Local News

Congressman Wants Federal Probe in James Johnson Case

Posted February 5, 2008

— A congressman is asking the Department of Justice for a federal investigation into how a controversial murder case involving a Wilson man was initially handled.

In a letter dated Feb. 1 and addressed to the citizens of Wilson County, Rep. G.K. Butterfield Jr. said the state violated James Johnson's constitutional rights by holding the 21-year-old in jail for more three years on murder, rape and kidnapping charges without evidence.

Johnson was released from jail under a reduced bond last September, and Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster, a special prosecutor appointed to review the case, dismissed the charges in December.

Foster cited a lack of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was involved in the 2004 shooting death of Brittany Willis, 17.

In January, a grand jury indicted Johnson on a lesser charge of accessory after the fact of first-degree murder.

Butterfield, who was a judge before running for office, blames "polarization and division in the community" on the judicial system for its failure to "exonerate a citizen when it was obvious that no evidence existed to convict."

"It is unconscionable and un-American that Johnson was made to languish in jail and the Willis family led to believe that sufficient evidence existed to convict Johnson when none existed," Butterfield wrote.

Butterfield, a Democrat who represents the state's first district, said that because the case is now headed to trial, he would not comment on the current charge.

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

Three days later, Johnson went to police. His father said his son struggled with breaking "the no-snitch rule of the streets."

Foster will not take the case to trial because of other matters unrelated to it. The Administrative Office of the Courts has asked the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys to help find another special prosecutor to prosecute the case.

The North Carolina conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has led a high-profile campaign to clear Johnson's name, saying the charges are unfounded and that he is innocent.

The NAACP maintains prosecutorial misconduct on the part of the Wilson prosecutors who originally handled the case.

Court records show no physical evidence connects Johnson to Willis' rape or death, and Meeks, who pleaded guilty to the crime in April 2006, has said Johnson was not involved in it.


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  • whatusay Feb 6, 2008

    When Johnson is aquitted and released of all crimes involving the MURDER of Brittany Willis the justice system will look back and say "we should have tried him within 90 days, instead of 4 years". The evidence was there and still is, but diluted due to the incompetence of law enforcement and the fear of the NAACP. Guilty is guilty, but time makes things better, or in this case - just make this go away.

  • twc Feb 6, 2008

    An investigation would definitely be welcome. As long as it's not investigated by politicians. The FBI needs to investigate it from scratch.

    How in the world one person--District Attorney (and Judge and Jury and Crime Detective) Foster--has so much power to throw a case out I'll never figure out!

    This case should have been tried years ago! If it had been the evidence wouldn't have become so diluted.


  • workerbee Feb 6, 2008

    Why in the heck would the Justice Department get involved in a state matter like this....unless the state itself is the target, which is not the case. Just another politician waving a flag to say "Look at me!...Look at me!!...I'm doing something!!"

  • nunyabizness Feb 6, 2008

    Blah, blah, blah. What about the murdered victim's rights? Doesn't she have a right to have the perpetrators of her murder prosecuted? Why doeshn't Mr. Butterfield stick to doing what he was elected to do...legislate? He had the opportunity to be a judge, and a poor one at that. Check his record...many dismissals. That sent a great message to law enforcement officers and also to criminals. Maybe the Justice Department will dismiss his request just as he dismissed so many cases when he was a judge. He also has been stumping for Obama. Who's paying for that time? What a waste of taxpayers' money! However, his endorsement of Obama has helped me to make up my mind...anyone but Obama!!

  • OLD PIRATE 2 Feb 6, 2008

    HE has been a poor represenative for the 1st dist. HE filled his local offices with people who are unqualified for much of anything..Don't take my word , just call his office or write..
    HE was always biased in his decisions as a judge and police officers will tell you he has too much concern for the perps.


  • whatusay Feb 5, 2008

    Where was G K Butterfield for the 3 years Johnson was in jail? Too late now to try to gain political points for something he should have done 3 years ago, if he really cares. Just another politician trying to get votes. What a joke.