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Kendrick Johnson footage released; expert finds it 'highly suspicious'

From Victor Blackwell CNN | 11/22/2013, 5:38 p.m.
Lowndes County Schools insists the video is "a raw feed with no edits," and the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, which asserts Kendrick Johnson accidentally died while reaching for a shoe in one of the mats, says it didn't edit any files, according to their lawyers.

(CNN) -- Kendrick Johnson's family waited months for hundreds of hours of surveillance video, hoping it would answer their questions. It only raised others.

Rather than showing how their 17-year-old son's body ended up in a school gym mat in January, the four cameras inside the Valdosta, Georgia, gymnasium showed only a few collective seconds of Johnson, jogging. The camera fixed on the gym mats was blurry.

Compounding the family's suspicions was the nature of the gym videos. They're jumpy, with students intermittently appearing and vanishing, and they bear no obvious timestamps.

The Johnsons' attorneys were not shy in stating their suspicion that someone could have tampered with the videos.

"They know their child did not climb into a wrestling mat, get stuck and die. Where is that video?" Benjamin Crump asked.

Attorney Chevene King questioned why time codes weren't shown in the videos.

"We don't have any time code with which to synchronize the events that are shown in the video. ... Either the cameras did this on their own or a human being interacted to make these cameras do these things," King said.

Crump further said the family believes someone "corrupted" the video.

Lowndes County Schools insists the video is "a raw feed with no edits," and the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, which asserts Johnson accidentally died while reaching for a shoe in one of the mats, says it didn't edit any files, according to their lawyers.

CNN, which filed suit to secure access to the video, hired forensic video analyst Grant Fredericks to analyze more than 290 hours of material from all 35 cameras inside and outside of the gym. Fredericks is a U.S. Justice Department consultant and contract instructor for the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

CNN also provided Fredericks and his company, the Spokane, Washington-based Forensic Video Solutions, with hundreds more hours of video from 31 cameras in other parts of Lowndes County High School.

Fredericks quickly knocked down the Johnsons' concerns -- they're all easily explained, he said -- but his examination raised what could be another mystery: at least an hour of missing video from all four cameras inside the gym.

"Those files are not original files," Fredericks said. "They're not something investigators should rely on for the truth of the video."

Addressing the Johnsons' suspicions, Fredericks said the erratic motion in the video can be attributed to motion sensors triggering the cameras' recording function, and the blurriness on the camera homing in on the gym mats is the product of an out-of-focus lens. As for the time stamp, it's there; investigators just need to know where to look, he said.

Fredericks was able to find a little more than 18 minutes of video showing Johnson throughout the school on January 10. He's first seen at 7:31 a.m. entering school and last seen at 1:09 p.m., walking into the gym where he was found dead the next day.

What Fredericks wasn't able to find was video showing whether there was anyone in the gym when Johnson was there -- images that could prove vital in determining how the teen died.