Federal prosecutor will look into Kendrick Johnson case

By Michael Pearson and Victor Blackwell CNN | 10/31/2013, 1:52 p.m.
Michael Moore, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, said Thursday that his office will conduct a formal review the death of Georgia teenager Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead in a rolled up gym mat at his high school in January. "I will follow the facts wherever they lead. My objective is to discover the truth," Moore said. His office has been examining the case for the past few months at the request of Johnson's family, which doesn't accept local authorities' conclusion that the death was accidental. Photo courtesy of CNN.

MACON, Georgia (CNN) -- Nearly 10 months after their son died, the parents of Kendrick Johnson are finally getting what they've been asking for: another investigation into the teen's mysterious death in the gym of Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia.

Michael Moore, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, said Thursday that federal authorities will investigate the circumstances behind the death of Johnson, whose bloody body was found inside a rolled-up gym mat on January 11.

Johnson's family suspects the 17-year-old was murdered and that someone has tried to cover up evidence in the case.

While warning his jurisdiction is limited as a federal prosecutor, Moore said that after lengthy review of evidence collected by authorities and the family's own investigator that "sufficient basis exists" to warrant a formal review of the facts.

Should evidence gathered in the investigation warrant criminal or civil rights charges, he said he would recommend them.

"I will follow the facts wherever they lead. My objective is to discover the truth," he said.

In addition to suspicions of a coverup, the family's lawyer has also raised civil rights concerns, questioning whether officials in the predominantly white county took the investigation of an African-American teenager's death seriously enough. Authorities say they did.

"We're happy," Kendrick's mother, Jacquelyn Johson told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday. "The only thing we ever wanted was the truth."

CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin called the announcement "a significant development for this family and this case."

"Now you have the resources of the federal government, in particular the FBI," she told Blitzer. "With that type of resources directed at this investigation, there will be more answers to be found."

The announcement comes a day after a judge granted the family and CNN access to surveillance images and investigative files related to the case, which the Lowndes County sheriff's office had declared accidental.

CNN has been reporting on the case for months, uncovering new details of the teen's death and raising questions about the sheriff's office handling of the case.

Among other things, CNN obtained death-scene imagery that led outside exerts to question the official explanation that Kendrick had suffocated reaching for a sneaker.

On Monday, after a judge ordered county officials to release surveillance images and investigative files, Kendrick's father, Kenneth Johnson, said the family was pleased to finally be seeing progress in the case.

"We are happy to hear we are one step closer to the truth," he said.

A mysterious death

Authorities found Kendrick's body on January 11, wedged into a rolled-up wrestling mat in the high school gym.

Imagery obtained by CNN -- a 15-minute video and nearly 700 photos taken by sheriff's investigators -- show his body clad in jeans and layered orange and white T-shirts.

His face was bloated with pooled blood, some of which had poured out of his body, soaking his dreadlocks and spilling onto the floor.

Within 24 hours of finding the body, Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine announced that investigators had no reason to suspect foul play in the death.