Local News

Jury selection begins in James Johnson case

Posted February 9, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Six potential jurors were interviewed Monday in Edgecombe County and three of them were chosen in the controversial case of a man accused of helping to cover up the shooting death of a Wilson teen.

Opening statements and testimony in James Johnson's trial are slated to begin as early as next week.

James Johnson Edgecombe jury selection starts Johnson trial

Johnson, 22, is charged with being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder in the June 2004 slaying of Brittany Willis.

The 17-year-old was carjacked, taken to a field near the Brentwood Shopping Center, robbed, raped and shot to death.

Johnson was detained for more than three years on charges of murder, rape and kidnapping before he was released on bond in September 2007.

In December 2007, a special prosecutor ultimately dismissed those charges, but a grand jury indicted Johnson on the lesser charge in January 2008.

Pretrial publicity from allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and racial division over the case – Johnson is black, Willis was white – prompted Johnson's attorney to ask for a change of venue in the case. The judge denied the motion but agreed to bring in jurors from outside Wilson County.

The 12 jurors and two alternates will travel every day during the trial from Tarboro to Wilson.

Johnson has long maintained he wasn't involved in killing Willis, and according to police and court records, no physical evidence connects him to the rape or homicide.

Another man, Kenneth Meeks, pleaded guilty to Willis' slaying and is serving a life sentence in prison.

Johnson has admitted to wiping his fingerprints off Willis’ SUV but said he did it under duress because Meeks showed him a gun. He went to police about the crime three days later.

Johnson's supporters, including the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, say Johnson should be hailed as a hero for turning in Meeks to police.

They want the case dropped.

Willis' family has said political motives and race have become the case’s focus, rather than bringing to justice the person or people responsible for their child’s death.

They have said they have lost faith in the justice system.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • manofjustice Feb 10, 2009

    I know this young man will be glad when all of this nonsense is over. I pray for his soul all the time. Bless you my child.

  • oldfirehorse Feb 9, 2009

    Unfortunately, in many cases, the criminal justice system has simply become a system to provide justice for criminals.

  • See Chart Feb 9, 2009

    This trial is so inflamed about race that even here
    as most judge's learn quickly on the bench
    i.e."The truth is often somewhere in the middle" can't be so.

  • Tired of your excuses Feb 9, 2009

    Praying for peace and comfort for the Willis family. As for the other family, praying their son gets what he deserves. He was there, he helped, and his statement about being scared of Meeks makes me want to puke. I hope each night when he closes his eyes, he sees the life he could have saved. I hope this haunts him for the rest of his low life.

  • dukebbfan Feb 9, 2009

    Lets just hope that the jury that is selected will truly make there decision by listening to the evidence and that Brittany's family will be able to get some type of justice. It would be nice if the public would be able to hear what the evidence is so that if he is found guilty all those people who thought James Johnson is a hero will get an eye opener and see how they were fooled by the Rev barbour.

  • whatusay Feb 9, 2009

    Redneck_Bob says..."Guilty or innocent is not for me to decide. But, I will say that in my opinion that he has definitely been denied the right to a speedy and fair trial by a jury of his peers."

    It was his lawyer who kept this from going to court, not the DA.

  • whatusay Feb 9, 2009

    3 boys went to Brentwood that day to rob someone. Meeks and Johnson left in her car with her. She was found dead. Johnson was arrested because he knew more than the police (when he tried to turn Meeks in for the reward, in hopes to save himself). He knew details that only the killers knew.

  • ImtheHappy1Now Feb 9, 2009

    I find it odd how the NAACP picks which battles they will fight and go public with. What about the two females in Rocky Mount that were delivering Meals on Wheels? Why not go march around the court house for that guy as well? If it's right for one its right for all...is that not what they keep saying? Double standard isn’t it??? The NAACP is more racist than any group around.... you don't see all other races out marching and shouting how they are singled out. There are more white men convicted of horrible murders then black men....so that shows you that it isn’t a racial thing. Murder doesn’t pick its color...nor the crime! It's in every city and in every race.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Feb 9, 2009

    am sick of the NAACP...they are a racially prejudice organization that is suppose to be standing AGAINST racial prejudice...sick of it..

    Absolutely correct!! Me too.

  • MamaDummy Feb 9, 2009

    He is definitely NOT a hero in any shape, form or fashion. The ONLY reason he went to the police was to get a reward...REMEMBER...it was in the newspaper..I am from Wilson and I hope he rots in prison...I am sick of the NAACP...they are a racially prejudice organization that is suppose to be standing AGAINST racial prejudice...sick of it..