Criminal Justice

Was wrestling mat to blame for teen's death? Federal prosecutors are reviewing the evidence

The U.S. Justice Department will review the death of a Georgia youth whose body was found rolled up in a wrestling mat in January.

The death of Kendrick Johnson, 17, was originally determined to be accidental, caused by positional asphyxia, the New York Times reports. Michael Moore, the U.S. attorney for Georgia’s Middle District, will consider whether the case merits a civil-rights probe or other criminal investigation, according to the Times, CNN and Reuters.

An autopsy had concluded that Johnson suffocated in the mat at his high school in Valdosta, Ga., while trying to retrieve a tennis shoe. A private pathologist, however, believed Johnson died from blunt force trauma. The pathologist also noted that the teen’s organs had not been returned to his body after the original autopsy; instead, the body was stuffed with newspapers.

Johnson’s family is represented by Benjamin Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin. “It defies all logic, the laws of physics and common sense that a 17-year-old, an above-average athlete, would climb into a wrestling mat, get stuck trying to reach for a shoe and suffocate,” he told the Times.

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