Parents of Ga. teen found dead in mat want inquiry

ATLANTA – During a rally at the state Capitol Wednesday, lawyers for the family of a Georgia teenager found dead at school inside a rolled-up gym mat called on the governor to order a coroner’s inquest.

The body of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was found Jan. 11, and sheriff’s investigators concluded that he died in a freak accident. Johnson’s parents insist someone must have killed him.

Johnson’s parents and their lawyers were among about 20 speakers who addressed a crowd of roughly 200 people gathered for a “Who Killed K.J.” rally on the steps of the Georgia Capitol. Other speakers included Martin Luther King III, state lawmakers and various others. Another rally is being planned in Valdosta on Jan. 11, the anniversary of Johnson’s death.

A coroner’s inquest is necessary to change the official cause of death from accident to homicide so that it can be properly investigated, said Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Johnsons. He also represents the parents of Trayvon Martin, the teen shot and killed in Florida.

“Gov. Deal is aware that federal authorities, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI, are looking into the case and we’ll await their report to determine if further action is needed,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said in an email after the rally. “Certainly, if another investigation is called for, the governor would be open to that.”

Authorities have said they suspect Johnson became trapped trying to retrieve a shoe that fell into the center of the large, rolled mat. A Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner concluded that he died from positional asphyxia, meaning his body got stuck in a position in which he couldn’t breathe.

Johnson’s family had his body exhumed over the summer so they could get a second opinion from a private pathologist. Dr. William R. Anderson in an August report said he detected hemorrhaging on the right side of Johnson’s neck. He concluded the teenager died from blunt force trauma near his carotid artery and that the fatal blow appeared to be non-accidental.