The attorneys for the family of Valdosta teen Kendrick Johnson, who was found dead rolled inside a wrestling mat, said Thursday that the videos showing the last moments of the 17-year-old’s life were doctored.
“We believe that the tape is proof that there is some conspiracy to conceal the truth from this family and the public as to who killed Kendrick Johnson,” family attorney Benjamin Crump told reporters. “We believe that somebody corrupted this video.”
Reached by phone, Jim Elliot, attorney for Lowdnes County Sheriff Chris Prine, disputed Crump’s allegations.
“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office has not altered or edited the video that was received from Lowdnes County High School and then provided by our office to the Johnson family and their attorneys, as well as multiple media agencies,” Elliot said.
The Lowndes County High School student was found dead in January, rolled up in a wrestling mat. Local coroners later said he was suffocated and his death was an accident.
Johnson’s parents, not believing the cause of death, requested an independent autopsy that found the teen died of blunt force trauma. They sued the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office and a judge ordered the release of video footage from the high school that was used in the investigation.
But days after 1,900 hours of school surveillance footage showing only brief glimpses of Johnson went public, lawyers for the teen’s family cried foul, particularly after the private pathologist opened his body to find his organs missing and replaced with newspaper.
“They know that their child did not climb into a wrestling mat, get stuck and die,” Crump said of Johnson’s parents. “Where is that video?”
Johnson’s father Kenneth Johnson on Thursday demanded that law enforcement in Lowndes County show the same transparency that they respect from the people they prosecute.
“The Lowndes County Sheriff’s (Office) and the DA’s office … they convict people all the time in this courthouse,” Kenneth Johnson told reporters. “And they should not be held responsible for the lies they’re telling?”
Attorney Chevene King accused Lowndes County Sheriff’s officials of violating the judge’s ruling to provide key evidence collected in the case and of tampering with the video.
“We feel that the sheriff has failed to comply with the order that was given by the court,” King said. “In addition to that, we feel that when you look at what photographs have been given, you must come to the conclusion that there were time codes that were part of the video that were either deleted or in some way made impossible to get any information from.”
They pointed to a key video, which pointed directly at the area where the wrestling mats were placed in the school gymnasium around the time of Johnson’s death, but is blurry and dark.
“The credibility of the info that is this video is in doubt,” King said. “Is it a coincidence that the one camera out of 36 cameras which we were given tape from … this is the only camera out of focus and does not give you a clear image?”
The results of a local inquest have been withheld, pending a federal review into the investigation of Johnson’s death.
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