Local News

Hundreds Show at Court to Support Slain Wilson Teen

Posted January 4, 2008

— More than 300 people showed up at court Friday morning to show their support for a 17-year-old Wilson girl who was shot to death more than three years ago.

The courtroom was filled to capacity, and scores of supporters of Brittany Willis waited in the hall during a probable cause hearing for James Johnson, who's charged with accessory after the fact to murder in the case.

"We're thrilled to death of all the support and thank everybody for coming out," Willis' father, Randy Willis, said "We're still not completely satisfied with what's going on, but we thank everybody for the support."

Johnson's attorneys waived their right to the hearing, and prosecutors were expected to present the case to a grand jury on Jan. 14.

Willis' body was found on June 28, 2004, in a field near Brentwood Shopping Center. Investigators said she had been raped and that robbery was a motive for the crime.

Another man, Kenneth Meeks, is serving a life sentence in prison, and Johnson was detained for more than three years on charges of murder, rape and kidnapping before being released in September on a reduced bond.

A special prosecutor dropped those charges last month after re-examining the case and finding a lack of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnson assisted in the crime.

Friday's turnout was the first of its kind in support of Willis.

“Justice should be done,” one supporter said. “I think it should be fair. (Johnson) should be going to trial.”

The North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has led a high-profile campaign to dismiss all charges against Johnson and has spoken publicly several times about the case, claiming racial discrimination and prosecutorial misconduct and saying Johnson should be viewed as a hero for helping authorities solve the crime.

Willis' family had said very little publicly about the case until last week, when it wrote a letter to The Wilson Daily Times expressing its disappointment and criticizing the NAACP, media and others for the way the case has been portrayed.

"We have lost all confidence in our justice system, and even more unfortunate, so have so many other people here in North Carolina," the letter said, in part.

In comments on WRAL.com Thursday, posters called out to others to turn out to show their support and concern for how the case has been handled– "no speaking, no signs, just support for Brittany," they read. Other media outlets reported similar requests.

Willis supporters expressed disdain for the way the case has been handled recently and believe Johnson played more of a role in the crime than he is charged with.

“I feel like he had something to do with what happened that day, whether it was after the fact or anything,” Willis family friend Stacie Irby said. “And I just feel like justice needs to be served.”

“We just want the court system to know there is another side, and we do support the family,” Cecilia Irby said.

Johnson has maintained his innocence on all charges, saying Meeks picked him up in Willis' sport utility vehicle and took him to see her body.

He has also said that he was afraid for his own life after Meeks showed him a gun and drove him to a car wash. Under duress, Johnson said, he wiped his own fingerprints off the SUV.

He went to police three days later. Johnson's father said his son struggled with breaking what he called "the no-snitch rule of the streets."

Outside court Friday, the NAACP state president, Rev. William J. Barber II, said the organization's members "have always and still do, express concern, sympathy and pray for the loss of Brittany Willis and the grief of her family."

"Our fight from day one has been against the system that would mislead the community, (and) the family and wrongly incarcerate an innocent young man," he said.

Heckled by some Willis supporters, he called once again for the remaining charge against Johnson to be dismissed, calling it a "last-ditch effort to smear" Johnson's name.

“Their anger should not be at us,” Barber said. “Their anger should be at the system that misled them.”


This story is closed for comments.

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  • oldDave Jan 6, 2008

    If you want the whole truth, then this needs to go to court. Both sides could clear the air once ALL the facts are known. If (and its a big IF at this point) his activities were all after the fact, its still a crime. I recall two teenagers in Apex a few years back, one on probation, who had a gun, shot an officer of the law, then asked his friend to help him hide the gun. The friend got active jail time 'just' for hiding the gun. I would expect no less for Johnson (active jail time) albeit he may have served more time already than the possible sentence. With DNA evidence as good as it is now, this should not be hard to sort out (assumes evidence was collected...)

    Trying people in the press is just wrong.

    Oh, and does anyone worry about the health of a few folks on the public side of this case? Lose some weight, y'all!!!

  • wilson88 Jan 6, 2008

    On January the 12...which is this Friday...Willis supporters will be gathering at the Wilson county courthouse at 6:00 p.m. for a candle light vigil in memory of Brittany. Please be there to support and pass the word. Thanks!

  • Your Reality Check Bounced Jan 6, 2008

    I think the points a lot of people are attempting to make is that the media isn't a court of law and that the NAACP, being a race-based organization, is completely biased in its interpretation and presentation of any evidence to which it has access.

    The NAACP has the goal of making a person, who is at best an accessory after the fact, into a hero, and they're obviously not going to release (or listen to) any information that refutes that position, nor should they have access to any evidence to which the general public does not have access.

    The proper place for the evidence to be presented is in a court of law. That's precisely where it was headed, in spite of the constant delaying tactics from the defense, at the point at which the NAACP got involved. The timing of the involvement alone is enough to make the whole thing reek of manipulation.

    I wonder at what point the NAACP can be charged with accessory after the fact in such cases for trying to hinder trial and/or punishment?

  • zebtay2 Jan 6, 2008

    what should the charges be for Johnson?

  • syracuseinwonderland Jan 6, 2008


    There you go again comparing a car accident to the brutal abduction, rape, and murder of Brittany Willis. Quite disturbing. And why did you dig something up from 1963 when you could have just as easily cited this story from last month:

    Singer Brandy won't be charged in deadly car crash



  • syracuseinwonderland Jan 6, 2008

    jon3484 wrote:

    "and they just don't have enough evidence."

    That's what the NC NAACP wants you to think.

    "So he didn't actually kill her, he just helped the person who killed her clean the evidence."

    No, that's _only_ what he has admitted to. You must have been there to make a statement like that. Were you there?

    "A black male, do you know how many black males are in Wilson? That's all the I witness knows, what about description of clothes? To be honest, when I first saw Johnson I thought he was hispanic."

    Since he's the only other person involved (as per Meeks and his own admission), it must have been him! As for your "I witness knows" statement, was that a Freudian slip?

    "Of course, his wasn't at a million dollars."

    Deans wasn't charged with rape/murder. He was charged with accessory, helping with Meeks' and Johnson's alibi.

    "Doesn't matter, someone died because of her actions and she wasn't charged."

    There you go again comparing a car accident to the brutal abduction, rape

  • G-Dawg Jan 6, 2008

    I wonder if this story will go away, just like the rest of the stories on here, that later on, you never know what happened in the end?

  • G-Dawg Jan 6, 2008

    There are such things as "traffic accidents" where people die. Jon3484, get a clue, this is not even close to having the slightest thing to do with a murder/rape/robbery, so get off your race card.

  • G-Dawg Jan 6, 2008

    I heard the third guy (white) has died, maybe that's why you don't hear anything JON3484

  • justwondering2 Jan 6, 2008

    If there is evidence. Where is it? I'm no fan of John-boy but if there is hard evidence that he kidnapped, murdered, etc.. then the charges should be for those crimes. However, he is charged with what they have evidence for. Period.... Now we can if, and, but all day and blame this one and that one for caving or bring afraid of certain groups or trying to get re elected. We can talk about how the evidence was wiped away by john boy. But the key words here are wiped away and he's not going to admit a %^%^% thing. So, after all the ranting and disgust, at the end of the day, whether wiped away or not the evidence for murder, kidnapping is just not there to without a doubt charge him. If it were he would be charged. Maybe OJ will give JJ some tips for writing his own if I did it book.