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Video to be released in Kendrick Johnson case

2:14 PM, Oct 30, 2013   |    comments
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VALDOSTA, Ga. -- The family of a Lowndes County teenager scored a huge legal victory in court Wednesday.

In January, Kendrick Johnson, 17, was found dead inside a rolled up wrestling mat inside his high school gymnasium.

Law enforcement authorities ruled it an accident and argued he died from suffocation while trying to recover a shoe.

But Johnson's parents and their attorneys have never believed that is what happened.

For nine months, they have been fighting to have sealed documents and surveillance video in the case released.

School district and law enforcement officials refused to make the information public, citing privacy concerns of other juveniles who appear in the video.

But a judge ruled in favor of the Johnson family Wednesday after more than two hours of closed door deliberations.

The judge said all investigative files and video must be turned over to the Johnson's attorneys in their original form immediately.

Once that decision was reached, Johnson's parents and their attorneys joined dozens of supporters in front of the courthouse to address reporters.

"We feel we have made significant progress," said attorney Cheyene King.

Johnson's father, Kenneth, added, "We're happy to hear we're one step closer to the truth."

King and co-counsel Benjamin Crump said the video will come from surveillance cameras inside and outside the gym.

They said they expect to receive footage that shows who might have been around before and after Johnson arrived.

However, the attorneys do not anticipate they will see the moment the teen went into the mat.

"It's been indicated by the chief medical examiner that G.B.I. (Georgia Bureau of Investigations) agents had looked at the tapes and that it would not show Kendrick going into the mats," King said.

But that doesn't mean the family won't learn something new.

King and Crump said they think they'll be able to discredit the initial investigation's finding that there was no foul play involved in Johnson's death.

"It shifts the focus from what the sheriff had offered to other theories that were not explored and that have begun slowly to creep to the surface," King said.

Crump added, "It's not going to be a home run with seeing the video tapes, but what we think the video tapes will do is get us on first base."

The family's hope is they'll uncover enough new information to have their son's death investigation re-opened and finally learn what exactly led up to his death.

"That's all that this mother and father have wanted from the beginning is to know the truth of what happened to their child," Crump said.

If the teen's cause and manner of death are not changed, he said he believes that warrants involvement from federal investigators.

Meanwhile, a request from the family for a coroner's inquest is still pending with the court.

An inquest was not held after Johnson's death because the coroner stood behind findings from the state that Johnson's death was accidental.

But a private pathologist hired by the family performed an autopsy that showed the teen's organs had been removed and replaced with newspaper.

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