New video released in Georgia teen’s gym mat death — still no answers

A photo taken on Jan. 11, 2013 shows the gym mat where Kendrick Johnson's body was found at Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Ga. Lowndes County Sheriff's Office

VALDOSTA, Ga. — The attorney representing the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office released hundreds of hours of more surveillance video Wednesday from dozens of cameras at the school where Kendrick Johnson’s lifeless body was found rolled up in a gym mat in January.

NBC News is still reviewing the large amount of material. The Johnson family had requested footage from Jan. 10, the day Johnson disappeared, and Jan. 11, the day his body was found by other students on the LowndesHigh School gym.

But the new videos released Wednesday — which the sheriff’s office said included video from 35 cameras inside and outside of the gym from Jan. 10 and 11 — is missing time stamps.

Lt. Stryde Jones with the sheriff’s office said that was because the time stamps were only visible on the school district’s server, not on any copies of the videos.

Short clips of the surveillance footage released last week showed Johnson walking through a hallway at 12:59 p.m. on Jan. 10. Ten minutes later, around 1:09 p.m., he is seen entering the gym.

What happened next remains a mystery: Johnson’s mother reported him missing around 11 p.m. that night, but his body was not found until around 9:30 a.m. the next day.

Kendrick Johnson of Valdosta, Ga., is seen in an undated photo released by the family. Johnson, a three-sport athlete, was found dead on Jan. 11 in a rolled-up wrestling mat in his high school gym. Courtesy of the Johnson family

Chavene King, the attorney for Johnson’s parents, said he was “suspicious” of the new video’s release and he had many questions about what happened in those ten minutes.

“We have run across many roadblocks so far,” King said, referring to the family’s long fight for the video’s release. Local officials had opposed the release, citing student privacy concerns. But last week, a judge ordered the entire set of videos be made public.

There are four cameras inside the gym. All of them are near the entrance. Two of them point outward to either corner of the gym.

One camera aimed at the general direction of the wrestling mat where Johnson was found appeared blurry. Lt. Jones said that was because it seemed to have been hit by a ball at some point.

But it did appear to show the moment when students in the gym noticed a body in the mat and a coach went over to see what was going on as other students continued to play basketball.

Seconds later, the coach and several students appear to tip over the surrounding mats to get to the body. A short time later, the gym clears out.

But so far, there is little indication of how exactly Johnson got inside the mat.

Lt. Jones said that camera did not record how Johnson’s body ended up wedged inside the mat because the device was motion activated and the mat was out of the camera’s range.

Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson, along with their attorney, said they planned to review the newly-released surveillance video over the next few days.

“We want to find out the truth about what happened to our son,” Kenneth Johnson said.

Meanwhile, a southern Georgia judge has put a coroner's inquest into Johnson’s death on hold pending the outcome of a federal review of the case, another lawyer for Johnson's family said Wednesday.

Attorney Benjamin Crump said that Judge Harry Altman announced his intention to delay a final decision in a phone conversation with the lawyers involved with the case.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," Crump said.

County Attorney Jim Elliott confirmed that the judge indicated his intent to put the proceedings on hold and expected to sign the formal order within the next day.

The inquest would have required a six-person jury to hear witness testimony and review evidence to decide whether Johnson died from natural causes, an accident, suicide or homicide.

The teen's family requested the coroner's inquest several weeks ago. It would essentially have reopened the case at the local level.

The Johnsons believe their son — a three-sport athlete — was murdered by a group of people and they allege someone has been trying to cover it up.

"We want the truth," said the teen's father, Kenneth. "We want to know exactly what happened."

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation conducted the initial autopsy and ruled that Johnson accidentally suffocated inside the upright mat after he fell in headfirst reaching for a shoe.

According to the case file, witnesses told investigators that students often hid their sneakers inside the mats between gym periods because lockers were insufficient.

But five months later, Johnson's parents exhumed his body and hired a private pathologist to perform a second autopsy, which found that Johnson had died from a blow to his neck.

Sherry Lang, a GBI spokeswoman, said the agency stands by its team of medical examiners "100 percent."

Last week, U.S. Attorney Michael Moore in Macon, Ga., announced he was opening a formal review of the facts in the Kendrick Johnson case.

Dan Shepherd contributed reporting from Valdosta, Ga.