Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 6, 2013

Parents say son was murdered in high school gym


"This is not a racial thing. It's not about black, and it's not about white. It's about justice. We want justice" said Tesha Tooley. "Even if it happened to a white child, we'd be out here supporting that white family. … My sister sent her child to school to get an education, not to be murdered.

The involvement of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and its medical examiner have not allayed the family's concerns. A lawyer working with the family says the state's work is shrouded by doubt.

C.B. King, a civil rights lawyer in Albany, Ga., questions the  fact Johnson's body was clothed when taken to the medical examiner's regional office in Macon but unclothed when returned to the family. King said when he asked the GBI, "they acknowledged that they didn't know where his clothes were."

Other controversy stems from Lowndes County Coroner Bill Watson, who has publicly complained that Sheriff Chris Prine didn't call him to the scene when Johnson's body was first discovered.

Then there's the grisly photo of Johnson's face, itself, which has appeared throughout Valdosta in the weeks since the teen died. Johnson's father has said the photo confirms his suspicions his son was murdered because the trauma and uneven swelling suggest something else happened to the teen besides being stuck in the gym mats.

The fact the photo was made public suggests a security breach in the investigation, though Prine has defended his office's protection of the body until it was delivered to the state medical examiner. The family won't say how it got the photo.

Prine said the investigation into Johnson's death involved various forensic tests, including on DNA samples taken from the gym, as well as interviews with more than 100 students, teachers and others.

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