Kendrick Johnson attorney: Local investigators ‘not transparent’

The attorney for the parents of the Valdosta teen found dead inside a rolled-up gym mat said Thursday his clients still believe their son was murdered.

Last month, Lowndes County Sheriff’s deputies released a report confirming the alibi of the older of two brothers still being investigated by federal prosecutors reviewing the death of Kendrick Johnson. But Benjamin Crump, the lawyer for Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, said the report settled nothing.

“What has dogged these whole proceedings is the question of whether or not people are being entirely transparent,” said Crump, without citing specifics.

The sheriff’s office conducted the investigation after Crump’s co-counsel Chevene King produced a copy of a bus reservation that listed a 4 p.m. departure time for a wrestling tournament in which the older brother was competing — roughly three hours after Johnson, 17, was last seen alive.

The report included interviews with the Lowndes High wrestling coach, the bus driver and several teammates who insist they left Valdosta around lunchtime. Federal investigators sent the brothers — whose names are being withheld because they were juveniles at the time — letters last year from the U.S. Attorney’s Office informing them they were “target(s) of the grand jury’s investigation” into Johnson’s death, which the sheriff’s office ruled accidental.

Jackie Johnson, speaking at a Valdosta press conference in advance of a rally scheduled for Saturday commemorating the two-year anniversary of her son’s death, said she is still seeking “blind justice” for her son.

On Wednesday, the judge presiding over a civil suit filed by the Johnsons against the Lowndes sheriff’s office recused himself, citing relationships with local law enforcement.

“Given the fact that officials with whom the judges in the circuit deal with everyday are involved, it is not fair to the parties for any judge in this circuit to rule on contested matters of importance to the parties and the community,” Lowndes County Superior Court Judge Harry Altman said in court documents.

Crump, who previously represented the parents of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teen killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, said the Johnsons “don’t really trust local (law enforcement) or school officials.”

As for the ongoing federal investigation, “We’re cautiously optimistic,” Crump said.

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