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September 4, 2013

Pathologist doubts teen's death was an accident

VALDOSTA, Ga. — A pathologist says a teenager died from "unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma," before his body was discovered in a high school gymnasium last winter, casting doubt on the official ruling that his bizarre death was an accident.

Kendrick Lamar Johnson, known was "KJ," was found dead Jan. 11 in an old gymnasium at Lowndes High School. The 17-year-old boy's body was suspended upside down, wedged inside a roll of gym mats.

An Georgia Bureau of Investigation autopsy found Johnson's death to be an accident - a conclusion supported by local officials. But on Tuesday, Dr. William R. Anderson of Ocala, Fla., confirmed he performed a second exam that raises "issues of concern."

Johnson's family and their supporters hired Anderson to review the case. In June, they won a court order to exhume Johnson's body for a second autopsy.

Though Anderson's report has not been made public - and Anderson would not reveal specifics - Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson confirmed its finding about the teen's death.

Even so, Watson said he stands by the initial ruling that Johnson died from asphyxiation caused by being suspended upside down. The sheriff's office said it also stands by its initial investigation.

Officials say Johnson was alone in the gym and probably reached for a loose shoe when he fell, then became trapped in a rolled-up mat.

His family never accepted that story and has staged public demonstrations calling for a new investigation. They say a photo of the boy's body after it was found, showing his head and face swollen, is evidence he was murdered.

They've asked the U.S. Justice Department to intervene; CNN reported Tuesday that U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore is reviewing the case.

The family's pleas have attracted widespread attention, including from the Rev. Al Sharpton, who visited Valdosta to support their cause.

Johnson's relatives who were protesting in downtown Valdosta on Tuesday declined to comment on the pathologist's report.

Details for this story were reported by the Valdosta Daily Times.

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