(USA TODAY) A federal prosecutor in Georgia said he will investigate the case of a Valdosta teen found dead inside a rolled-up wrestling mat at his high school gym in January.
U.S. Attorney Michael Moore made the announcement one day after a judge ordered authorities to release all surveillance video reviewed the day Kendrick Johnson died.
Johnson, 17, has been the center of a public battle between his parents and authorities since Lowndes County sheriff's investigators concluded Johnson died in a freak accident.
Investigators say the teen suffocated in Valdosta, Ga. while reaching for his sneaker.
His family insists someone must have killed him.
Kendrick's parents also have petitioned a Georgia judge to order a coroner's inquest into their son's death.
"We are trying to find out what happened and what took place at that school," Kenneth Johnson, the teen's father, told USA TODAY. "The school and the sheriff's department are covering something up and we need to find out who they are covering up for."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation disagrees. The agency is standing by an autopsy report that found Kendrick died accidentally of "positional asphyxia," said Sherry Lang, its director of public affairs.
"We have complete confidence in the medical examiner," she said.
Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson say they don't understand how a young man who ran track and played basketball and football could suffocate in a mat.
More questions came this summer when Kendrick's body was exhumed for a second autopsy. The private pathologist found that his organs were missing and that newspaper had been used to fill his body. That same pathologist ruled that Kendrick died of non-accidental blunt force trauma.
"This is a real life murder mystery," said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Kendrick's parents and the attorney who helped focus national attention on the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. "If you are trying to get a shoe out of a rolled up mat, where do you get trauma in your head?"
Crump added that several other factors make Kendrick's death suspicious. Police officers likely contaminated the scene after finding the teen's body, Kendrick's clothes from the day he died are missing and the teen's finger nails were cut after death but now those clippings are gone, Crump said.
All this has convinced Kendrick's father of the worst.
"The only thing I can come up with is our son was murdered," Kenneth Johnson said.
John Bacon and Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY