Local News

James Johnson Indicted on Accessory to Murder Charge

Posted January 14, 2008
Updated January 15, 2008

— A grand jury on Monday indicted a Wilson man who spent more than three years in jail charged with murder on a lesser charge of accessory after the fact of first-degree murder in connection with the 2004 shooting death of a teenager.

Last month, a special prosecutor dropped the murder charge, as well as first-degree kidnapping, sexual assault and rape charges against James Johnson, 21, citing a lack of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was involved in killing Brittany Willis.

Johnson – who spent more than three years in jail awaiting trial before being released under a reduced bond in September – has maintained his innocence of all charges in the case.

The North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has led a high-profile campaign to have the case against Johnson dismissed, alleging racial discrimination and that authorities misled the community in the case.

In a letter to the North Carolina attorney general dated Jan. 13, the NAACP asks for quick action in the case and that the North Carolina State Bar expedite its review of a complaint it filed against the Wilson County prosecutors who originally handled the case.

"The state should be investigating the actions and negligence of the authorities who began this sad saga," NAACP chapter President Rev. William Barber said.

Court files show no physical evidence connects Johnson to Wilis' rape or death. Kenneth Meeks, 20, who pleaded guilty to the crime in April 2006, wrote in a letter to The Wilson Daily Times that Johnson was not involved in the crime.

Johnson has admitted to wiping his fingerprints off Willis' sport utility vehicle, but said that he was under duress at the time, because Meeks had showed him a gun. Johnson 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."

Now that case against is moving forward, another special prosecutor will have to be assigned to the case.

Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster, who was appointed to review the case, will not take the case to trial herself, as previously announced when she took on the task.

Willis' family, in recent weeks, has expressed disappointment about how the criminal case has been handled, criticizing the NAACP and others. In a letter to The Wilson Daily Times, the family said political motives and race have become the focus of the case rather than bringing those responsible for Willis' death to justice.

A third person, Julian Tyson Deans, 22, is also charged with accessory after the fact. He has been out of jail since 2004, and has not gone to trial.


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  • dukebbfan Jan 15, 2008

    Rev Barber has turned this into a race issue. James Johnson has admitted to what he is being charged with, yet the rev. wants to call him a hero and that he is innoncent. You cannot be innoncent when you have admitted to a crime. A hero is not someone who helps cover up a crime. Maybe he should look up what a hero is in the dictonary. The only innoncent person is Brittany who's life was cut short.

  • justjean Jan 15, 2008

    In the words of great American, "A man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything". Murder, race, rape, race, robbery, race, assult, race. We should all paint ourselves purple and stop all of this race nonsense. Murder is murder, rape is rape. Age, race, religion should be kept out of it. End of story.

  • justbnme Jan 15, 2008

    OK, editor's... what's up??? my post was not bad,
    why are you people so one-sided with your approvals? I will send Angela an email and as her
    myself. IMO, just do away with the comments if you're not going to be fair in who you let post!

  • krickett27 Jan 15, 2008

    "The group maintains Johnson's innocence and has said he should be treated as a witness who helped investigators solve the crime."

    This statement really infuriates me! How dare anyone act like he is anything less than a criminal. This is a man who at the very least knew about and saw what happened to this poor girl, and only came forward in the hopes of receiving the award money. How dare the NAACP act like he deserves a medal! Exactly where do these people get off?!

  • TarheelTurtle Jan 15, 2008

    Wasn't going to comment any further but you nailed it, labeling the NAACP a racist organization. If they weren't, there would be no need for the "C", now would there? What about the National Association for the Advancement of PEOPLE?

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Jan 15, 2008

    The NAACP needs to sit back and let this case work it's way through the court system. That's the only way justice can happen. Protesting based on race in criminal court trials shows that the NAACP is racist.

    Instead the NAACP is a racist organization that wanted to put the Duke Lacrosse players in jail for life without a proper trial and defense because they were white and the victim was black.

    In the Jena mess in Louisiana the NAACP wants to free the young men who beat the victim because the ones who committed the crime are black and the victim was white.

    In the current case the NAACP wants to free the one who committed the crimes because he is black.

    The NAACP is clearly becoming the most racist organization in this country.

  • beachboater Jan 15, 2008

    I've read this entire thread, and the other threads on this topic. I've seen so many people called racists through and through, but if you really read, the majority of the name calling is by people that support Johnson. I don't recall anyone saying get the black kid. I just recall people saying let him go to trial and pay the price that a jury of his peers determine.

    The National Association for the Advancement of Criminal People has just about used up any credibility that they every had. There was a terrible miscarriage of justice in the Duke LaCrosse case, and there is a terrible miscarriage of justice in continuing to harass this American HERO!!. The Evil Doctor Reverend William Barber is just that, EVIL. He has no sense of fairness or justice, he is only concerned about race. Maybe he is the racist of the crowd.

    I'll be surprised if this makes it past the WRAL censors.

  • tarheelalum Jan 15, 2008

    I agree Nanny! NAACP is undoubtedly the most prolific racist group in America. I am glad the original charges were dropped, however, but the fact that they are protesting for even the accessory charge to be dropped in disgusting. Afterall, with time served, he wouldn't likely get much longer, if at all, if convicted.

  • skidkid269 Jan 15, 2008

    The killer named Johnson as an accomplice, so he was locked up. Maybe the killer considered the "no snitch" rule and decided to recant his story to keep himself from meeting new "friends" in prison. (By the way, my Dad showed me his whole gun collection, this doesn't make me afraid of him!)

  • workerbee Jan 15, 2008

    While truely I believe that justice is now being properly excecuted in this case, I would still love to know what evidence the prosecutor did have that placed Johnson at the murder scene during the murder. Part of me is still niave enough to believe that he couldn't have been originally charged with murder for 3yrs solely on the testimony of his guilty friend and the fingerprints in the car. They had to have had more. I wonder what it was.