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Copyright 2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
October 31, 2013 Thursday
Main Edition
METRO NEWS; Pg. 1B
484 words
STUDENT DEATH;
Ruling a victory for teen's family
Christian Boone; Staff

Parents say son's death inside gym was not accidental.

A Lowndes County judge has ordered the release of video surveillance footage from inside the gym where a sophomore was found dead earlier this year, rolled up inside a wrestling mat.

The ruling was a major victory for Kendrick Johnson's parents, who believe their son did not die accidentally, as investigators ruled. An autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded the teen suffocated after getting stuck reaching into an upright mat for a shoe, although a private pathologist hired by the family said the 17-year-old died from a blow to his face that caused a heart attack.

"There are two things this video will show us," said the Johnson family's co-counsel Benjamin Crump, who previously represented the parents of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen shot dead by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. "First, that Kendrick did not get stuck in the mat and second, who else was in that gym."

But even the attorneys for Johnson's parents say the newly released footage --- culled from several different security cameras on campus --- is unlikely to contain a smoking gun.

"It will prove that the official story is not true," said co-counsel Chevene King, adding that should be enough to re-open the case.

Only a portion of the footage was released Wednesday, showing Johnson approaching the gym with a small group of students on Jan. 10, the day before his body was discovered. He can be seen entering the gym alone. The remainder of the videotape has yet to be converted from an external hard drive, said Jim Elliott, attorney for Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Pine.

"There is tons of footage," Elliott said.

The sheriff has contended that the unreleased footage doesn't shed any new light on Johnson's death and had refused to release it because students seen on the tape might be identified.

The case has generated widespread attention. Many believe the investigation was rushed, and the Georgia NAACP recently called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate.

Michael Moore, the U.S. attorney for Georgia's Middle District, will hold a press conference on the case this afternoon. It will be the first time he will speak directly to the case, which he has previously noted he is monitoring.

Johnson's parents told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month they suspect race played a role in motivating his alleged attackers or in law enforcement's handling of the case.

"I think he was beaten by multiple kids, and adults stepped in to cover up for the kids," Kendrick's mother, Jacquelyn Johnson, told the AJC. "He wouldn't climb into a mat. He would have picked up those mats and thrown them down."

Calls to the Lowndes sheriff's office requesting comment were not returned.

Meanwhile, the family still awaits a judge's ruling on their petition for a coroner's inquest, in which a citizen panel, similar to a jury, would be impaneled to review the cause of Kendrick Johnson's death.

October 31, 2013

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