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Kendrick Johnson Update: U.S. Attorney to reopen investigation into Ga. teen's gym mat death

Kendrick Johnson in an undated photo. CBS Atlanta

Kendrick Johnson
CBS Atlanta
(CBS) MACON, Ga. - The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia announced Thursday that he is reopening the investigation into the death of Kendrick Johnson, a Georgia teen who was found dead inside a rolled-up wrestling mat in his high school gym in January.

Federal prosecutor Michael Moore said he will conduct a "formal review" of Johnson's death with the help of the FBI. The announcement was made at a 1 p.m. news conference held at his office in Macon.

Moore had previously said he was reviewing the case and weighing whether to open an investigation.

He said that his office had been engaged in obtaining and reviewing all evidence related to the case for several months. He said the efforts to review the case are still "ongoing."

Moore said the decision was made to reopen the case after he personally reviewed all relevant police documents and spoke to individuals involved in the investigation.

The prosecutor asked anyone with "factual, specific information" to contact his office.

"At this time, what we need are people with facts and knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Johnson's death," Moore said.

"My objective is to discover the truth and I believe that can only be done by gathering all the evidence and relevant information surrounding Johnson's death."

On Wednesday,a South Georgia judge ordered authorities to release all surveillance video that investigators reviewed in the death of Johnson.

CBS News has obtained a portion of that video which apparently shows Johnson entering the gymnasium on the day of his death. The video also shows a group playing basketball inside the gym at the time Johnson is seen entering.

The 17-year-old Johnson was found dead Jan. 11 inside a rolled up wresting mat in the gymnasium of the Lowndes County High School. Lowndes County sheriff's investigators concluded that he died in a freak accident, falling headfirst into an upright mat and becoming trapped. But Johnson's family believes he was killed and has been pressuring authorities into taking a second look at the case.

A judge agreed in May to exhume Johnson's body, and the teen's parents hired a private pathologist to provide a second opinion.

The pathologist discovered Johnson's organs were missing and newspaper had been used to fill the body cavity. He also concluded the teenager died from blunt force trauma near his carotid artery and that the fatal blow appeared to be non-accidental.

Benjamin Crump, the lawyer representing Johnson's family, told CBS News' Crimesider on Wednesday that the case is a "real-life murder mystery."

"It defies all logic, the rules of science and common sense that a 17-year-old athlete would climb into a wrestling mat and get stuck trying to get a tennis shoe and stop breathing. What's more likely is that someone rolled him up in that mat," said Crump, the high-profile attorney who represented Trayvon Martin's family.

He said the fact that Johnson's organs were determined to be missing just adds to the mystery. Crump said he has not received any explanation as to what happened to the teen's organs.

"That's a part of the murder mystery, too," Crump said. "The fact that his organs are missing, his clothes that had DNA and blood evidence are missing, his fingernails are missing. All of this is missing and it just substantiates the belief that this was not an accident."

Crump called the judge's decision to release the surveillance video and other documents pertaining to the case a "major victory."

He said he expects the release of the surveillance video to show who was in the gymnasium at the same time Johnson was.

"It's really about trying to show two things. Number one, that Kendrick did not crawl into that wrestling mat and get stuck as the sheriff concluded. ... And number two, we want to find out who went in and out of that gym in that 24 hour period" between the time the teen went missing and the time his body was found.

Complete coverage of the Kendrick Johnson case on Crimesider

  • Stephanie Slifer

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