Local News

Forsyth Prosecutor to Review Wilson Murder Case

Posted October 15, 2007

— A Forsyth County prosecutor will review a murder case involving a Wilson man who supporters say spent three years in jail awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit.

The Administrative Office of the Courts said Monday that Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster has been appointed as special prosecutor to evaluate the case against James Johnson and to decide whether he should be tried in the June 2004 murder of Brittany Willis, 17.

Johnson, along with another teenager, Kenneth Meeks, was arrested and charged with first-degree kidnapping, robbery, rape and murder after Willis was found dead in a field near the Brentwood Shopping Center in Wilson.

Meeks pleaded guilty in April 2006 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Until Sept. 24, Johnson was in jail under a $1 million bond. He was released after a judge reduced the bond to $60,000.

The North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, which claims Johnson was discriminated against, has been at the forefront of the high-profile campaign to dismiss the case because of a lack of evidence.

According to police statements in court records, a witness, who is now deceased, told police she saw a young blonde with two black men in the field where Willis was found.

Records show no DNA evidence from Johnson at the crime scene where Willis was found, however. Johnson also passed a polygraph test in which he denied involvement in the crime.

Johnson did admit to helping Meeks clean fingerprints off of Willis' sport utility vehicle, but said he was under duress and thought Meeks still might have had a weapon. He went to police three days later and reported the crime.

In a letter to The Wilson Daily Times earlier this year, Meeks admitted acting alone in the crime and said Johnson was innocent.

Arthur Johnson, James Johnson's father, said Meeks picked up his son in Willis' SUV after the crime but did not tell him where they were going.

Based on the lack of evidence, the NAACP pushed for the Wilson County District Attorney's Office to ask for a special prosecutor.

If Foster finds there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial, she would not be the one to prosecute it, because Forsyth District Attorney Tom Keith said his office, which is handling about four dozen murder cases, does not have the resources to do let Foster go for that long.

Keith said he and Foster will meet with officials in the Wilson County District Attorney's Office on Tuesday in an undisclosed location.

Foster served as district attorney in Rockingham County from 1993 to 2006 and is on a panel examining the Durham Police Department's handling of the Duke University lacrosse investigation.

She prosecuted North Carolina's 1000th executed inmate, Kenneth Boyd, who was convicted in the 1988 slayings of his wife and father-in-law.

Colleagues, such as Peg Dorer, the director of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, call Foster a strong and ethical prosecutor who is very decisive and thorough.

"She's got a lot of experience," Dorer said. "She knows how to assess a case, and I'm confident she'll make a proper determination and do so as quickly as possible."

In a recent letter to The Wilson Daily Times, Willis' family said they supported the decision to appoint a special prosecutor, but added that they believe evidence in the case warrants a trial.


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  • twc Oct 15, 2007

    Three years is a long time if you're innocent and that's what is suppose to be presumed! The evidence looks to me as though he should have been allowed a bond! But that same evidence appears to call for a trial!!

  • twc Oct 15, 2007

    I really don't like the sound of one person who is not a judge having the power to decide if this case is tried or not!! That sounds to me like something a Grand Jury should decide! This is not a situation where there is no involvement. I believe it has already been shown by his own admission and that of the other perp that he was involved! A court of law needs to weigh that evidence; not someone from another jurisdiction who doesn't have to answer to anyone from Wilson County. Let justice be served!!

  • zoocrew Oct 15, 2007

    just how many people are going to decide to "review" this case

  • whatusay Oct 15, 2007

    Meandmytwo....Johnson helped Meeks clean the car and get rid of it...is that being part of the crime. Also witnesses say they saw Mrs Willis struggling with two black men before she was murdered. Let a jury decide his guilt or innocence, not you on what you are hearing from the NAACP.

  • Harrison Bergeron Oct 15, 2007

    Look, the wheels of justice turn slowly. The defense attorney(s) also played a part in prolonging the case by their scheduling conflicts with other cases. The murderer did not confess to sole responsibility until 4/2007, so until that time, Johnson was being held for murder. He couldn't afford bail for a capital crime, that's not the government's problem.

    Unfortunately, capital crimes take a long time to build a case for. Crime labs are booked beyond capacity, docket overloading, etc.

    I'm sure that if the charges are reduced, he will be credited for time served.

  • Meandmytwo Oct 15, 2007

    Three years and no trail or evidence. Let this young man go and enjoy his life.

  • yeahright2 Oct 15, 2007

    Agreed, three years without a trial is too way too long. This part of the legal system is flawed that a person can spend so long in jail without being convicted of a crime. This statement applies to any crime in general and not just this one specifically.

  • BUCKEYEnNC Oct 15, 2007

    Three years without a trial is unacceptable! If he took part, then he needs to get his just punishment via trial and punishment. Everyone needs closure. The longer this drags out, the more painful it is for the victim's family.

  • methinks Oct 15, 2007

    The other defendant that is out on bond and has been out for a while was charged for giving a false alibi for Johnson, not covering up the crime scene as Johnson has admitted doing. The police and DA feel there is enough evidence to charge Johnson with murder. Deans wasn't ever there. He only gave Johnson an alibi. Deans and Johnson did not commit the same crimes.

  • wp Oct 15, 2007

    If I'm not mistaken, he was in jail b/c he couldn't post bond. The bond was to high for his family to pay. The bond was high because it was thought he took part in actually raping and killing this girl. Now, his bond has been reduced & paid, because the boy already found guilty for the crime said that Johnson didn't rape or kill the girl. All he did was help clean the car. Johnson should have his day in court being charged as an accessory, especially since no DNA or other evidence was found at the crime scene linking Johnson to it. If he's found guilty as an accessory, let him serve time. He should have come forward as soon as he knew what his friend had done, not help him clean the car.