Local News

James Johnson files complaint against former attorney

Posted July 8, 2008
Updated July 9, 2008

— A Wilson man who spent more than three years in jail charged with murder and rape has filed a complaint against the public defender who initially represented him.

James Johnson said Tuesday that he has filed a grievance with the North Carolina State Bar against Johnny Gaskins but declined to comment further.

Gaskins was one of two court-appointed attorneys representing James Johnson until December 2006 on first-degree murder, kidnapping, robbery,  and in connection with the June 28, 2004, shooting death of Brittany Willis, 17.

Gaskins was dropped from the case when prosecutors decided they were not going to seek the death penalty.

Johnson, who has maintained his innocence, has said he had nothing to do with killing Willis. His supporters say he went to police three days after the murder to report what he knew about the crime.

In December 2007, special prosecutor Belinda Foster dropped all charges against Johnson, citing a lack of evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnson was involved in killing Willis. She did charge him with accessory after the fact of first-degree murder.

In an interview that originally aired May 17 on Fox 50's NC Wanted, Gaskins said Johnson "shouldn't have cleaned up the car" because "that's illegal."

"We never took the position he was Mr. Clean," Gaskins said. "If he helped clean the car, he shouldn't have done that. That's a criminal offense."

It's unclear, however, if the comments he made in the NC Wanted interview led to Johnson's complaint. Attempts to contact Johnson's current attorney, Irving Joyner, were unsuccessful. The State Bar would not comment on the complaint.

Attempts to contact Gaskins were also unsuccessful.

Johnson is one of three men charged in connection with Willis' death. Kenneth Meeks pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in April 2006 and subsequently wrote in a letter to The Wilson Daily Times that Johnson was innocent. Julian Tyson Deans also faces the charge of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

Johnson's supporters, which include the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, want the case dropped and allege racial discrimination and prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Wilson County Assistant District Attorney Bill Wolfe.

A second special prosecutor, retired District Attorney W. David McFadyen, was appointed in March to handle the case. He has no time frame in mind to decide whether Johnson will go to trial.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • bluewind Jul 9, 2008

    iamforjustice, again I can only say I hope you are trying to be amusing...

  • clickclackity2 Jul 9, 2008

    I don't think he's innocent either. However, the lawyer is definitely not sleeezy enough to be a lawyer or competent enough. But, then again money talks so if Johnson was a paying defendant, I'm 100% sure the lawyer would have put on his sleazy court room gloves.

  • whatusay Jul 9, 2008

    Jame Johnson should be nick named ""OJ Hero Johnson". Everyone knows he had some part in the cover-up, and possibly the murder, but 4 years and no trial makes him "James Hero Johnson". So says the NAACP.

  • whatusay Jul 9, 2008

    James "Hero" Johnson will never, ever, go to trial for his part in this killing. The NAACP has flagged him as a "hero". Eventhough he helped the killer try to cover up the crime, he is a "hero".

  • See Chart Jul 9, 2008

    He only helped a murderer clean up
    a blood ridden car where the girl
    murdered ,he says he was afraid if
    he didn't by the killer perp.
    let's see what his trial is like.

  • PackGirl424 Jul 9, 2008

    there is so much more evidence that hasn't been made public, james johnson is so far from an innocent person and so far from a HERO

    I hope the new person chosen to look at this case doesn't cave into pressure like Belinda Foster did and I hope this case is tried in another town with a judge with guts (not my choice of words--the filters choice) like the one handling Eve Carson's trial handles this one

    the only way justice with be served is if james johnson spends more time in jail thinking about the crime he didn't stop from taking place, he sat and watched take place

  • Halyard Jul 9, 2008

    "I wish you all would leave this young man alone. He is not a rapist or murderer. He is a smart young handsome man. He has been treated unfairly and deserves justice which he will get."

    Yea right! He's a criminal....what's so bright about that?? You think he's innocent b/c you think he's good looking?????....boy is our culture in trouble!!

    Where's the justice for Brittany??

    You people need to ask yourselves what if this happened to your "bright", "good looking" daughter....geez!!!! Pitiful!

  • imacopicemanPWNT Jul 9, 2008

    Cheeksgirl- Because the NAACP, media and Rep. G.K. Butterfield aren't interested in Julian Deans, that's why we don't hear about him.

    No one seems to question Deans involvement or the charges against him, not even Meeks or Johnson. The question is why did Meeks implicate James Johnson in the brutal abduction, rape and murder of Brittany Willis? Why did James Johnson help clean the crime scene? A witness saw Brittany with two black males, if not Johnson, who was it?

    There are too many unanswered questions in this case, nice try with the race thing though *yawn*. And stop saying JJ is innocent. Unless you were there, you just don't know.

  • iamforjustice Jul 9, 2008

    I wish you all would leave this young man alone. He is not a rapist or murderer. He is a smart young handsome man. He has been treated unfairly and deserves justice which he will get.

  • Halyard Jul 9, 2008

    "There is nothing or the family of this young innocent beautiful girl can do about it. Let it go!!! He is charged with accessory after the fact and that's it!!!" Mrs Fabulous 1

    OK, I'll call Randy & Judy & get on them b/c they wont "let it go". Just b/c some animals raped & murdered your daughter is no reason to be upset.

    The Willis' are very good friends of mine, I've known Brittany since she was 5 yrs old. My God, what kind of people are you??

    Mrs Fab...if your daughter was senselessly raped & murdered, could you just "let it go"??

    Thought not!!!!