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Kendrick Johnson's Death Now a Federal Investigation

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 01, 2013 2:34 PM

The death of Georgia teen Kendrick Johnson is now the subject of a federal investigation, as a federal prosecutor announced Thursday that he is reopening the case.

U.S. Attorney Michael Moore -- no relation to the documentarian -- stated he would conduct a "formal review" of the teen's death, CBS News reports. Johnson was found dead in January inside a rolled-up gym mat at his high school in Valdosta, Georgia.

This investigation may unravel some of the strangeness in the investigation and circumstances surrounding Johnson's death.

2 Autopsies Conducted

CBS reports that Johnson's family suspects foul play. Moore's involvement may ferret out whether there was a cover-up in the investigation of the 17-year-old's death.

According to NBC News, an autopsy performed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found that Johnson "accidentally suffocated inside an upright gym mat after he fell in headfirst reaching for a shoe."

Strangely, a private autopsy performed five months later determined the teen had "died from blunt-force trauma to the right neck." Stranger still, Johnson's internal organs were missing; they had been replaced with crumpled-up newspapers.

A body stuffed with newspapers might be hard to overlook, but the school also fought in court against releasing surveillance camera footage of the gym on the day of Johnson's death. CNN reports that Lowndes County High School refused to release the video, claiming they were "education records of a minor child." But last month, the school was forced to release the video clip.

When Do Federal Prosecutors Step In?

A U.S. attorney can order an investigation when he or she has cause to believe that there are "alleged or suspected violations of federal law."

There are many offenses which are both state and federal crimes (for example, murder) and some which are exclusively federal crimes (such as bank robbery or organized crime). If it is a crime in both jurisdictions, federal prosecutors typically defer to state authorities to investigate and prosecute a case, absent strange or extraordinary circumstances.

If there are allegations of civil rights violations, for example, federal prosecutors may step in to investigate or even file a separate case in criminal court.

Moore's review of the conflicting facts in Kendrick Johnson's allegedly "accidental" death may have been enough to warrant a closer look by federal authorities.

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