Local News

Congressman Wants Answers About James Johnson Case

Posted December 10, 2007

— A U.S. congressman who says he is concerned about the manner in which a Wilson man's murder case is being prosecuted is now asking the state court system for more information about the case.

In a letter dated Dec. 10 to the Administrative Office of the Courts, Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., wants to know who is responsible for the case of James Johnson and what the deadline is for a decision whether the case will go to trial.

"These are the questions that constituents are asking me every day," Butterfield said Monday.

In his two-page letter, Butterfield, an attorney and former judge, writes that Johnson is "living in a state of uncertainty, and his right to a speedy trial is being violated."

Arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Brittany Willis, Johnson, 21, spent three years in jail under a $1 million bond until September, when his bond was reduced to $60,000.

The Wilson County District Attorney's Office also asked for a special prosecutor to evaluate the case and determine whether it should go to trial

In October, Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster was appointed to evaluate the case, but scheduling conflicts make it unlikely she would be the one to prosecute it if it goes to trial.

"I have very little information about the special prosecutor," Butterfield said. "While I know her as an individual – and she is a fine attorney – I do not know what her responsibility is. I don't know if she is the chief 'pros' in the case, vested with the authority to make prosecutorial decisions, or whether she is simply a lawyer evaluating the evidence."

Last week, Butterfield sent another letter to the U.S. Attorney General asking for a federal probe in the matter, saying Johnson's rights have been violated and pointing out that Johnson's bond was reduced after serving more than three years in pre-trial confinement.

He said the probe is necessary to protect Johnson's civil rights and to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"Right now, justice is not being administered," Butterfield said. "If the district attorney is not on the case and the attorney general is not on the case, who's in charge?"

Johnson also faces kidnapping, robbery and rape charges, but has maintained he was not involved in the crime.

A second man, Kenneth Meeks, was arrested in the case and pleaded guilty last year. In a letter to The Wilson Daily Times, he said he acted alone and that all evidence in the case proved Johnson's innocence.

Court records show no DNA evidence from Johnson at the crime scene where Willis was found. He also passed a polygraph test in which he denied involvement in committing the crime.

"I don't know if James Johnson is guilty or innocent, (but) all the press reports seem to suggest it is innocent," Butterfield said.

"If the state has other evidence, then the state needs to come forward and prosecute this case," he added. "If the state does not have sufficient evidence, then the case needs to be dismissed."

Johnson did admit to helping Meeks clean fingerprints off 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.

"First-degree murder charges are routinely dismissed if there is no evidence, and they are routinely tried if there is evidence," Butterfield said. "But to hold the victim's family in suspense and to hold the defendant in suspense – and this community – is wrong."

"Cases differ, but no case should take more than three years to be brought to trial," Butterfield said. "The family of the victim in this case don't deserve that. The accused does not deserve it. And the Wilson community does not deserve it. And this case must be brought to an end for many reasons."


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  • nunyabizness Dec 11, 2007

    Since when did members of the legislative branch of our government have authority over the judicial branch of our government? Mr. Butterfield should "butt" out and do what he's elected to do. I tried to pay attention in Civics classes, and if my memory serves me correctly, the legislative branch is supposed to make laws and the judicial branch is supposed to enforce laws. As to the length of time it has taken to bring Johnson to trial, Mr. Butterfield should be questioning the defense attorney who kept asking for delays. Has Mr. Butterfield sent his condolonces to the family and friends of the victim? Is he concerned that Brittany can never "get on with her life"? Perhaps the voters who elected him need to reevaluate their position. He needs to spend his time legislating and not trying to be involved in something that is absolutly out of his realm.

  • wilson88 Dec 11, 2007

    I dont think this is fair to the Willis family at all. I was friends with Brittany and I know the Willis' and justice needs to be served on her behalf. everyone looks at it as...a black guy with a gun probably kidnapped her by himself and raped, beat and killed her...no she was 5'8 athletic build and could hold her own...kenneth was 5'3 maybe 120 lbs...obviously he needed help...because Brittany wouldve fought for her life...theres no way he acted alone. Maybe he wrote that letter as a plea deal...or some kind of under the table deal..does anyone think of that..it really makes me question the case..I believe james is guilty...He did admit to cleaning the vehicle which is just as gulity and he knew she was in the field BEHIND HIS HOUSE dying...and suffering..I say he's guilty and I think I speak on behalf the majority in Wilson. We loved Brittany and justice needs to be served.

  • atozca Dec 11, 2007

    It is my understanding that the Johnson's attorney is the reason he has not had a trial because of the constant continuances.... maybe Johnson should get a new attorney...

  • Dec 11, 2007

    Johnson helped cover up a murder. Let him wait a little longer for things to get sorted out.He's lucky he's not rotting in a jail cell. Hopefully, he won't commit another crime while he's enjoying an undeserved freedom.

  • La_Grange_Dude Dec 11, 2007

    I think the conressman could find better things to do with his time than to try to rally around some "THUG" that probaly needs to be in jail anyway. While I am not on this guy's side by any means, this man, like everyone else, deserves to be either tried or set free. If the DA has screwed up, he should admit it and move on

  • wilsonmonkeekeeper Dec 11, 2007

    Another "politician" trying to get some press... I always heard if you kept your mouth shut they wouldn't know if you really were dumb...it has been widely publicized that the defense attorney has requested the case be continued numerous times because of her schedule...the kid is out roaming the streets now anyway he isn't locked up...give it a rest

  • nanny Dec 11, 2007

    I am so sick of hearing the race card played-in every situation
    if it is a black and white person-they always play the race card. I'm sure Jesse and Al will way in on this soon. Right
    is right and wrong is wrong no matter the color-how country is
    in sad shape.

  • eksodystech1 Dec 11, 2007

    What happen to the third guy who was arrested for involvement. He just up and disappeared for some reason. People forget that yes there were three people arrested for this and while johnson sat in jail the other guy has been free out of the limelight.

  • Steve Crisp Dec 11, 2007

    The facts of this case are less important than the process. When the state has the evidence needed to make an arrest, they should also have the evidence needed and the case prepared to go to trial the afternoon of the arrest. It should be only the defense attorney who has the option to request a continuance and delay justice. Too many people, innocent and guilty, are languishing in jail because the state arrests someone and is not ready to go to trial.

  • humbleblaklady Dec 11, 2007

    "When did Meeks get caught, and how? When did he say Johnson was a part of it, and then NOT a part of it? When Johnson helped wipe the fingerprints from the car, just how scared was he of Meeks? Did the dog follow Johnson's scent to the body before Johnson told, or after? When was the lie detector test given?"--djofraleigh

    Perry Mason--you're not. Questions like, "When did Meeks say Johnson was part of the crime?" and "just how scared was he of Meeks?" Means or adds WHAT to the guilt or innocence of this case? Ironically, this is why, "if you have evidence-you try the case" and if you don't, "you let him go!" You don't just hold him in jail for three years. Let's practice some "equal justice under the law" aka "Duke Lacrosse Justice" here now. Come on people try and be fair and non-bias here now--if you can.