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Georgia teen's parents seek review of his death in wrestling mat

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The parents of a Georgia teenager found dead in a rolled-up wrestling mat in his high school gymnasium said they suspected foul play and asked authorities on Thursday to reopen an investigation that had determined his death was accidental.

An autopsy by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concluded that Kendrick Johnson, 17, suffocated at his Valdosta school in January after becoming trapped in an upright wrestling mat while trying to retrieve a tennis shoe, authorities said.

A second autopsy conducted by a private pathologist hired by Johnson's parents concluded the death was caused by blunt force trauma, they said.

The teen's father said he believes his son was murdered before his body was placed inside the wrestling mat.

"I feel Kendrick was denied justice," Kenneth Johnson said in an interview. "He was about to cross over from being a boy to a man. For him not to even make his 18th birthday is painful, just disgraceful."

The case is officially closed but it could be reopened if new evidence is presented, said Lieutenant Stryde Jones, a Lowndes County Sheriff's Office investigator.

The autopsy performed by the private pathologist is not enough to prompt a fresh review, Jones said.

"It's a difference of opinion between two pathologists," Jones said, referring to the state's earlier finding that the death was an accident.

Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, said they are pushing for authorities to release video footage from cameras in the gym and have requested a federal investigation into Kendrick Johnson's death.

"There should be a complete and thorough investigation," Kenneth Johnson said.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Gunna Dickson)

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