Federal prosecutors reopening probe of student’s death

mstucka@macon.comOctober 31, 2013 

A federal prosecutor in Macon said Thursday that his office will conduct its own probe into the death of Kendrick Johnson, a Lowndes County High School student found dead inside a wrestling mat.

U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said he’s had hundreds of phone calls about the death of Johnson, with many of them expressing “concerns, fears and opinions” about his death and the local investigation.

“Facts, not feelings and opinions, no matter how sincere, are the basis of a legal investigation. At this time, I am of the opinion that a sufficient basis exists for my office to conduct a formal review of the facts and investigation surrounding the death of Kendrick Johnson,” Moore said before more than a dozen television cameras in his office in Macon’s Gateway Center.

Johnson’s body was found Jan. 11 inside an upright wrestling mat behind bleachers. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation autopsy suggested that he suffocated, while a family ordered autopsy after an exhumation pointed to a homicide.

Lowndes County sheriff’s investigators concluded that Johnson died in a freak accident, but his family insists someone must have killed him.

Wednesday, a south Georgia judge ordered authorities to release all surveillance video that investigators reviewed. The 17-year-old’s parents say they hope the video footage will contain clues to how he died.

Moore said he needs to determine how Johnson died; whether a crime caused that death; if a crime was involved, who committed it; and which agency has the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the crime.

Moore said the FBI is aiding his office’s investigation and could be asked to launch a criminal civil rights investigation if needed.

Valdosta is part of the federal court system’s Middle District of Georgia, which is headquartered in Macon.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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