johnson’s death.”
The teenager’s parents pushed for the U.S. Department of Justice to open the case after Lowndes County officials ruled the death to be a freak accident. Johnson’s parents suspect foul play.
Moore's announcement comes just as newly released surveillance footage shows Johnson on his last day alive at Lowndes High School.
Lowndes County sheriff Chris Pine previously released surveillance footage showing Johnson entering the school gym the afternoon before his body was found. In that footage, no one appeared to follow Johnson inside. The sheriff refused to release any other additional footage without a court order because the video footage shows other minor students who could be identified.
On Oct. 30, a judge ordered authorities to release all surveillance videos that investigators had reviewed.
A medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded Kendrick Johnson died from positional asphyxia, meaning he died when his body got stuck in a position where he couldn’t breathe. The sheriff ruled Johnson’s death a freak accident, saying he became trapped trying to retrieve a shoe that fell into the center of the mat.
Johnson’s family hired a private pathologist to conduct a second autopsy. The expert concluded Johnson died from blunt force trauma near his carotid artery from a blow that appeared to be non-accidental.
This article includes reporting from the Associated Press