Local News

Willis' Family Disappointed at Murder Case's Turn

Posted December 31, 2007
Updated January 1, 2008

— The criminal case surrounding Brittany Willis' death has become more about political motives and race rather than bringing her killer or killers to justice, her family said in a letter to The Wilson Daily Times.

"(The) focus of the events has switched from the kidnap(ping), robbery, rape and murder of Brittany to the so-call(ed) injustice that has been done to James Johnson," the family said.

In the letter, published in the paper's Dec. 29 issue, Willis' family also expressed its disappointment in how the 3-year-old homicide case has been handled in recent months. (Read the letter.)

"The facts of the case are simple," the family said. "One day, two teenage boys did something horrible and kidnapped Brittany. One has taken responsibility for his actions and the other continues to deny his involvement and let the NAACP do his talking."

Willis was a 17-year-old high-school soccer player who, according to investigators, was a victim of robbery and had been raped and shot to death on June 28, 2004. Her body was found in a field near the Brentwood Shopping Center in Wilson.

James Johnson, 18 at the time, and Kenneth Meeks were arrested and charged with first-degree murder and other charges in the case. Meeks later pleaded guilty to the crime.

Johnson, who has maintained his innocence in the crime, spent three years in jail under a $1 million bond awaiting trial. He was released from jail under a reduced bond in September amid a high-profile campaign by the North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to have the case dismissed.

The NAACP has claimed racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct and constitutional rights violations against Johnson. It has said that Johnson should be seen as a hero who helped solve the case.

Race is not an issue, the family said, adding "nothing could be further from the truth."

The Willises said North Carolina NAACP President Rev. William Barber and U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C. — who on the NAACP's behalf, requested a federal investigation into whether Johnson's constitutional rights were violated —"have injected that belief" into the case to sway public opinion.

"The NAACP's actions and the news media's bias(ed) coverage of everything they have done have resulted in this case being forced to be disposed of as quickly as possible by our elected officials," the Willis family said.

The letter also criticizes Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster, the special prosecutor in the case. Willis' family said in the letter that Foster told them Johnson "was definitely involved more than he admits" and that she told the family "the charges were correct," that "enough evidence was present and the case would be pursued."

"Unfortunately, due to the politics that have come into play, she has changed her story, and the charges against James Johnson have been almost completely done away with," the letter said.

Foster dismissed the charges against Johnson because of a lack of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he assisted in the crime. She did charge him with a reduced charge of accessory after the fact to murder.

Johnson has denied being involved in the crime but admitted to helping clean evidence from the crime scene. He has maintained he was under duress at the time.

The Willis family could not be reached for comment Monday. Neither could Foster.

The North Carolina NAACP's attorney, Al McSurely, said he hopes the Willis family can look at the evidence and see the original charges against Johnson were a "miscarriage of justice."

"The family has suffered a tremendous loss," he said. "Everyone was led to believe by the Wilson County authorities for three years that James Johnson was involved, and I can understand their disappointment."

Butterfield's communications director, Ken Willis, denied any political influence from the congressman.

"Mr Butterfield was contacted by the NAACP to help resolve the murder charge against James Johnson," he said. "Three years is a long time to be in jail for a crime that he didn’t commit."

North Carolina Central University law professor Irving Joyner, who will head Johnson's legal team, said in a statement he understands the Willises' grief but that the criminal prosecution should be based on admissible evidence and "not on speculation, surmise, conjecture and belief."

"The strength and credibility of the state's evidence do not change nor should it be viewed differently just because people in the community feel, without legal training and an objective review, that the evidence should produce a different result," Joyner said.

Johnson is scheduled to be in court Friday for a probable cause hearing.

116 Comments

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  • twc Jan 2, 2008

    This case needs to go to court with the original charges intact. Let a jury decide by listening to witnesses and hearing the evidence!

    There is just no way that meeks committed this heinous crime by himself. We are not fool enough to believe that he would commit such a violent and savage crime by himself and then leave the scene in the victim's vehicle and go pick up someone else and bring them back to the crime scene to show off what he did. Even a stupid person wouldn't be that stupid!!

