Parents to exhume Valdosta teen's body again

Kendrick Johnson found dead in 2013 inside rolled-up gym mat at high school

VALDOSTA, Ga. – The parents of a teenager found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat at a Georgia high school will exhume their son's body for a second time, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber confirmed to the AJC that Kendrick Johnson’s family has asked for and received permission to dig up the corpse at 5 p.m. Friday. 

Local and state authorities had ruled the 17-year-old's death in January 2013, was a freak accident. They concluded that Johnson got stuck upside down in the middle of a rolled-up gym mat and was unable to breathe.

According to the report published Wednesday by the AJC, the family plan to have an autopsy, which will be the third conducted on Johnson since his body was discovered more than five years ago. 

Johnson's parents insisted someone must have killed their son and have pushed to reopen the investigation.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that there was not enough evidence to support federal criminal charges in the case.

"After extensive investigation into this tragic event, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people willfully violated Kendrick Johnson's civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime," the Justice Department said in a statement June 20, 2016. "Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed without the filing of federal criminal charges."

Classmates at Lowndes High School found his body on Jan. 11, 2013, inside one of the rolled-up gym mats propped upright against a wall next to the gymnasium bleachers.

The strange circumstances of Johnson's death attracted attention far beyond his hometown of Valdosta near the Georgia-Florida state line. Rallies and marches calling for answers drew up to 200 people, while thousands followed social media sites dedicated to the case. The Florida lawyer who represented Trayvon Martin's family worked to help ensure Johnson's death wasn't forgotten.

Sheriff's investigators for Lowndes County closed the case four months after the high school sophomore turned up dead. They concluded he died in a freak accident while reaching for a gym shoe inside one of the mats. A state medical examiner ruled the cause of death was "positional asphyxia," meaning the teenager got stuck upside down in a position that left him unable to breathe.

Johnson's parents and their supporters refused to let the case be put to rest. They got a judge's order to exhume the body so a second autopsy could be performed. The private pathologist hired by Johnson's family reported finding hemorrhaging beneath the skin of Kendrick's jaw and neck and concluded he suffered a fatal blow near his carotid artery that appeared to be "non-accidental."

According to the AJC, a review of the autopsies commissioned by federal investigators found the state's autopsy was more credible.

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