More questions than answers 2 years after GA teen's death

More questions than answers 2 years after GA teen's death
The parents of Kendrick Johnson (Source: WALB)
The parents of Kendrick Johnson (Source: WALB)
An attorney for Kendrick Johnson speaks at a news conference. (Source: WALB)
An attorney for Kendrick Johnson speaks at a news conference. (Source: WALB)

VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - U.S. Attorney Michael Moore says authorities are still investigating the death of a teen whose body was found inside a rolled up gym mat two years ago.

Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found dead by students at Lowndes County High School on January 11, 2013.

Sheriff's investigators ruled the death an accident, saying Johnson reached in to get a shoe and got stuck.

But an independent pathologist hired by the family concluded that the teen died from "unexplained, apparent non-accidental blunt force trauma."

About 10 months after Johnson died, Moore's office announced a federal investigation. He talked about the investigation for the first time in several months in a statement issued Friday.

In the statement, Moore said investigators were still "diligently pursuing the answers and questions" in the case. But he also noted that efforts have "proven more complicated" than originally anticipated.

Family files lawsuits

Since Johnson's death, his family has remained committed to pursuing the answer to what actually happened.

They filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Lowndes County Board of Education and its members on July 28, 2013.

The lawsuit claims in-part that the members of the board of education did not properly investigate a 2009 incident involving an altercation on a school bus between Johnson and another student while on a school trip to North Georgia.

Documents show the suit also requested a jury trial on "all issues so triable", in connection with what it claims was the improper investigation of the 2009 incident on the school bus, and requests that "all other relief which [the Lowndes County Superior Court] deems to be appropriate" be awarded to the Johnson family.

In November 2014, the attorney for the Lowndes County School district said the high school strongly denies another claim related to Johnson's death.

Family members claimed that a student on the wrestling team had motive to harm Johnson and, according to a wrestling team travel itinerary the family presented at a press conference, was at school when Johnson disappeared from school surveillance video around 1 p.m. the day before his body was found.

But the school district's attorney said the team did not leave at 4 p.m. that day for a tournament in Macon as the form claims, but actually left prior to Johnson going missing. The attorney said the form was submitted in October 2012 by the wrestling coach and the time was changed shortly before January 10th after an official departure time had been coordinated with the bus driver that would be taking the team to Macon.

The Lowndes County Sheriff's Office later conducted interviews with some members of the wrestling team.

After the interviews, investigators cleared one wrestler of any wrongdoing in the case.

Judges recuse themselves

The day before U.S. Attorney Michael Moore's office sent their latest statement, Superior Court Judge Harry J. Altman II, of the Southern Judicial Circuit said neither he, nor any member of the circuit would participate in the case of the Johnson family.

Judge Altman announced the decision in a letter sent to Attorneys Chevene King and Benjamin Crump for the family, Eric Shroeder and L. Warren Turner, Jr. who represent the school system, and Jim Elliott.

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