    Law enforcement needs to have the courage to stand up for what is right! Brittany fought as best she could! We need government officials to display the same kind of courage Brittany did!! Where are the brave among you?!!?!? If Patrick Henry had the courage of the Wilson officials we would not be free today!!

  • syracuseinwonderland Jan 2, 2008

    "And all of you quoting the Duke Lacrosse case, how is this case different?" redrum29

    Who were the true victims in both cases and who did the NC NAACP side with?
    That's the problem.

  • Scrubatwilmed Jan 1, 2008

    The Brittany Willis Memorial Scholarship check it out at www.thebrittany.org

  • PackGirl424 Jan 1, 2008

    You are right. The Willis family has heard ALL evidence that the legal systems has and therefore it makes it UNBELIEVABLE that the charges have been dropped. It is a sad day when the NAACP can determine who goes to trial. Stay out of the media and let the justice system work. If James Johnson is SOOOOO innocent, a jury of his peers would not find him guilty. It is almost impossible to get a jury that will not be swayed by all the NAAACP and media.
    Someone who CARES in Wilson

  • Professor Studley Jan 1, 2008

    "... where the NAACP is repeatedly guilty of prejudicial and discriminatory bias, the NAAAP would work to advance civil rights for all Americans, regardless of color. I think this organization could put the NAACP out of business permanently." --chris james

    I think this would be a great concept, long overdue. I disagree with much of the actions taken by the NAACP, nor do I consider them "leaders". They often take up the wrong issues, and on those, are on the wrong side of the argument, other times they are just silly (Doycott of Northgate Mall due to dispute with Durham Public Schools?! huh?!) . Much of the problem with the NAACP is that many of there members are completely out of touch with today's society, they're stuck in the 60s. I honestly feel there is no need for such an organization because the "oppression" that so called "black leaders" proclaim, all come from within. Having desires to advance yourself takes ACTION, not whining, complaining, or wallowing in self pity.

  • scorekeep Jan 1, 2008

    How long until this guy is involved in another crime?

  • dogsrule12cheek Jan 1, 2008

    This is ridiculous Justice has walked out the door,If the boy confessed in what ever part he had in the murder then he needs to
    pay for the crime, What about the Young girl she has no say so
    they killed her.What a shame the Justice System has let down so
    many Family when it come to Murders, its like the killer has more rights than the victims family. Whats up with that??????

  • anandao Jan 1, 2008

    First of all I'd like to apologize to the Willis family for their loss and for the way this case has been handled. Secondly, if the Wilson County D.A.'s office doesn't know how to handle pressure from the NAACP, then maybe this trial needs to go through a superior court system. This case is not about racism or politics, it is about two people committing a murder and should be tried by their peers. Bottom line, something needs to be done. Justice needs to be served. This poor family has suffered long enough only because of some punk trying to get off on "racial discrimination." This is truly sad. It looks as though our justice system is failing once again. And although I'm glad for the majority of citizens that support the Willis family and want justice for them, this doesn't replace their terrible loss. Something must be done.

  • slappyh99 Jan 1, 2008

    Myrtlebaechrock... you are exactly right about Butterfield, while he was a judge Butterfield was always soft on crime and criminals. He served as a Superior Court Judge from 1989 to 2001. In 2001, he was APPOINTED to the NC Supreme Court by Gov. Easley. In 2002, Butterfield LOST his seat on the Supreme Court but returned to the Superior Court by special APPOINTMENT of Gov. Easley and served in that position until his retirement in 2004. He was then elected to Congress in 2004. What this shows is that Butterfield is unable to get elected in a statewide election as most people know how bad he was as a judge. He can only win in a district that has a majority of black voters. That’s how he kept getting elected as a Superior Court Judge and how he got elected to Congress. He needs the black vote to stay in office that’s why he is sticking his nose in this case.

  • Harrison Bergeron Jan 1, 2008

    (cont)

    Finally, if that doesn't work, take a look at the BOJ statistics a little more closely. It's EASY to be a liberal when you are removed from the dangerous elements of society.

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