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No federal charges to be filed in gym-mat death of Georgia teen

MACON, Ga. » Federal authorities said today they will not bring charges against anyone in the death of Georgia teenager Kendrick Johnson and declared the long-simmering case closed.

Johnson’s body was found in January 2013 in a rolled-up gym mat at Lowndes High School in Valdosta. His parents have long been convinced that he was killed, and they even named suspects in a civil lawsuit.

“After extensive investigation into this tragic event, federal investigators determined that there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people willfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime,” a statement from the Justice Department said. “Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed without the filing of federal criminal charges.”

The statement quoted Acting U.S. Attorney Carole Rendon as saying that the Justice Department as well as the lawyers and investigators on the case “express their most sincere condolences to Kendrick Johnson’s parents, family and friends. We cannot imagine the pain of their loss, or the depths of their sorrow. We regret that we were unable to provide them with more definitive answers about Kendrick’s tragic death.”

Kenneth and Jackie Johnson were scheduled to meet with prosecutors Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Macon. They were expected to speak to reporters afterward.

Local and state investigators ruled Johnson’s death an accident, theorizing that he became trapped in the mat while reaching for a pair of sneakers. The Johnsons have maintained the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, school officials and local law enforcement conspired to cover up their son’s killing, and in the civil lawsuit they alleged Kendrick was murdered by Brian Bell, a classmate at Lowndes High School and the son of an FBI agent.

Bell’s attorney, Jason Ferguson, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in March that the FBI cleared his client of any involvement in Johnson’s death but the agency has declined comment.

Witnesses and surveillance footage place Brian and his older brother Branden, also implicated at one time by the Johnsons, away from the old gymnasium at Lowndes High where Kendrick was last seen alive. Branden Bell, according to teammates, his coach and the bus driver, was en route to a wrestling tournament in Macon at the time. School cameras captured Brian in class on the other side of the sprawling campus.

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©2016 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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