Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

November 1, 2013

U.S. Attorney to review ‘KJ’ case

MACON, Ga. — A U.S. Attorney announced Thursday he will conduct a formal review into the death of Lowndes High student Kendrick Johnson.

“I do this with an open mind, neither accepting nor rejecting the opinions of anyone who has previously investigated the circumstances of Mr. Johnson’s death,” said United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Michael Moore.

Moore made the announcement at 1 p.m. Thursday outside of his office in Macon.

He began by giving a timeline of the investigation: the discovery of Johnson’s body in the old gym at Lowndes High School in January, the investigation conducted by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office with assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the GBI autopsy that ruled the death as accidental due to positional asphyxia, his office receiving the complete investigative file including photos and videos, the second autopsy conducted by a private pathologist at the family’s expense that concluded that death was the result of blunt-force trauma, and the ongoing efforts of his office to obtain and review information relating to the case.

Moore then posited four questions.

“First, what was the cause of Mr. Johnson’s death? Second, was Mr. Johnson’s death the result of a crime? Third, if Mr. Johnson’s death was the result of a crime, who committed that crime? Fourth, if a crime was committed, who has the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute those responsible?” Moore asked.

If a crime did occur that resulted in Johnson’s death, Moore said it may not be a crime which could be prosecuted in federal court.

Moore stated that his office has received and is reviewing hundreds of telephone calls to determine if any relevant information has been offered.

“At this time what we need are people with actual facts and knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Johnson’s death to present those to us. Facts, not feelings and opinions, no matter how sincere, are the basis of a legal investigation,” said Moore.

Moore will conduct a “formal review of the facts and investigation surrounding the death of Kendrick Johnson,” and has requested the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“I am committed to doing everything in my power to answer the questions that exist in this case, or as many of them that we can … my goal is to follow the facts, apply the law and to protect the independence and objectivity of the investigative process,” said Moore.

During the review, Moore’s office will not be making any public comments.

In a comment previously provided to The Times, Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine said he “would welcome an independent review of this case by the Department of Justice.”

Moore’s announcement comes one day after Southern Circuit Judge Harry Altman ordered the release of previously redacted and omitted material that was not included in open records requests for all information relating to Johnson’s case.

Most of the omitted material includes the identities of minors, said Jim Elliot, lawyer for the sheriff’s office, and that has raised issues of concern, especially from the school system, prompting the release of this statement Thursday afternoon: “The Lowndes County School System will continue to fully cooperate with local, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies in any investigation of this matter. It is critically important that those who receive identifying information regarding current or former Lowndes High students use the utmost discretion before releasing it without parental permission.”

Moore did not provide a timetable for the completion of the review. The next development in this case is expected Monday in Lowndes County Superior Court concerning the Johnson family’s petition for a coroner’s inquest.

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